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Understanding creativity: the manager as artist

“Think outside the box” is the slogan of countless creativity experts who rightly connect creative thinking to corporate innovation.

By Jamie Anderson , Martin Kupp and Jörg Reckhenrich 01 June 2009

“Think outside the box” is the slogan of countless creativity experts who rightly connect creative thinking to corporate innovation.
UnderstandingcreativitythemanagerasartistJörg Reckhenrich, Martin Kupp and Jamie Anderson advocate, instead, that you think outside the canvas. A review of the thinking of the German artist, Joseph Beuys, shows how managers can unleash bold new ideas.


Creativity is a widely used term in the context of strategy, innovation, organizational development and leadership. When managers realize that strategic questions, leadership issues and complex organizational situations are not manageable in a routine manner, the quest for creative solutions begins. The more unusual a situation, meaning that managers cannot draw upon experience or established routines, the more it calls for a creative solution. In that sense, creativity is seen almost as a prerequisite to manage change and renewal. Creativity is, therefore, a key skill for leaders and organizations, not only in order to adapt to change, but also to proactively shape industries and markets.

But the term “creativity” in business is mostly applied to the use of creativity techniques. Harvard Business Manager (www.harvardbusiness manager.de, June 2008) recently dedicated a full issue to that very topic, presenting an elaborate brainstorming technique and the personal story of an artist. But, while creativity techniques are helpful to open managers to new ideas and while personal stories of artists have an inspiring impact, both approaches are limited in helping us to appreciate the inherent creative potential of people.

If creativity is to add value to the organization, managers first have to understand the principles of creativity as well as develop the mindset, attitude and knowledge of where, when and how creativity will emerge in order to find new solutions.

Joseph Beuys (1921–1986) was an artist who dedicated his work to understanding the basic parameters of art, the creative process and how people might unfold their own creative potential. Beuys became one of the most controversial artists of his time through his radical approach to the philosophy and processes of creativity. Beuys’s approach to creativity can offer practical insights on boosting creativity for individuals and organizations.


The starting point


Joseph Beuys was the son of a German trader. He saw pictures of the work of German sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck and became aware of the principles of sculpture, art and creativity that he immediately proposed as general principles of life.

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