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Can you set targets for creativity? Part 1 - why?

Wed, 10/26/2016 - 10:21 -- KevinMcFarthing

This is the first of two articles on setting targets for creativity.  The topic of part 1 is why targets should be set; part 2 deals with how to set them.

There is a stereotypical representation of creativity as a light bulb moment, which in reality isn’t common.  Related to this, there is the perception that creativity is something purely inspired, that only arises when the right conditions occur, that can’t be forced. 

I would argue it’s not only possible but essential to force and drive creativity through targets.  Creative ideas by themselves are worthless; it’s only when they are implemented and start to create value that they are worth something.  By then they aren’t ideas anymore, they’re reality.

As a further clarification, it’s not about measuring the subjective artistic elements of creativity; rather, the objective here is to look at targets for the commercial output of original, creative thought.  Vincent van Gogh sold very few paintings in his lifetime.  So he was very creative, but a commercial failure.

Why should you set targets for creativity?  Adapting the old cliché, it’s because what gets targeted gets done.  Every large company sets financial and other targets; they’re a way of business life.  In order to meet them, smart managers prepare the ground not only to meet the current targets but also to ensure they are in the strongest position to meet and beat the next ones coming along. 

People in business – the successful ones, at least – are competitive beings.  They like to win and do better all the time.  It’s one of the reasons there has been so much focus on gamification and its influence on areas such as crowdsourcing.  So it’s entirely logical that people will strive to achieve challenging objectives no matter what the target concerns – if there is a target for creativity, good people will try to beat it.

So if targets are set for creative output, they will drive managers to introduce new ways to stimulate and nurture the kind of atmosphere that engenders creativity.  They will explore new ways to generate the “chance collisions” and “slow hunches” that form much of the foundation for original ideas, as outlined in Steven Johnson’s excellent book, Where Good Ideas Come From. 

They will recognise and support those people who have a stronger creative bent than others.  They will organise and diarise sessions focused on generating new ideas.  Time and resource will be allocated to training people in creative techniques.  Teamwork will be emphasised over individual brilliance.  Ideas will be collectively owned.  Failure of new ideas will be tolerated and indeed supported. 

Targets not only inspire the competitive, they apply the pressure.  Some departments in very large companies can be isolated from the external pressure generated by competitors fighting for market share; and technological rivals planting Intellectual Property flags in unoccupied territory.  It’s only fair to make them aware of what’s needed.  Targets for creativity can then ensure a continuous flow of new, validated ideas to act as weapons in the fight.

What about creativity in other areas that aren’t innovation projects?  Of course, great ideas to improve customer service, manufacturing efficiency and new ways to go to market have great value.  The same principles apply – work out what and how to measure; set targets; put the right conditions in place and get on with it.

To sum up, it’s quite simple - targets should be set for creativity because companies need bigger, better, more distinctive ideas to fuel the innovation of the future.