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The Creative Priority – Only half true about organizational creativity? December 6, 2009

Posted by Sehoon Min in The Creative Priority.
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This book, Creative Priority, is about the way an organization can be formed and operated with creativity as the founding and operating principle not as some good-to-have add-on.  The author, Jarry Hirshberg, suggests what leaders need to do (or not do) to create an organization with creativity as the number one priority under eleven “strategies” in four mutually linked categories – Polarity, Unprecedented Thinking, Beyond the Edges, and Synthesis – based on his experiences of founding an independent design organization, Nissan Design International (NDI) as an affiliate of that Japanese auto maker. 

Regarding these four categories, the follwing is the most interesting takeaways from each.

1) Polarity is about iginiting creative spart by retaining conflicting cultural and disciplinary viewpoints in the organization.  What was interesting about this section was the author’s emphasis that the constructive polarity should be created from the very starting step of recruiting members of the organization.  He mentions that the  consideration of the mix, balance, and texture of the group is of critical importance when deciding whom to hire.

2) Hirshberg say unprecedented thinking can prosper by creatively digesting the precedented ideas and thinkings.  For this, he says “It is essential for an organization to ensure that as much work as possible remains, be they blunders and miscalculations, appreciated, visible and available to everyone.

3) In “Beyond the Edges”, Hirshberg argues that the active exchange with different cultures and disciplines (e.g. with foreign nations, different industries, different departments) helps the organization and its members to identify the assumptions that they were taking for granted.  One of the first step of creating something new is to rethink those assumptions.

4)  In the forth section “Synthesis”, creativity can only come to life through mental muscles that can bring everything together into coherent whole.  Hirshberg argues, the mastery of information collection and interpretation are the key foundations.  To emphasize this, he quotes “statistics are like a bikini.  What they reveal is suggestive, what they hide is vital.”   In this spirit, he also clarifies that “creativity is the mastery of information and skills in the service of dreams.”  

For Hirshberg, creativity is something discomforting, something that has conflicts and confusions as part of its nature.  Therefore, this book Creative Priority is devoted to how a leader can nurture this chaos and tunnel it toward something constructive.   I understand that some culture, environment or even a leadership style should be in place, i.e. the things that Hirshbers book describes, to unleash those creative energies in an organization, especially in business organizations where as Roger Martins says the demand for reliability is naturally dominant.  

On the other hand, I think it is eaqually important to articulate that breeding chaos is not enough for an organization to constantly generate creative outputs into market.   Creativity of the members of the organization should be distinguished from the organization’s capability of generating creative outcome and, especially, the capability of doing so sustainably over extended period of time.   For this, I believe some sorts of discipline, methodology, or process of generating innovative outcome should be in place.   This may even require different look on creativity.  I guess that is what the organizations like IDEO, Doblin or other successful innovation companies have been trying to do already.

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