Where does creativity come from in organizations? Is an organization creative unto itself? Or is does organizational creativity come from the individuals that make up an organization?
It is easy to make the claim that creativity is a personal property of individuals, as individuals feature so prominently in our historical style of telling innovation stories and our general ethos of anthropocentric individualism (the genius of Steve Jobs! Galileo! Edison!). This ethos often leads to the mistaken belief that an organization striving to be creative needs only to do three things: hire the right people, get out of their way and listen to them when they have novel ideas.
But this approach rests upon a set of incorrect assumptions, of which two critical ones are:
- Creativity is the internal property of a human
- That creativity resides in anything whatsoever
The more we understand humans and complex systems the more we have come to recognize that creativity is an emergent property of a relation dominant assemblage (it is not ‘in’ any one). The question of creativity whether it is addressed at the individual human level or the individual organization is at a general level similar — it is about composition — the experimental construction (individuation) of a process that tends towards more novel emergent outcomes than already existing ones.
This semi-stable process will be an assemblage of environments, tools, organizational units, connections, materials, new practices (and rituals, tasks, techniques etc), concepts, persons and much else that is brought together in particular ways that as an irreducible whole can bend towards and follow emergent novelty.
In this process it is far too easy to focus on the persons as the protagonists. But this historical god model of story telling hinders innovation and gets in the way of us understanding that “invention is less about cause than it is about self-conditioning emergence… [where] the designer is a helpmate to emergence” (Brian Massumi, in Gilbert Simondon, Being & Technology, p. 26).