Creative achievement is typically associated with individual effort. Think of Newton, Edison, or Leonardo Da Vinci. Until not very long ago, creativity and design were the focus of a few, while the work of the masses was broken down into repeatable steps. Creativity was perceived to undermine the result of mass-production.
Today, the work depends on the design and creative skills of the knowledge workers that perform it. In this post, we explore the different ways in which Agile methods foster individual creativity and allow for something far less commonly acknowledged: group creativity. We discuss four attenuators and five amplifiers of group creative activity.
Sutherland, 2007 , p12
"[Scrum's] focus on building communities of stakeholders, encouraging a better life for developers, and delivering extreme business value to customers can release creativity and team spirit in practitioners and make the world a better place to live and work."
Individual and Group Creativity
Common definitions of creativity involve generating new ideas from a mixture of existing ones and some magic which can take many forms including inspiration, insight, serendipity or genius to name a few.
The Group Coherence Cooperative Inquiry (GCCI), Joanna's doctoral research group, identified Relationship between Individual and Shared Creativity as one of five key ingredients of Group Coherence . They defined creativity as "the ability to accept change and remain in constant relationship with it, to respond inventively to situations beyond former concepts to result in new ways of being." (GCCI, 2007, p142.)
The GCCI agreed that group creativity involves the same process as individual creativity. In groups, the resources of each participant are potentially available. This relies on individuals offering their own creativity to the group.
"In coherent groups the interplay between individual creativity and group creativity allows the group to create together, using each member's creativity within the context of the entire group's goals." (GCCI, 2007 p144.)
Organizational Attenuators of Creativity
We would like to draw attention to four specific influences that block both group and individual creativity:
1. Specialization "blinders".
"Creativity [is] the process of having original ideas that have value, [and] more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things."
In contrast, our formal training and education emphasize individual achievement and rewards. We learn to specialize in few or perhaps just one discipline, excluding anything that we perceive as "not our path." Specialization "blinders" can limit creative input by individuals and constrain the universe of problems they can perceive.
This is further extended in a workplace where teams and departments work as silos and success is defined in terms of their function or discipline. Such teams optimize for avoiding blame and don't perceive the contribution of other groups to the organizational goals (see Group Coherence for Project teams - Common Purpose ). These are team specialization "blinders" that prevent participation in a group creative process involving disciplines that we are told are "not our job".
Micromanagers feel as if they are maximizing productivity by attempting to control group activities and time . Decisions are limited to their personal creative input and the team's interdisciplinary knowledge is ignored. Such a management style conditions the team to do only exactly as they are instructed and discard their own group creative process as "not our orders".
Micromanagement overrides most feedback loops by closely directing the actions for the group and its individual members. Spontaneous experimentation and creativity are squelched by preventing team interactions. This forced control communicates lack of trust in the team to choose its next step and derails the team's self-organization. Team bonding