29 Mar 2008  HBS Centennial Colloquia Reports

Creativity, Entrepreneurship, and Organizations of the Future

Date: December 7-8, 2007
Faculty Chairs: Teresa Amabile, Mukti Khaire

Faculty Summary Report:

What were the overall goals of the event?

To elucidate the antecedents, facilitators, and consequences of creativity in the organizational context.

To understand the inter-relationship between individual and team creativity, entrepreneurship, organizations, and society.

To develop a research agenda that identifies new questions and approaches relevant to both academics and practitioners.

The underlying assumption of the colloquia was that organizations of the future will have to become more entrepreneurial and more creative, if they are to succeed. What is changing in the current business environment?

Increased competition means that businesses have to be on their (figurative) toes in order to stay ahead; the only way to do that is through creative problem-solving.

The business context is global rather than merely local.

The issue of limited resources and inefficient distribution is creating environmental and social problems respectively, that businesses can no longer afford to neglect/be indifferent to.

Technological developments are creating new challenges and opportunities.

In general, what did your panel presenters and speakers identify as main themes in the colloquia's mission to "illuminate and deepen the connections between creativity, entrepreneurship and successful organizations of the future?"

The role of managers in fostering creativity as "gardeners" or "shepherds," rather than micro-managers of the creative process.

How the market interacts with creativity and the impact of this interaction on creativity in organizations.

The relationship between creativity and accountability.

The importance of learning from failure and promoting a culture that permits dissent and failures.

The highly uncertain nature of both creativity and entrepreneurship. Such high levels of uncertainty lead to the dilemma of whether to choose the certain but incremental improvement that conformity may bring or the highly uncertain, but potentially revolutionary improvement that creativity may bring.

The need to understand creativity within the larger context: of teams, organizations, networks, and society-at-large.

What did your participants identify as a research agenda for the coming years in this area?

Illuminate the role of managers in fostering creativity in organizations.

Address and answer the questions: can creativity scale? Can creativity be consistently achieved and maintained in organizations? What organizational structural features are conducive to creativity?

Encourage study of failures because the path to radically novel ideas is littered with early failures.

Study incentives and disincentives to creativity.

Study novel business models.

Study business-based, executable solutions to social and economic problems.

Address the issues of translating radical creativity into implementation.

The need to study collaboration and creativity and investigate more deeply the veracity of the popular "lone genius" concept.

What insights or surprises did you walk away with?

We were pleasantly surprised by multiple facets, from incentives that foster creativity through liaison work bridging creatives and managers, to conceptualizing the airplane as a collaborative, open-source innovation. Similarly encouraging was the fact that several levels of analysis (individual, team, organization, networks, society) are being examined.

We were especially encouraged to see that a lot of research was considering the global context of business.

The chief insight was the idiosyncratic nature of creativity, underlining the need to forego "one size fits all" models of research and instead dig deeper into the dynamics of each situation on a case-by-case basis, and then abstract the findings to generalizable theory.

Additionally, the need to balance creative thinking with accountability and responsibility was emphasized. This was a novel twist to the usually laudatory treatment that creativity gets, exposing the darker side of creative thinking.

Finally, we were struck by the urgent need to generate and maintain an ongoing dialog among academic scholars, business leaders, and the general population since the issues of creativity, entrepreneurship, and society are inextricably linked, and silos between these constituents are therefore problematic. Real and growing problems of both business and society can best be addressed in the future through excellent research informed by and communicated to insightful practitioners of creative entrepreneurship in organizations of all types.

What will be published or other output from your colloquium?

The papers presented at the conference will be prepared by their respective authors for submission to peer-reviewed academic journals in the relevant fields. In addition, Jim Heskett published a synopsis of the opening panelists' discussion in his monthly column in HBS Working Knowledge in December 2007. Julia Hanna is also working on an article about creativity in business for the HBS Alumni Bulletin; that article will include a description of the colloquium. The main themes of the discussion at the conference will also be presented in a Harvard Business Review article later this year.