Ed Glassman

Habits Managers Need to Change to Help Creativity at Work

Managers have habits that may be productive in some situations, and still impair creativity at work. For example…..

The Quick Fixer settles for the first adequate solution to a problem, and thereby halts creative ability to find a better solution. Avoid the Quick Fix by setting a quota for 5-10 different ideas before choosing a solution.  Another way is to set a time minimum and list new ideas for at least 5 minutes.

The Stifler is a habit of managers that involves quick negative criticism. Premature negative criticism is one of the most devastating stiflers of creativity at work. Still, a manager must give honest opinions about new ideas. Try pretending the new ideas are coming from your boss to insure each idea is given careful consideration and respect.

The Gauntlet is a habit carried out in meetings where each idea has to run the gauntlet of the group’s critical thinking before it is taken seriously. The danger is that most ideas are lost because one or several people dominate the discussion, or control through status and position. The antidote to the Gauntlet is non-evaluative listening. Merely reducing evaluation is not enough. The habit of total non-evaluation when listening or listing ideas is absolutely necessary.

The Timer is a habit of managers that can be very productive, and yet, if overdone, will impair creativity at work. Time is needed for creative problem solving: to explore and define problems; to non-evaluatively generate all types of ideas; to generate criteria to evaluate ideas; to evaluate and select ideas; to develop the solution to be implemented. Short cuts produce solutions of lower quality and less creativity. Time is like money when spent pursuing high quality solutions.

The Controller is the habit of not giving enough freedom to people to decide what to do or how to do it. Still, good management is essential to achieve results, and some balance is needed between total freedom and consultation with others. To stimulate creativity at work, managers can form the habit of setting direction, of giving a clear idea of the end product that is wanted, of delegating within people’s areas of expertise, and then, taking the risk of letting people run their own job.

The Rewarder is another habit of managers that can seem very productive, and yet impairs creativity. External rewards, or even focusing on external rewards, lowers creativity.  In contrast, self-direction, in which internal motives operate, increases creativity. Internal motivation to do a job includes challenge, enjoyment, interest, novelty, the sense of control over one’s work, curiosity, etc. Focus the attention of people on the daily enjoyment and challenge, and watch creativity soar at work.

There are a host of other habits of managers that interfere with creativity at work.  One of these is not expecting people to be creative, in part because of job descriptions. Or not tolerating ambiguity or loose ends, and moving to closure too quickly. Or over emphasizing reason and logic, coupled with a belief that fantasy and intuition are a waste of time.  Or not allowing creative people to individualize their working conditions. Or not encouraging humor. Or failing to allot time for ideas to incubate in the mind and mature in the hidden complexities of creative thought. Or not questioning why or how things can be improved.  Or playing it safe and not taking risks.  Or believing that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Many managers are unaware that their own habits, often productive, can lower creativity at work. The good news is that habits can be changed by substituting a new productive habit for an old, outworn one.

Edward Glassman, Ph.D. lives in North Carolina, where he wrote a column on “Creativity At Work’’ two times a week for the Citizen’s News-Record and a column on “Business Creativity” for the Triangle Business Journal in Raleigh.

A Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he lived in Chapel Hill, NC for 34 years and wrote several books on creativity at work. He founded the Program For Team Excellence and Creativity at the university. He led problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University and a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC. 

His book: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” is available from


About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.