Innovation is essential for a business to survive and thrive, and behind all innovation is creativity. Creativity is not something that people have or don’t have; rather, it is a skill that anyone can perfect and grow.

Perhaps the most useful model of creativity to business leaders is the Creative Change Model developed by the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State College.1  This model organizes the four strands of creativity compiled in Med Rhodes’ landmark 1961 work to show how they interact to cause creative change.2

According to the model, creative change is driven by adoption of a creative product, and this product comes from the interaction of the person, process and environment.


The creative environment directly impacts the ability of the person performing the process. Creative environments can be defined as those that promote the intrinsic motivation of the person.3

Cultural environment

In an environment, 10 dimensions significantly affect creativity. All but the last one (conflict) positively impact creativity. Attempts to improve each dimension will result in a more creative environment, and enable the creative business leader to increase their own and their organization’s creativity significantly:4

Challenge: To what degree are the members of the organization invested in the outcome of the organization’s goals and operations? When the organizational culture empowers members to take ownership of the organization’s challenges as their own, this produces a more creative environment.

Freedom: To what extent are the members of an organization able to act independently? When they are free to experiment and try new things, this fosters a creative environment. Freedom also manifests itself in the ability of an organization to be more flexible on work hours and vacations, when possible.

Idea support: New ideas are fragile, and the cultural environment must support new ideas instead of shooting them down for being unconventional, which is the very reason they are creative ideas.

Trust and openness: Relationships between the members must have a certain amount of emotional safety so the organization’s members feel comfortable sharing data and ideas with one another.

Dynamism and liveliness: The eventfulness of the organization allows creative collisions to happen between members who may not normally talk with one another and allows them to get to know each other in ways that promote sharing new ideas.

Playfulness and humor: These are essential elements in the organizational culture. Playfulness and humor facilitate a more regular generation of new ideas in settings that aren’t just the formal brainstorming sessions.

Debate: Debate allows the challenging of assumptions and the war of viewpoints that uncover new ways of framing challenges and the sharing of relevant knowledge to the problem-solving process.

Risk-taking: When the organization has a high tolerance for uncertainty, it enables its members to generate and experiment with new ideas.

Idea time: When the organization is always putting out fires in the short term, there is little time to play with new ideas that might be crucial for the long-term health of the organization. A creative cultural environment is one that allows people ample time to elaborate on new ideas. For example, Google is the most famous example of a company that pas employees to spend 20 percent of their time working on creative pursuits that have little to do with their original job. This “20 percent time” has led to such innovations as Gmail, Google AdSense and Google News.5  Many other firms have followed suit. Perhaps breaking up the traditional eight-hour workday to do things that may seem like leisure may in fact be incredibly productive.

Conflict: When there is emotional tension between people in the organizations, it can affect communication and the other factors listed above that are important for fostering a creative environment. Conflict may lead to work stress and burnout, which actively decrease creativity.6


Creative products have two essential characteristics. They are both novel and useful. In other words, there is something about them that has never been applied in that manner, and they also solve a challenge. Products that are not useful, but are novel, are typically referred to as fads. Those that are novel without usage may experience a temporary spike but will not last; there are countless examples of this with fad products like the Rubik’s Cube, Beanie Babies and various diet trends. Something that is useful but not novel is an example of a pencil. Just being useful is often not enough for success in the market — without differentiation, these products quickly become commodities, as the threat of substitutes is high.

Therefore, creative products are those that businesses should seek to develop. Even in the case of a pencil manufacturing company, the creative product may not be the pencil itself, but rather the way in which the company is able to manufacture or source the pencil.

Creativity is essential for the modern business leader to foster within their organization, as it is the ability that enables innovation and competitive advantage. In this note, we covered how there are three levers that a business leader can use to enable their organization to be more creative: person, process and environment. The sum of these three aspects is what enables the development of a creative product. By aligning the operations and the culture of their organization to foster these aspects of creativity, the firm will be able to remain competitive and continue providing value to society.

The preceding excerpts Harnessing Deliberate Creativity (Darden Business Publishing), prepared by Alex Zorychta (MBA '21) and Darden Professor Luca Cian.

  • 1Gerard J. Puccio, Marie Mance, Laura Barbero Switalski and Paul D. Reali, Creativity Rising: Creative Thinking and Creative Problem Solving in the 21st Century (Buffalo, NY: ICSC Press, 2012).
  • 2Mel Rhodes, “An Analysis of Creativity,” Phi Delta Kappan 42, No. 7 (April 1961): 305–310.
  • 3Blair Miller, Jonathan Vehar, Roger Firestien, Sarah Thurber and Dorte Nielsen, Creativity Unbound: An Introduction to Creative Process (Evanston, IL: FourSight LLC, 2011), 16.
  • 4 Goran Ekvall, “Organizational Climate for Creativity and Innovation,” European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 5, No. 1 (1996): 105–23.
  • 5Jillian D’Onfro, “The Truth About Google’s Famous ‘20 Percent Time’ Policy,” Insider, 17 April 2015,
  • 6Jan de Jonge, Ellen Spoor, Sabine Sonnentag, Christian Dormann and Marieke van den Tooren, “‘Take a Break?!’ Off-Job Recovery, Job Demands and Job Resources as Predictors of Health, Active Learning and Creativity” European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 21, No. 3 (2012): 321–48.
Harnessing Deliberate Creativity
Learn more about accelerating creativity and innovation in the Darden Business Publishing technical note