by Peter Luscombe
Create (v.) late 14c., from Latin creatus, past participle of creare 
"to make, bring forth, produce, beget" 

Having read a recent article in ‘The Conversation’ – Creativity in the workplace: what we know and what we do – I wondered how creativity was ‘given birth’ and ‘grown’ in the workplace. There are so many definitions of creativity and what it means to be creative. I do know that in various workplaces creativity is prized and there has been an increasing number of studies examining how creativity has a place at work.

According to Natalie Francis, Researcher at University of South Australia:

Creativity can be conceptualised as both a process and an outcome. There’s no one-size-fits all definition. The term is typically defined in the context of the field of interest – whether that’s the creativity of products, the creative individual, the creativity of groups, or something else.

 7185016128_095b80a138_zSource: Flickr

David Cropley, Associate Professor of Engineering Innovation at University of South Australia, weighs into the discussion by exposing what creativity is not:

A … misconception is that creativity is simply unfettered thinking, divorced from practicality and reality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Creativity, in fact, is hard work.

Think of an analogy to food. Some characterisations of creativity are like fast food – attractively packaged, easy to consume, sugary and sweet – but lacking in nutrition and long-term benefit. Others are like spinach – more work to prepare, not so attractive to consume – but nourishing!

Cropley goes on to cite a few ways to foster creativity, which while based in an educational setting nevertheless provide insight:

  • State the problem in functional terms – what has to be achieved, not how it has to be achieved – so that the learner is not simply executing a predefined solution

In other words, give opportunity to redefine the problem – to see matters in their own terms of reference.

  • There should not be one single, correct solution, but a range of possible solutions

In other words, give opportunity for open-endedness

  • Encourage a tolerance of ambiguity

In other words, nothing in being creative is clear cut. Navigating uncertainty and ambiguity is how you can be creative.

As a past teacher, reading this was a ‘light-bulb’ moment as creativity, and the fostering of such, was highly prized in my classroom as is true in some workplaces.


Often it’s believed that intelligence is synonymous with creativity, however, this isn’t necessarily the case. Intelligence can be based in knowledge, ready-made solutions, which is not necessarily in itself creative. Innovation more readily requires opening the doors and windows to let fresh air flow through.

Let the words of Einstein illustrate this:

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.

While Einstein saw the source of knowledge as experience, he also believed that:

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.

The same can be said in the workplace.

Bringing forth insight is a creative experience, which made me wonder about how that might happen, be constrained or stifled in the workplace. I needed to look no further than Teresa Amabile who is the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. In her book – – The Progress Principle – Dr Amabile, presents an understanding that a worker’s ‘inner work life’ is energized when they feel they are making progress. She spoke of ‘worker disengagement,’ of connectivity and of ‘nourishment.’ Watch her TED talk and wonder.

Natalie Francis provides a good end-point for this post:

Having highly creative people is of little benefit without leaders who can mobilise and deploy resources to enable creative performance and without a culture that is supportive of these decisions.

Look out for the second in the three-part series on Creativity in the Workplace next Wednesday May 20.