During my research into bullying in cultural organizations, which became the basis for the book Bullying in the Arts, I noted that quite a lot of arts managers claimed the experience of working in arts environments with creative people was different from working anywhere else. They often used this as a way to explain the requirement for workplace terms and conditions that differ from the norm.
As the research continued I learned from investigations carried out by neuroscientists that creativity is a function of the human brain – and concluded that some of those same arts managers might be surprised to learn that creativity may not, in fact, be the sole preserve of the cultural sector.
Image source: sun gazing
To find out more I read about the work of Teresa Amabile who is Director of Research at Harvard Business School and has devoted her entire research programme to the study of creativity. She is also the postholder of the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at the School.
Professor Amabile is one of the foremost explorers of business innovation in the USA and she said this about creativity:
… almost all of the research in this field shows that anyone with normal intelligence is capable of doing some degree of creative work. Creativity depends on a number of things: experience, including knowledge and technical skills; talent; an ability to think in new ways; and the capacity to push through uncreative dry spells. Intrinsic motivation – people who are turned on by their work often work creatively – is especially critical. Over the past five years, organizations have paid more attention to creativity and innovation than at any other time … (Amabile 2004: 1)
Everyone who has ever worked in a community arts organization would probably reach the same conclusion about people they have encountered in a community setting. Would they think this was also true of people in a non-arts commercial working environment though?
Image source: Standpoint
In particular, it is interesting that Amabile identifies the ability to think in new ways as conducive to creativity, which correlates with the findings of the neuroscientists, and also that she touches upon ‘dry spells’ – analogous with ‘writer’s block.’
Given the neurological evidence to date, we could characterize these ‘dry spells’ as periods when no new environments are available to the creator – so that familiarity breeds a paucity of ideas; or ‘same old, same old’ prevails and prevents creativity.
Amabile proposes six myths about creativity in the commercial world, and in the book I decided to explore these in the context of the cultural sector, not least because they meant I could compare and contrast commercial and cultural values – ultimately they supported the argument that the arts are not so very different after all. Here I explore the first two myths. The other four will follow soon.
Myth 1. Creativity comes from creative types
Amabile reports that business managers lovingly cherish this belief, identifying advertising, marketing and research and development people as ‘creatives’ and, for example, accountants as not creative.
Photo by Kate Vines.
That made me wonder if we in the arts hold similar views? Do we think our performers, artists, writers, set designers and make-up artists are creative, but the box office staff, the technicians and the administrators are not? Do arts organizations treat differently those perceived as being less creative and, therefore, less important?
There are eight case studies in the book and the main complainant of workplace bullying in one of them, ‘The Arts Service’, was a junior employee in a local authority department – was she discouraged from complaining and rebuffed by HR staff because she was not a ‘creative’ manager? Of course, successfully making a complaint of bullying is extremely difficult and many people find they are either not believed or attempts are made to silence them, including people working in the cultural sector.
Myth 2. Money is a creativity motivator
People working in business sectors want to feel they are being compensated fairly, however Amabile finds that they: put far more value on a work environment where creativity is supported, valued, and recognized. People want the opportunity to deeply engage in their work and make real progress (Amabile 2004: 1).
During the research period, some arts managers clearly regarded counterparts in commercial organizations as solely financially-motivated, however it seems that employees everywhere have similar goals ultimately: those working in commercial organizations actually care about what they do, and, conversely, arts people too want fair pay and reasonable hours of work. Most people, given the option, want a supportive work environment. Sadly, the fact remains that they don’t always enjoy one.
Amabile, T. 2004. The 6 Myths of Creativity, in article by B. Breen, Fast Company (89). December. Available at: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/89/creativity.html [accessed February 2011] 1–2.
Photograph by Kate Vines published in Guardian Professional, 10th November 2011.