Managing Creativity: Media ‘mission impossible’?
by Simon Das
Creativity in the media industries, as noted by Lucy Kung (2008), is arguably more important for business competitive advantage than it is in other industries. The creativity in the working ‘capital’ of ideas, new concepts and even technologies in magazine publishing is often cited as crucial for a dynamic industry that has been heavily impacted on by digital media. (Señor et al 2014). At a wider, more macroeconomic, unit of analysis, creativity is often cited as the key driver for developing new creatively-managed post-information age businesses (Xu & Rickards 2007), part of a wider new creative economy (Florida 2004, Leadbeater et al 2001).
En route to understanding more about the management of creativity in a sector like media (an area that I have worked within as a journalist, editor and academic ), the greatest challenge is the complexity of a subject that has its roots in unfamiliar areas, such as cognitive psychology, and the study of eminent individuals. It’s a subject perhaps that only enters ‘hands on’ management practice via very different understandings, depending on what you manage and perhaps whether you might be an art director or a more commercially focused publisher or sales manager (Banks et al 2002). Creativity theory has not helped such confusions, and is seen by many as minefield of definitional and philosophical debates, an area that sees different fields of knowledge define it, and assess it in different ways (Hennessey & Amabile 2010, Villalba 2008).
These ‘definitional problems’ of creativity broadly consists of two opposing views on what creativity is. At one end of a spectrum, psychology has mainly seen creativity as the work of extraordinary outputs by extraordinary people (Simonton 1976, Sternberg, 2000, Csikszentmihalyi 1988). Here the emphasis in research has traditionally been on cognitive processes, skills dependent on traits such a divergent thinking, and also societal factors such as cultures and people’s upbringing. This has brought into common understanding the idea of creative scarcity, and creativity as something genius like, that only the few can be endowed with – a view said to influence media management’s ‘heroic’ school of thought about creative talent (Bilton 2007). At the other end of the definitional spectrum, policy makers, educationalists and sociologists position creativity as something not scarce but entirely ubiquitous (Banaji et al 2006) – creativity as something that everyone is full of and its causes are no more ‘genius’ than having to make something novel or to take ordinary steps towards large tasks (Wiseberg 1993). This sort of ‘Small C’ versus ‘Big C’ creativity understanding has influenced the human relations school of thought on management via motivational theory (Amabile and Pillemer 2012) as well the common practices for generic thinking skills, in the form of brainstorming and other related techniques from Osborn (1953) and more latterly via De Bono (1987).
With such lack of objectivity in definition for the field of management studies, it is unsurprising to theorists of creativity within media that ‘management and creativity’ seem not entirely compatible (Dwyer 2016 p343). Traditionally viewed as pulling in opposite directions, creative freedom sits uneasily against the historical methods of management’s rational, bureaucratic control (Weber 1947). Despite the potential for a new ‘creative management’ domain of theory-grounded practice (Xu & Ricards op cit p 226), the problem facing media management is that creativity remains largely so mercurial as to be unworkable, and its management often consisting little more than procurement of ‘people with ideas’. According to Dwyer, “somehow or other media organisations must find ways to manage creativity” (op. cit. p 344) ), adding to calls for further research in media contexts (Banks et al 2002, Bilton 2007, Kung 2008).
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