The level of competition among organisations has increased significantly due to globalisation. Companies today have to choose between being consistently innovative and being forgotten. The choice seems simple; however, the process of creating an environment that promotes and supports creative thinking is rather difficult for management. This paper discusses the blocks to creativity and innovation. It analyses different theories regarding individual creativity, like the Big Five Model, and examines if these theories can be applied to a company like Omantel. Omantel is the leading integrated telecommunications service provider in the Sultanate of Oman, and it has encouraged new ways of doing business in Oman. It is called as the bold innovator (Anon 2016). In light of different theories, Omantel will be evaluated in terms of the policies it has employed to foster creative thinking among its employees. Recommendations will be given to Omantel, to enhance creative thinking among its’ employees blocks to creativity Innovation.
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Creativity is one of the key factors that drive civilisation forward. Various researchers have explored the question of what differentiates highly creative people from the rest (Hennessey & Amabile 2010). One famous model that examines the personality traits of individuals is known as the Big Five Model (see figure-1). The five basic dimensions of personality in the Big Five Model – extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience – are proved to underlie all others and encompass most of the significant variation in human personality (Robbins & Judge 2016). Of these traits, openness to experience has been associated with creativity (Hennessey & Amabile 2010).
Adapted from: (Robbins et al. 2009, p. 94)
Herman (1989) presented the Whole Brain Model (see figure-2), which explains different modes of individual thinking, learning, and working. The four quadrants represent different patterns in which the brain processes information. An organisation needs individuals with diverse thinking styles.
Figure 2: Whole Brain Model
Adapted from: (Herrmann 1989)
There are several blocks to creativity and innovation like perceptual blocks, cultural blocks, and emotional blocks. Perceptual blocks originate from a narrow vision of problem and the inability to consider different perspectives (Proctor 2010, pp. 32). Perceptual blocks do not allow an individual to gain a complete understanding of the problem (Pritzer 1999, pp. 168). Perceptual blocks – including stereotyping, tunnel vision, difficulty to pinpoint the problem, saturation, failing to use all senses, and inability to view the problem from different perspectives – are the major hindering factors to the creativity of an individual (Hicks 2004, pp. 53).
Emotional blocks stop an individual from expressing his idea (Hicks 2004, pp. 54). Anger, fear, hate, anxiety, and love are some of the common emotional blocks to creativity (Pritzer 1999, pp. 168). According to Motloch (2004, pp. 39), ego, superego, and self-image lead to fear of failure that blocks creativity. The cultural blocks refer to the hindering forces that stem from ones’ culture; these include social pressure, conformity, norms, habits, learning, traditions, and rules (Motloch 2000, pp. 39). Some other blocks to creativity and innovation have also been recognised by researchers like intellectual blocks – using incorrect language, lacking accurate information, expressive blocks and environmental blocks – distraction, discomfort, lack of communication (Hicks 2004, pp. 60) .
Despite the blocks to creativity and innovation discussed above, there are different techniques to enhance creativity in an organisation like brainstorming, lateral thinking and the six thinking hats. The process of brainstorming needs to be initiated by forming a team and appointing a chairperson (Brown & Kusiak 2007). After the team gathers, it is important for the chairperson to state and restate the problems several times (Dawson & Andriopoulous 2014, pp. 152). While the session is in the process, ideas given by members are recorded, and discussion on those ideas is to be held after the session (Brown & Kusiak 2007). Finally, all ideas are evaluated, even those that seem impractical or unconventional. Management is encouraged not to strike off ideas too quickly as it may discourage the members from thinking creatively. Giving employees autonomy concerning the processes will instil a sense of ownership in them (Adams 2006).
The process flow analogy is important to address bottleneck problems. In creative thinking, these problems are mainly related to informational flow and can be addressed using bridge flow analogy. A narrow road bridge helps to develop good subject matter for brainstorming sessions. However, in brainstorming sessions, it is easy for one to take sides, or to defend one’s own ideas and attack opposing ideas (Brown & Kusiak 2007). The Six Thinking Hats were introduced to address this problem and remove the blocks to creativity and innovation. Using this technique, a group can evaluate objectively all pros and cons of an idea proposed (Bono 1999). The six hats include the white hat (neutral and seeks to find more information about an idea), red hat (takes into consideration feelings, hunches, and intuitions), black hat (deals with legality and morality), yellow hat (highlights benefits and positive elements of an idea), green hat (promotes new ideas and options), and blue hat (focuses on control of the process, agenda, and action plans) (Bono 1999). In this manner, group members are encouraged to offer constructive criticism.
The lateral thinking technique is an approach that encourages finding unorthodox solutions to problems, thereby reducing the blocks to creativity and innovation. It is different from the traditional and logical thinking. Sloane (2007) suggests different ways for adopting lateral thinking approach across organisations: Challenging assumptions, asking search questions, adopting a different perspective, adapt adopt and improve, breaking the rules, and welcoming failure. Leaders should encourage lateral thinking techniques among the employees of an organisation (Sloane 2007).
The dedication with which Omantel works to provide its employees with a supportive environment is evident from the fact that the firm was selected as Asia’s best brand in human resources for two consecutive years (Anon 2013). Moreover, in 2015, Omantel won the MENA Excellence Award in employee engagement as a result of implementing several initiatives aimed at boosting communication, interaction, and team spirit among employees (Observer 2015). One such program was ‘Omantel Talents’ which gained a great deal of popularity because of its aim to identify and nurture creative talent (Anon 2012). These programs construct the kind of environment that promotes innovation and creativity by encouraging employees to step out of their comfort zones, display their talents, and be vocal about their ideas.
This paper has analysed the personality traits that influence creative thinking. Extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience are five characteristics of creative people. The blocks to creativity and innovation including perceptual, emotional, cultural, environmental, and intellectual have been discussed. Three techniques to enhance creative thinking across organisations have been explained. These include brainstorming, creative thinking hats, and lateral thinking.
In light of the above-mentioned theories, Omantel was seen to be doing rather well in establishing and sustaining a supportive organisational culture that promotes creativity and innovation. As Omantel employs hundreds of people, it needs to make sure that all individual employees have the ability to generate creative ideas. Moreover, managers must be taught how to handle employees who are less innately creative. Specific recommendations have been given in the next section.
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- Candidates who want to work at Omantel should be asked situation-based questions during interviews, to determine their personality type. For example, how would the candidate react if asked to venture into a new territory or perform a task that requires the candidate to step out of his comfort zone?
- Omantel can facilitate creative thinking among employees by giving them more freedom, and autonomy while doing tasks, encouraging them to start new projects, and providing them with necessary resources to facilitate the development of new programs, as suggested by (Sripirabaa & Maheswari 2015). Employees need to be reminded that they are capable of performing the job by highlighting their skills and competencies, as suggested by Çekmecelioğlu & Özbağ (2016).
- There might be some employees with untapped potential, and Omantel needs to ensure that all employees are able to generate innovative ideas. This task is difficult because of the size of the organisation, but certain techniques can be used to overcome blocks to creativity and innovation like brainstorming and lateral thinking.
- The top management of Omantel, with help from the HR department, should optimise challenges faced by employees. This implies that the level of challenges an employee faces while doing a job should neither be too much, nor too little. Each employee will have a different capacity to deal with challenges; therefore, managers must evaluate each individual before matching him with a specific kind of job to maximise his ability to innovate.
- To motivate employees to be innovative, Omantel should be encouraged to speak out their unorthodox and unconventional ideas.
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