The biggest side effect of creativity is…

Have you ever wondered why people fear change? A change of any kind, especially the one which is radical and unanticipated, is always met with resistance. The response to a change could range from an absolute dismissal to unconditional embracement but is seldom uneventful. Since at the heart of creativity is changing, most acts of creativity are met with similar reactions, mostly dismissal and rarely acceptance. Any act of creation comes at a cost and the very cost of creating something new increases with the cost of not creating it at all. The cost of creativity that I am referring to here is – productivity.

Routines to organizations are like habits to people. Similar to the ways in which we develop habits, which are nothing more than subconscious or automatic behaviors that reduce our cognitive load, even organizations develop routines to lower errors and improve predictability of their operations. Routines, which over time form capabilities, help the employee in a context to perform tasks without much of efforts and without much of a second guessing. Tasks done well lead to increased productivity, and most employees draw their satisfactions and salaries by performing ‘well-defined tasks in a well-defined manner.’

In most large enterprises, the processes, routines, capabilities and even management are geared towards maintaining reliability, repeatability, predictability, and, hence, productivity. The stock markets too reward reliability, repeatability, and predictability, and hence there is this virtuous loop where firms gain by doing the same thing over and over again till they are hit by a Black Swan event. Think of this as riding the proverbial treadmill, where the runner is even though sweating, isn’t headed anywhere, and the very fear of falling is keeping the person onboarded.

A productivity-centric organization or individual always tries to defer change for as long as there is no sense of urgency. However, a creation would call for wandering in the uncharted, taking the risk, and tolerating failure; ideas which are the antithesis to productivity. Most creations aren’t great, to begin with. Right from the very first mouse-trap to the first computer mouse, creations have always started as being rustic, and only over a period of time have become elegant. Which means that organizations and individuals who seek creation must let go their pursuit of productivity, for embracing errors can’t co-exist with detesting errors.
Much like the person who can write with both the hands, or has fine motor skills in both the arms, most successful organizations are ambidextrous. Their ability to focus on productivity and hence ‘exploiting the present’, matches with their skills of creativity, or ‘exploring the future’. Think of this as a self-perpetuating cycle, or a virtuous loop, where the fruits from the present help shape the seeds of the future, where the love of the old is met with the excitement of the new. This doesn’t come naturally to most laypeople and leaders alike, and hence calls for conscious efforts.

If the biggest side effect of creativity is productivity, then the biggest side effect of productivity is creativity. Without productivity, a firm can’t make a living in the present, but without creativity the future would be bleak. While Apple was making huge gains on its iPod sales, it was also investing in disrupting the mobile phones market through it radical touch-screen iPhone. On the other hand, the likes of Nokia, Research in Motion, and Motorola found it too difficult to get off the proverbial treadmill and couldn’t look beyond productivity.

The repeating sequence of productivity and creativity does call for cannibalizing a firm’s revenue stream, upsetting the status quo, and leaving some money on the table. Remember what Intel’s former boss said- ‘only the paranoid survives’. If a firm is not ready to move from productivity to creativity, somebody else would push this painful movement for it, or the firm could well be out of business. The images of Eastman Kodak, Polaroid, Hindustan Motors, are all vivid in our minds, and have a lesson to deliver- ‘growth call for ambidexterity which comes from balancing productivity with creativity’. This calls for courage more than any other skill, both at a personal level and at the level of the organization.

About the Author

Pavan Soni
Dr. Pavan Soni is an Innovation Evangelist by profession and a teacher by passion. He is the founder of Inflexion Point, a strategy, and innovation consulting setup. Pavan works as an advisor at HackerEarth.