Professor So Won-hyun of international Korean studies at the Academy of Korean Studies
In the 21st century, we are competing for creativity in order to survive in a rapidly changing world. Being creative is now a must for individuals or organizations to be pioneers and to meet their various needs within a society. But what is it that leads to creativity?
Are we born with it? What leads to variations in levels and types of creativity within and among individuals? The current prevailing theory is that creativity is not only a product of individuals, but also a product of interaction between an individual and an organization. The necessary characteristics of individuals and organizations to be creative are as follows.
Amabile (1983)’s well-known research on creativity states that for individuals to be creative on a given task, they must possess expertise in the task domain, cognitive skills relevant to creativity, and task motivation.
Expertise refers to factual knowledge and skills in the domain in question; one must first be familiar with an area in order to be highly creative within that zone. Cognitive skills relevant to creativity include the exploration of a new cognitive style: thinking out of the box, in other words.
In order to think creatively, people need to broaden their scope of attention and cognition, and this process leads to flexible cognition. Understanding various aspects and complexities of the problem allows for diverse ways of thinking. In addition to expertise and creative skills, task motivation is necessary in order to perform creatively. While a general definition of motivation refers to energy, direction and persistence toward a goal, task motivation is defined as the willingness to work hard and includes an individual’s reasons for performing the task.
The reasons for a person’s behavior may lie between the two opposite poles of authentic interest and external control. It has been found that creativity is closely associated with intrinsic motivation: the innate tendency to seek out novelty, challenges, and thus genuine interest toward a task. The needs of competence and autonomy have been identified as the basis for an individual’s intrinsic motivation which enhances learning and creativity.
Individuals experience competence when there are optimal challenges and constructive and informational feedback without the pressure of evaluation in environmental conditions.
However, competence itself does not automatically enhance intrinsic motivation, and individuals must experience an internal locus of causality by perceiving a sense of autonomy. This may also imply that external rewards or punishments undermine intrinsic motivation. Tangible rewards may be potentially detrimental to intrinsic motivation and in turn to creativeness.
Furthermore, it is not only tangible rewards but also punishments, pressured evaluation, deadlines, and imposed goals which signal external locus of causality. These factors decrease intrinsic motivation and opportunities for individuals to exercise their potential to be creative.
It is crucial for individuals to internalize and assimilate organizational regulations, thereby acquiring autonomy in their performance. Conversely, when individuals experience autonomy, they internalize external regulations. Therefore, giving individuals a sense of freedom for their actions while they follow the policies and rules of the organization helps them to maintain their intrinsic motivation.
Organizations may look for “how-to” lists of steps to increase their members’ creativity.
However, this approach may better translate into three questions: 1) How can we avoid diminishing intrinsic motivation? 2) How can we increase feelings of competence and autonomy within the organization? and 3) How can we help individuals to internalize external regulations?
First, the way that a goal is assigned to individuals by a leader may influence their creativity. If individuals are allowed to participate or voice their concerns when setting a goal, and if goals are aimed at more global considerations of development and training rather than immediate performance improvement, individuals are more likely to integrate the goal as their own and show a commitment to producing creative output.
Second, if leaders show support and concern for individuals and provide constructive feedback, rather than closely monitoring their behaviors or directing them to act in a certain manner, they are more likely to increase interest in pursuing a task and producing creative solutions to a given problem.
Third, it is also possible to increase creativity among members by establishing a positive climate which is encourages peer support, cognitive stimulation through the exchange of ideas, and cooperativeness by helping and being considerate of others. Next, an organization needs to provide an environment which is safe and open enough to allow opportunities to make errors and permit risk taking. It is crucial that organizations encourage members to take risks and to generate ideas without self-screening, allow a collaborative flow of ideas, and show positive evaluations of new ideas.
The above suggestions apply to any type of organization seeking to establish a creative culture, including schools, companies, or governments. This will in turn lead to a creative society that grows by maximizing its members’ opportunities to fully exercise their creativity.
The writer is a professor of international Korean studies at the Academy of Korean Studies.