Creativity, Innovation Get Short Shrift in Workplace, Schools

By Theresa Minton-Eversole Aug 26, 2008

There is strong consensus among U.S. businesses and educators that developing creativity in the workforce is critical to business innovation. But there is much work to be done in both camps to close the significant gap between acknowledging the importance of creativity and fostering it to strengthen U.S. competitiveness, according to survey research recently published by The Conference Board.

The Conference Board, in partnership with the groups Americans for the Arts and American Association of School Administrators (AASA), interviewed more than 100 school superintendents and nearly 100 employers to identify and compare their views surrounding creativity. The survey report, Ready to Innovate: Are Educators and Executives Aligned on the Creative Readiness of the U.S. Workforce?, finds that educators and employers believe that they are responsible for instilling creativity in the workforce. However, they reveal that most schools do not mandate arts training as part of the curriculum. What’s more, most businesses acknowledged that they provide creativity-fostering training to few of their employees.

School superintendents and employers also agreed that the ability to identify new patterns of behavior or combinations of actions, and the ability to integrate knowledge from multiple disciplines, are important ways in which individuals demonstrate their level of creativity.

But there’s a clear disconnect between the two groups’ perceptions of when this demonstration might occur. For example, employers ranked the ability to identify or articulate problems before they occur as the top way job applicants or employees can demonstrate creativity. But school superintendents ranked problem solving as first, while employers ranked this skill eighth.

These discrepancies bolster the view that while schools teach students how to solve problems, the business sector wants workers who can identify the problems in the first place.

“The findings of the report present an opportunity for school system and business leaders to further engage in a dialogue about how best to foster creativity among students, not only to produce a competitive workforce but to help all students succeed in life,” said Paul D. Houston, AASA executive director.

Employer Views About Creativity Vary, Too

There is a dichotomy among employers as well. For example, surveyed employers were almost evenly split on whether they prefer to hire creative workers over technically skilled workers.

The method and the extent to which they foster creativity in the workplace vary as well. Presented with a list of employee activities and training options, less than one in 10 employers surveyed said they provide more than half of them to all their employees. In addition, only half of the options are offered even on an “as needed” basis by more than half the employers. In fact, 80 percent of employers reported that they provide the three activities or training options that they say best develop creativity—working in departments other than their own, managerial coaching and mentoring—only on an “as needed” basis to their employees.

Most employers said they use job interviews to try to determine if a potential employee is creative, and one-fourth of those employers use an interviewee’s appearance to help them decide if that person is creative or not. During interviews, employers gauge interviewees’ creativeness on their ability to look beyond the specifics of a question, their responses to hypothetical situations and elaboration on extracurricular activities or volunteer work.

However, 85 percent of surveyed employers said they cannot find creative people even when they are looking to hire them.

“This study offers a great deal of food for thought and continued investigation,” said Jonathan Spector, CEO for The Conference Board. “In particular, we believe it is time for employers to evaluate how well their corporate support of education and the arts is, as well as how their own employee-training programs stack up against the strategic value they themselves place on innovation and its creative underpinning. It is also time for greater dialogue within and across all sectors to better understand and align efforts to foster creativity in current and future employees.”

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Former HR Magazine intern Eric Reed contributed to this report.


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