2 July 2001
If one phrase has come to represent the latest next big thing in management as well as human resources (HR) thinking it is that post-millennial buzzword du jour - creativity. Even the briefest of glimpses at one of the burgeoning selection of management magazines will reveal the depth of support for the current mantra of 'be creative'. Book review pages in particular are bursting with the latest selection of authors desperate to get anyone who will listen to create like mad.
But what are we meant to be creating exactly? Surely creativity is the realm of poets and painters of tantrums and tiaras. At it's most mundane we might admit creativity into the organisational life of an advertising agency, but a law firm? Where in your firm are the jean and paisley shirt-clad hordes of late starters taking longer lunches than the rest of us take annual leave? It just isn't a creative industry, is it? Even the Government agrees. By setting up a Creative Industries Taskforce shortly after taking power in 1997, the Labour government acknowledged that here was a group of people who deserved, if not demanded, to be treated differently. They and their work are creative, after all. So why the sudden fuss about the rest of us getting creative?
Part of it has to do with the turbulence of the past few years, much of it caused by the internet and information revolution. The internet changed the face of business and it changed the way that those in business behave - hence the dress-down policies, flamboyant reward packages and offices built with play rather than work uppermost in the designers' and architects' minds.
But more than just loosening a few ties, the internet has shown that there are new and possibly exciting ways to do even mundane tasks (even something as mind-leechingly dull as checking a bank statement might be fun the first time it's done on a WAP-enabled phone). One of the few things that HR researchers seem to agree on is that employees consistently rate the work they do and the environment they do it in as important factors in the satisfaction they get out of work. So to keep hold of their best staff employers need to offer an exciting and fun place to work. And enter stage left an upsurge in books with titles such as Aftershocks: What Creativity Means in the Information Age and Paradigm Shift: the Creative Management of Psychodynamics in the 21st Century. But amid all the noise and clutter that inevitably accompanies such management trends, there are some wise words to be found. Chief among the creativity fraternity - in terms of common sense, meaning and useful application, is Ken Robinson of Warwick University.
In Out of Our Minds, Robinson exposes the fundamental flaw in most of the calls for creativity in organisations - it is not about recruiting more creative people in either sense of the phrase. Real creativity is not about specific people or certain jobs. He says that it is indicative of the problem that organisations have creative departments.
The key to real creativity and success is to appreciate the inherent flaws in our education system, a system that was invented to deal with the needs of an industrial landscape very different from today's information-based society. Just as the HR profession has embraced the notion of emotional intelligence, recognising that traditional notions of intelligence or IQ are inadequate, so Robinson urges for a broadening of our understanding of the word creative. The challenge for HR managers in law firms is not to put together a reward package or recruitment policy that will bring in the most creative talents from other organisations. The real challenge is to look to the internal resources available and to recognise the creative talents and potential within them. Putting together development, training and appraisal systems that reward creativity in all sections of the firm, from the receptionists to the partners, is the best way to build into an organisation the flexibility required to meet the challenge of today's uncertain markets.