In any bureaucracy, whether large or small,
organizations should identify and nurture creative employees who
need to develop their creative talents to remain employable. For
any Extension service or product to be considered "creative,"
it must be novel and useful to our end-users, the Extension audience.
This statement implies that creative potential can be measured
in a direct manner by actual creative outputs and mastery of the
discipline within which the employee works and subject matter
specialization. Once a creative team is assembled by management,
organizations need to support their output with a variety of creativity-enhancing
techniques. Though sounding like cliches, according to contemporary
organizational development gurus, organizations should consider
While these tips will contribute to a climate
that enhances creativity, there is a key impediment to creativity
that cognitive psychologists warn of: the effect of prior knowledge
on creative efforts. One such behavior is called fixation
or "mental rut." This is an inability to switch from
an inappropriate solution approach to a more productive one. One
of the most loathsome habits an employee can develop in the eyes
of management, is just the right fix for mental rut: procrastination!
This idle time is a period where the creative employee is not
consciously working on the problem. S/he may decide to "alter
context" by taking a brisk walk, strolling in the park, taking
a drive in the mountains, visiting a botanical garden or any other
alteration of context that follows "escape" from the
office and the intractable problem. "Productive procrastination,"
on the other hand, describes periods when some work is suspended,
while work continues on other projects.
Problem insight occurs when these incubation
treatments produce the "eureka" or "ah ha"
phenomenon, commonly documented in creativity studies. As noted
in a 1991 design studies article on design fixation by Jansson
and Smith, procrastination is "effective against fixation
because the employee knows how to solve the problem, but inappropriate
knowledge is blocking retrieval of the needed information."
Another behavior, structural imagination, refers
"to the common tendency not to deviate from what is already
known during creative efforts." This impediment is radically
different from procrastination because the root of structured
imagination is an employee who remains blissfully ignorant of
his/her failure to identify the problem. In other words, the required
knowledge is simply not there; thus, recognizing the problem has
not been solved is the first step in overcoming structural imagination.
A key second step is the mastery of information in one's own domain
as well as knowledge of other domains in order to develop a variety
of solution scenarios.
Finally, two additional behaviors help prepare
creative employees: (1) learn something new everyday and (2) seek
out constructive criticism. Knowledge is growing and changing
constantly. With the rapidity of knowledge turnover, the creative
employee must stay within the learning curve. As Pasteur
once said, "chance favors a prepared mind." Constructive
criticism from a variety of sources, both traditional and nontraditional,
will retard the growth of structural imagination.
In conclusion, the use of creativity-enhancing
techniques is a recognized precaution against fixation and structured
imagination in the business world, and should be used more aggressively
in the non-profit community.