• Alexander M. Wegner

Creativity and the Future of Organizations

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TECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS, MOST NOTABLY IN FORM OF THE WORLD WIDE WEB, has given rise to entirely new markets, products and services. Firms across the Bay Area–be it Google, Facebook or Uber–entered these markets, and swiftly discovered and seized potential opportunities. These two trends have rendered ‘creativity’ a buzzword, leading shareholders to endorse it, stakeholders to value it, and employees to desperately seek it.

Yet employment–being in the service of any organization–is almost always at odds with creativity; creation, as an act that is inherent to creativity, necessitates the complementing or destructing both of what has been, and of what currently is. Problematically, organization is conducive to the creation of and adherence to customs–dubbed best practices, though what is called best is at best dubious–barring innovation.

Keynes was likely right in proposing that the world is ruled by little else than ideas–a notion which he brought forth in his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money–but may have underestimated the difficulty of bringing about an environment that is conducive to the rumination (the absence of which Nietzsche laments in the Prologue to his Genealogy of Morals) that the generating of ideas tends to presuppose.

Organizations, regardless of sector, feature the perhaps most unlikely setting for creative processes and outcomes; a set of factors seems to substantiate this claim. First, organizations are–by their nature alone–hierarchical; credentials will, thus, often be of greater significance than competence (needless to say, the creative must be competent). Second, and considering their contemporary scope, organizations rely on routines–as virtually fixed operating procedures–that are meant to ensure functionality, and minimize risk; while this modus operandi may yield, and safeguard quarterly profits, it does not guarantee value over the long-term (intuitively, what is profitable needs not to be valuable). Third, and following from the preceding, the more reputable, extensive, established and profitable an organization is, the more subsuming its character is prone to be; in other words, employees will likely work long hours, will have to meet stringent expectations, and are expected to adhere to whatever  culture prevails. Clearly, organizations thus configured are destined to foster conformity rather than to seed the very creativity that has become universally popular, and yet is not universally evident.

The implications of organization in its contemporary form extend beyond the respective entities; indeed, they affect society at large. Due to the initially mentioned process of technological progress–accompanied by increasingly omnipresent virtual realities–the world as we know it, is in constant flux. While the customs brought forth by organization may facilitate the navigation of a state of affairs–as a quasi-fixed constellation of forces at a particular point in time–they are inadequate for continuously and, more so, for constantly changing realities. Whereas a state of affairs allows man to adopt practices for the maintenance of what is, a world in flux demands of man to persistently adapt to what is unfolding, while seeking to transcend each day’s horizon.

In order to govern, not merely administer, a world that is expected to accommodate 9 billion (potentially even 10 billion) in a matter of decades, organization will have to be conceived of anew. Both the needs and demands of individuals in developed, emerging or developing countries, are unlikely to be met, if established systems–whether economic, political or social–are spared of innovation, and the creative destruction with which it comes. Providing populations worldwide with food, clothing and shelter (classified as basic needs by the UN), for instance, necessitates the transformation of agribusiness, the transition toward commerce guided by Shared Value–as described by Dr. Michael Porter–and advances in architecture, construction, and transport, concepts associated with biomimircy, which is the replication of natural processes for human use.

Evidently, visionary architects, rather than dogmatic technicians, are best capable of paving the path through a looming landscape of uncertain opportunities and challenges, which the foreseeable future will likely present. Thus, we must strive to conceive the purpose of organization anew, realizing that its value lies not in instruction, but in emancipation–whether in the case of schools and universities, for-profit and not-for-profit entities, local and national governments or international fora. Indeed, we must no longer organize to standardize, but strive to customize organizations by envisioning and composing spaces that are meant to evolve through collective leadership, made possible by the individual liberties granted. Organizations that aspire to remain competitive tomorrow, will set out to engage rather than manage constituents, to enlarge rather than constrain responsibilities, to complement transformation with preservation, and to prioritize the realization of potential, not the fulfillment of duty. Though this may very well generate rather than minimize risks, and jeopardize rather than safeguard profits, such organization is likely to lay the ground for enduring growth and long-term value.

Organizations that are most likely to remain competitive tomorrow, will be unlike establishments of the past; instead of circumventing disorder, they will cherish organized chaos. Constituents will be encouraged to act as the free and responsible individuals they can be, credentials will solely be significant insofar that they are upheld by the competence of their beholders, ideas that not only promise the highest returns but can reasonably be expected to yield enduring value will triumph, and organizational practices will be adapted to what is, in the interest both of entities and the wider public.

By steadily enhancing their own customs, and daring to challenge their own culture, tomorrow’s organizations will contribute to the evolution of what is, and promise to be best capable of meeting the needs and demands of both shareholders and stakeholders.

Creativity forms the means for navigating a world in flux, even though man cannot and will never be a creator in the true sense of the term; undoubtedly, man is destined to remain all too human, but can at least mitigate perils and realize promises by seeking to refine himself. Arguably, the basis for the creative organizations envisioned herein, is acknowledgement of the likelihood of failure, and consequential commitment both to adaption and innovation. Rather than clinging on to what is, those leading tomorrow must pursue what has yet to come. –The future of organization(s) is structured disorder.

Innovation can’t be owned or ordained, it needs to be allowed. You can’t tell innovative people to be innovative, but you can let them. Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle, in How Google Works

©2019 by Alexander M. Wegner