Artistic endeavours

Every
organisation wants its employees to brave and creative, but this wish has to be
backed-up by a supportive structure, says Simon Kent

It’s
two o’clock on a Friday afternoon and on stage at the Mermaid Theatre, London,
about 20 participants from diverse organisations, myself included, are trying
to be creative.

We
had been told to expect a session which involved lots of physical movement and,
as a result, we’re not simply thinking out of the box, but moving out of it as
well.

The
session is being run by Steps, a drama-based training company. Living on the
Edge of Chaos is a one-day session intended to demonstrate the potential of
learning through drama.

The
argument runs that the best place for a company to position itself is on the
edge of chaos – a position where it is open to all business possibilities,
flexible, adaptable and ready for anything. Through being creative it is
possible to operate in this way – avoiding the straight jacket of inflexible
systems and processes while resisting the fall into complete anarchy.

Step’s
approach so far today has consisted of setting a hypothetical challenge in
which we are given various items of hardware (buckets, wheels, ropes etc) in
order to solve a communication problem between two floors of a department
store. We have also been engaged in devising a dance piece, allegedly for
performing to our co-workers to demonstrate the way forward in a recently
merged company. In both cases, participants are operating outside their usual
working environments and the emphasis is on how we are working together rather
than what the outcome of the exercise might be.

The
theory may be sound and, backed by the research and experience of Steps
director Robbie Swales, the group have accepted this hypothesis, but  any course like this begs the question: can
the creativity required actually be taught? And, is using  the arts the right way to develop this skill?

"I
think you can draw out the creativity in people," says Diane Gallacher,
senior consultant with business psychology and HR consulting firm Interactive
Skills and course attendee. "The performing arts will work for some people
more than others. The workshop made me feel I could do things I hadn’t realised
and I think that feeling can be carried over into the workplace."

But
away from the course there is some scepticism. "The idea of training
people to be creative is a contradiction in terms," says Paul Kearns of
Personnel Works [not an attendee]. "I think these courses give you
techniques by which you can be more creative, but whether you are more creative
as a result is another matter."

Martyn
Sloman of the CIPD believes there has to be a clear context for improving
creativity. "I think there is value in helping teams work together more
creatively towards a specific target," he says. "But I have my doubts
that individual creativity can be taught in the same way."

Swales
admits the use of artistic or performance skills is easier to introduce to
organisations pre-disposed to the arts, but doesn’t believe this to be
essential to the course’s success.

Liz
Willis, founding partner of The Springboard Consultancy, has just delivered the
company’s first ‘Creativity at Work’ course, a five-day session for individuals
designed to immerse participants in a new way of thinking and approach to their
work. "Creativity ties into change and the sheer pace of change means we
need different kinds of skills," says Willis. "Coping with change is
not enough – organisations need people who see the change as a chance to do
things differently and better."

Crucial
to both this course and Step’s session is the focus on the process by which
work is carried out rather than the end result. During the Steps course,
participants were made to consider how this process felt – the uncertainty,
nervousness, need for trust and communication. In this way, it was possible to
realise those feelings were a necessary part of moving towards the end product.
So, if employees are more at home with that period of uncertainty they will
feel more comfortable being creative.

But,
back at the office it is results that count and it is here that exponents of
creativity development courses have their work cut out. "As a training
provider, we have to be even more critical of ourselves because people just say
it was great fun and they had a great time," says Swales.

Ultimately,
whether creativity courses do make for more creative employees does not depend
on the participants and course alone, but on the company culture. It’s all very
well encouraging middle management to be more creative, but if senior
management aren’t prepared to listen to new ideas or concepts then newly
fired-up employees will soon lose heart. Given this, any creativity exercise
must be reinforced in the work place through effective initiatives designed to
capitalise on new-found creativity. Even a simple matter such as making sure
the suggestion box is emptied and read will help employees feel their
creativity is valued.

Contacts


Steps – drama learning development: Unit 13.2.2. The Leathermarket, Weston
Street, London SE1 3ER, 020 7403 9000, www.steps drama.com


The Springboard Consultancy: Holwell, East Down, Barnstaple, Devon
EX31 4NZ, 01271 850828


Paul Kearns, Personnel Works 0117 914 6984

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