In addition to the rational decision making, bounded rationality models, and intuitive decision making, creative decision making is a vital part of being an effective decision maker. Creativity is the generation of new, imaginative ideas. With the flattening of organizations and intense competition among organizations, individuals and organizations are driven to be creative in decisions ranging from cutting costs to creating new ways of doing business. Please note that, while creativity is the first step in the innovation process, creativity and innovation are not the same thing. Innovation begins with creative ideas, but it also involves realistic planning and follow-through.
The five steps to creative decision making are similar to the previous decision-making models in some keys ways. All of the models include problem identification, which is the step in which the need for problem solving becomes apparent. If you do not recognize that you have a problem, it is impossible to solve it. Immersion is the step in which the decision maker thinks about the problem consciously and gathers information. A key to success in creative decision making is having or acquiring expertise in the area being studied. Then, incubation occurs. During incubation, the individual sets the problem aside and does not think about it for a while. At this time, the brain is actually working on the problem unconsciously. Then comes illumination or the insight moment, when the solution to the problem becomes apparent to the person, usually when it is least expected. This is the “eureka” moment similar to what happened to the ancient Greek inventor Archimedes, who found a solution to the problem he was working on while he was taking a bath. Finally, the verification and application stage happens when the decision maker consciously verifies the feasibility of the solution and implements the decision.
A NASA scientist describes his decision-making process leading to a creative outcome as follows: He had been trying to figure out a better way to de-ice planes to make the process faster and safer. After recognizing the problem, he had immersed himself in the literature to understand all the options, and he worked on the problem for months trying to figure out a solution. It was not until he was sitting outside of a McDonald’s restaurant with his grandchildren that it dawned on him. The golden arches of the “M” of the McDonald’s logo inspired his solution: he would design the de-icer as a series of M’s!1Interview by author Talya Bauer at Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA, 1990. This represented the illumination stage. After he tested and verified his creative solution, he was done with that problem except to reflect on the outcome and process.
How Do You Know If Your Decision-Making Process Is Creative?
Researchers focus on three factors to evaluate the level of creativity in the decision-making process. Fluency refers to the number of ideas a person is able to generate. Flexibility refers to how different the ideas are from one another. If you are able to generate several distinct solutions to a problem, your decision-making process is high on flexibility. Originality refers to an idea’s uniqueness. You might say that Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix, is a pretty creative person. His decision-making process shows at least two elements of creativity. We do not exactly know how many ideas he had over the course of his career, but his ideas are fairly different from one another. After teaching math in Africa with the Peace Corps, Hastings was accepted at Stanford University, where he earned a master’s degree in computer science. Soon after starting work at a software company, he invented a successful debugging tool, which led to his founding the computer troubleshooting company Pure Software in 1991. After a merger and the subsequent sale of the resulting company in 1997, Hastings founded Netflix, which revolutionized the DVD rental business through online rentals with no late fees. Netflix would then go on to be a pioneer in digital streaming – the core business that we know it for today. As you can see, his ideas are high in originality and flexibility.2Conlin, M. (2007, September 14). Netflix: Recruiting and retaining the best talent. Business Week Online. Retrieved March 1, 2008, from http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/sep2007/ca20070913_564868.htm?campaign_id=rss_null.
Some experts have proposed that creativity occurs as an interaction among three factors: (1) people’s personality traits (openness to experience, risk taking), (2) their attributes (expertise, imagination, motivation), and (3) the context (encouragement from others, time pressure, and physical structures).3Amabile, T. M. (1988). A model of creativity and innovation in organizations. In B. M. Staw & L. L. Cummings (Eds.), Research in Organizational Behavior, 10 123–167 Greenwich, CT: JAI Press; Amabile, T. M., Conti, R., Coon, H., Lazenby, J., & Herron, M. (1996). Assessing the work environment for creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 39, 1154–1184; Ford, C. M., & Gioia, D. A. (2000). Factors influencing creativity in the domain of managerial decision making. Journal of Management, 26, 705–732; Tierney, P., Farmer, S. M., & Graen, G. B. (1999). An examination of leadership and employee creativity: The relevance of traits and relationships. Personnel Psychology, 52, 591–620; Woodman, R. W., Sawyer, J. E., & Griffin, R. W. (1993). Toward a theory of organizational creativity. Academy of Management Review, 18, 293–321. For example, research shows that individuals who are open to experience, are less conscientious, more self-accepting, and more impulsive, tend to be more creative.4Feist, G. J. (1998). A meta-analysis of personality in scientific and artistic creativity. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2, 290–309.
There are many techniques available that enhance and improve creativity. Linus Pauling, the Nobel prize winner who popularized the idea that vitamin C could help build the immunity system, said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” One popular way to generate ideas is to use brainstorming. Brainstorming is a group process of generated ideas that follows a set of guidelines that include no criticism of ideas during the brainstorming process, the idea that no suggestion is too crazy, and building on other ideas (piggybacking). Research shows that the quantity of ideas actually leads to better idea quality in the end, so setting high idea quotas where the group must reach a set number of ideas before they are done, is recommended to avoid process loss and to maximize the effectiveness of brainstorming. Another unique aspect of brainstorming is that the more people are included in brainstorming, the better the decision outcome will be because the variety of backgrounds and approaches give the group more to draw from. A variation of brainstorming is wildstorming where the group focuses on ideas that are impossible and then imagines what would need to happen to make them possible.5Scott, G., Leritz, L. E., & Mumford, M. D. (2004). The effectiveness of creativity training: A quantitative review. Creativity Research Journal, 16, 361–388.
Enhancing Organizational Creativity
We have seen that organizational creativity is vital to organizations. Here are some guidelines for enhancing organizational creativity within teams:6Adapted from ideas in Amabile, T. M. (1998). How to kill creativity. Harvard Business Review, 76, 76–87; Gundry, L. K., Kickul, J. R., & Prather, C. W. (1994). Building the creative organization. Organizational Dynamics, 22, 22–37; Keith, N., & Frese, M. (2008). Effectiveness of error management training: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 59–69; Pearsall, M. J., Ellis, A. P. J., & Evans, J. M. (2008). Unlocking the effects of gender faultlines on team creativity: Is activation the key? Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 225–234; Thompson, L. (2003). Improving the creativity of organizational work groups. Academy of Management Executive, 17, 96–109.
Team Composition (Organizing/Leading)
- Diversify your team to give them more inputs to build on and more opportunities to create functional conflict while avoiding personal conflict.
- Change group membership to stimulate new ideas and new interaction patterns. Leaderless teams can allow teams freedom to create without trying to please anyone up front.
Team Process (Leading)
- Engage in brainstorming to generate ideas—remember to set a high goal for the number of ideas the group should come up with, encourage wild ideas, and take brainwriting breaks.
- Use the nominal group technique in person or electronically to avoid some common group process pitfalls. Consider anonymous feedback as well.
- Use analogies to envision problems and solutions.
- Challenge teams so that they are engaged but not overwhelmed.
- Let people decide how to achieve goals, rather than telling them what goals to achieve.
- Support and celebrate creativity even when it leads to a mistake. But set up processes to learn from mistakes as well.
- Model creative behavior.
- Institute organizational memory so that individuals do not spend time on routine tasks.
- Build a physical space conducive to creativity that is playful and humorous—this is a place where ideas can thrive.
- Incorporate creative behavior into the performance appraisal process.
Management 2020 text remixed from multiple sources under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. View a complete list of original sources.