In today’s unforgiving business environment, it can sometimes be difficult to squeeze often-elusive creative thinking into workplace processes.
Companies want results-driven methods that fit the metrics — and hopefully the forecasts. But Jennifer Mueller, a former Wharton professor now at the University of San Diego, challenges that notion in her new book, Creative Change: Why We Resist It … How We Can Embrace It. She says a shift in mindset can make room for new ideas to flourish.
Mueller talked with Knowledge@Wharton about why it’s important for companies to embrace failure along with success, and why “if you believe that pattern recognition is how you find innovation, you’re already lost.” She appeared on the Knowledge@Wharton show on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111. (Listen to the podcast at the link at the endof this page.)
An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
Knowledge@Wharton: Are leaders scared at times to bring creative ideas forward?
Jennifer Mueller: I would say yes and that it’s not their fault. We’re finding the reason why is because of how organizations are structured. Leaders are trained with what we have found to be a certain mindset, a certain way of believing good decision-making happens. What we’ve found is that merely putting them in that role of having the responsibility to allocate resources makes them want to make correct, accurate, good decisions. This sounds all reasonable.They also want to know which creative ideas are the best and how to implement them. These are the big concerns that people tend to have in organizations when they care about making these great decisions. But how do you know? Creative ideas don’t have metrics. They haven’t been around for a while. You might not know anybody that’s been using them. What ends up happening is, you get a creative idea, it has weird metrics, you don’t really know much about it, and it doesn’t allow a decision-maker to make a correct decision. They don’t have the data.
Knowledge@Wharton: Sometimes these biases that happen in the workplace tend to be unknown, correct?
Mueller: That’s right. People and managers have been trained how to manage change, and that’s great. But those very best practices for managing change don’t work or go awry when you have creativity in the mix. Creativity is just a different animal because the psychology around creativity and how you recognize it is different. The fundamental reason why is that there’s this unknowability that you have. Calculating risk is a wasted exercise. ROI? What does that even mean?“Uncertainty is not ambiguity.”Instead, a way to think about creativity might be better served by not thinking like a decision-maker but like an inventor figuring out and getting curious about the answer.
Knowledge@Wharton: Is this an issue throughout society, not just the corporate world?
Mueller: Yes. I call it the how/best mindset. This is a mindset we use as consumers. This is a mindset we use in many aspects of our lives to make decisions quickly and efficiently. We want to know which is the best one, and we want to know how to implement it and use it. It’s also how we teach our students in our classes with multiple-choice tests and right answers. What makes this tricky is how this mindset can be really valuable and useful in many aspects of how to make decisions. If this leads us down the wrong path, it opens up opportunity for creativity in our organizations and our lives.
Knowledge@Wharton: One of the places where you could see this as a significant issue is Washington, D.C., and the dysfunction that goes on in Capitol Hill.
Mueller: That’s right. When I think about this question of Obamacare, like most decision-makers, the Republican Party is in this how/best way of thinking. That means they want the solution that will work, the correct one that can justify to the American people that it will make a difference. The problem is that when you have that, you need metrics. What are the metrics? What would a good metric even look like?
Read (or listen all) at: What’s Blocking Corporate Creativity? – Knowledge@Wharton