Creative Climate – Part 1

I can actually remember my very first attempt at being creative for work. I was just out of college and fresh off the boat from America, 21 and still blessedly naive. It was Christmas break 1995 and I only had a few days left to prepare for joining the workforce. Heiko’s uncle, Jochen Lösch, had decided to sponsor me as an employee in his PR and ad agency. Considering I had a math degree and some programming skills, Heiko had convinced his uncle that I could contribute to his plan of offering clients “new media” services. Jochen wanted us to get started a.s.a.p. and had already set up a meeting to pitch his most important client, BMW (Bavarian Motor Works), the idea of professionalizing their company Intranet.

I got right to work. Highly motivated, I read the entire HTML bible of the time. I dabbled in Future Splash and experimented with basic Java Script. It seemed doable enough, so I my refocused my attention on finding out more about the automobile giant. I didn’t get far, because some crazy fascination with that blue and white logo and the fact that is stems from the pattern on the Bavarian flag captured my imagination. I had just learned to make perspective drawings using mathematical principles, which I happily put to use by sketching an intricate blue and white diamond background. I devised a tentative navigation menu, scribbling these on the top frame. Genius! Or not?

My first online concept was anything but unique, much less relevant in terms of pitching to the client. It was junk. But Jochen didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. He saw beyond that sad sketch, all the way through to my burning motivation. He commended me for taking a risk and provided me with enough information for me to understand what wasn’t working in my concept. He then briefed me properly, gave me advice for moving forward and let me get back to it. I didn’t know it then, but Jochen had exhibited excellent creative leadership.

Almost fifteen years later, after a multitude of creative mishaps and a whole lot of creative successes at work (as a creative worker and a creative leader), I decided to write my master thesis on the subject of organizational creativity. I was especially interested in the sub-topic of “creative climate”, managerial practices and work environments which foster creativity. I thought I would share some of the insights I gained with you. So here we go…


Managing Creativity

In the context of an organization, innovation and creativity are about generating  ideas which are at the same time original and appropriate for the business challenge at hand; e.g. developing a highly marketable product or a more creative way to service customers. In most cases, employees are working together in teams to produce creative results and the directive of managers is to manage that creativity. But how?

In her article “How to Kill Creativity” Teresa M. Amabile, creativity guru and  Harvard business professor, lays out the three areas of creativity which managers can influence:

  1. Expertise (also known as domain relevant skills)
    Managers can influence domain relevant expertise needed for creative problem solving by hiring the right people with the appropriate knowledge and skills within the domain in questions.
  2. Creative thinking skills (also known as creativity relevant skills)
    Not all experts are innately creative thinkers. Managers can see to it that these experts are systematically trained to think outside of the box or “break set” to produce more original results.
  3. Motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic motivation)
    The current understanding in management theory is that you can’t motivate employees, but you can demotivate them. The same holds true in terms of managing creativity. Most forms of extrinsic motivation (money, fame and glory) appear to hinder creativity, while supporting existing intrinsic motivation seems to promote creativity.

And while all three aspects can be leveraged, Amabile argues that the most effective way to enhance organizational creativity is to focus on maintaining intrinsic motivation. She suggest doing so by providing a supportive and stimulating creative climate. In a 1996 study she and her colleagues introduced the “KEYS to Creativity”, eight factors which when leveraged can be purposely gauged to improve the creative climate and therewith increase innovation and creativity in organizations.

KEYS environment factors

  1. Organizational encouragement
  2. Supervisory encouragement (others researchers refer to creative leadership)
  3. Work group supports
  4. Sufficient resources
  5. Freedom
  6. Challenging work
  7. (Lack of) Organizational impediments
  8. (Lack of) Workload pressure

Stay tuned for general findings and discussion on each of the KEYS scales. Coming soon! 😉


Book tip: “Creativity in Context” by Teresa M. Amabile (ISBN-13: 978-0813330341)


2 responses to “Creative Climate – Part 1

  1. Shailia, may I read your entire master thesis?
    Grüßle aus Stuttgart,

  2. Hi Tanja,

    Unfortunately, the actual study is confidential. This is because the emperical research is based on the examination of a particular company’s creative climate. I agreed from the beginning not to release their results to the public. Sorry.

    Stay tuned for more general results (not company specific) on this blog.


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