Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

Productivity and Creativity – awkward bedfellows or birds of a feather?

The Guardian recently published a long but interesting piece on the history of time management (from Taylor forward). You’ll find the link here. For me, the bit that’s really interesting and that feeds well into the current discourse is the differentiation between productivity and creativity.

If you have a moment, do a bit of research to see how these two concepts are portrayed. Even 20 seconds googling will provide you with images of linear progression, mathematical equations etc when thinking about productivity. In contrast, the overriding image for creativity is around play, colour and lightbulbs.

For the longest time, these two ideas have sat on opposite sides of a very deep chasm. On the one side sat the studious, well educated, research and analytically trained engineer who, through his / her years of training, was able to produce something that would change the world. On the other, the unkempt artist / writer who, through moments of great inspiration (often described as one’s muse) would create great works of insight which fed people’s brains and lightened their daily grind through their soul.

The one was about education, focus and planning, the other was about interpretation of the world around them and an attempt often to reflect life in a different manner.

Except…that’s not really how it works. Just as artists were and are inspired by the shadow created by sunlight on a particular day, so have engineers been led to think about different shapes and structures from their casual and unplanned observation of nature. Just as engineers measure their time in units of productivity, so do successful writers in their discipline of producing a number of words per day. At the extreme end of both concepts, is poor practice, no doubt. I’ve worked in many a place where in the desperate effort to produce something (anything!), the opportunity for real change is missed…one might say that the driver behind disruptive innovation is exactly that myopic focus on the thing that’s always worked, with ever more frantic effort being made to do more with less. An external perspective provides the spark for dramatic sector change…more often than not, that spark is not necessarily new, it’s just been sacrificed at the altar of short term gain.

And the extreme end of creativity is also easy to understand and recognise. The effort of making something perfect becomes the driver rather than the realistic and honest recognition that each step forward is important and that, to use an overused analogy, the journey has value.

As with all things, a balance is therefore important but in this case, extremely difficult to achieve. If corporates acknowledge the need for the famous 20% time for reflection and innovation, it comes with strings attached…productivity strings which ask searching questions about what was actually achieved in that period of ‘unproductive’ time (where emails were ignored or meetings not attended / scheduled!) In an argument many years ago with a good friend of mine, the debate boiled down to whether creative endeavour and success / value was at all related to time taken to create. He was firmly of the view that things that took longer to make were more valuable than those that took less time. We have all had moments of inspiration immediately after, from a time management perspective, the most unproductive time of all…sleep! How would you measure that?

So the challenge for us all is not one or the other…it is creating the right environment where both are enabled and encouraged and our people understand that creativity and innovation is, by it’s very nature, a broad and unscientific endeavour which needs robust analysis, research, debate and commercial decision making (those productivity traits) to materialise into real opportunity. Rejection of ideas is a necessary part of this process.

If you have stumbled onto this by accident, apologies! If you found it of interest, you can find a lot more at my blog, inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant. Click here for the link.

Finally, please comment, share, rant or if you have an idea for me to write on, please let know.




Categories: Business process reengineering, C suite leadership, Creativity, Employee Engagement, Prioritisation, Productivity, research and development, Transformation

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