I wish I had a dollar for every executive who has said to me, "What this company needs is more innovation." No matter what the industry, whether manufacturing or service, for-profit, government, or non-profit, large or small, the lament is always the same, "Our workers don’t think outside the box." The auto industry, high tech, and construction all say that they need creative solutions if they are going to be competitive and survive in a world marketplace. Government agencies, social services, and higher education institutions are all looking for innovative ways to better serve their customers and communities. Howard Gardner, in his new book, Five Minds for the Future, talks about one of these “minds” being the “creative mind”. In an interview for Management-Issues.com, Gardner says that the creative mind comes up with new things that affect many other people. Gardner argues that everyone needs this way of thinking.

According to a new report from the Conference Board (see HR World Blog), employers say they want creative, innovative employees and educational leaders believe that students should develop creativity and be innovative. Unfortunately, the direction of U.S. schools, driven by the federal policy “No Child Left Behind,” is out of alignment with these findings. The public school focus is on reading, writing, and math skills so that they can achieve "adequate yearly progress." Out of necessity, public schools are emphasizing “basic skills” at the expense of the creative arts.

Not everyone can come up with something new. Some brains are just not hard-wired to think that way. But many people do have brains that if nurtured and given the opportunity can come up with new ways of thinking about something, of designing something, or improving something. We need to give children experiences in literature, music, and art that will cultivate their “creative minds”. We need to give college students classroom and field experiences that require creative thinking. And we need to encourage and reward innovative and creative thinking in the workplace. Many organizations, regardless of what they say in their annual reports and Web site, in practice put up huge roadblocks to innovation and creativity. From managers who say, “We don’t do it that way here”, to revenue goals that continually trump risk taking, these organizations send many subtle and not so subtle messages that creativity is okay as long as you don’t change anything.

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