Productivity vs Creativity

          In this world of cut-throat competition (does such a competition really exist in the first place; that’s still a question), every organization is obsessed with several initiatives aimed at improving all sorts of parameters one can think of, whether tangible or intangible. The intangible part is gaining importance now, as companies wants to project themselves not just as mere money making machines, but also as bodies who care for people, surroundings and the environment.

        No one is really sure of what “that magic thing” is, that can take us to the next level or put us ahead of the competition. So they end up trying to improve everything; hoping at least one of them will do the job. One thing that happens in the process is that organizations end up creating contradictions. That is to say they try to improve two (or more sometimes) parameters that in reality cannot really coexist. Any organization that lacks a high level view of things is often left to wonder why things don’t improve.

            One good example I see these days is productivity and creativity. On one side, everyone agrees that people need to do more and more in the given time, do not idle away their time, need to be organized, manage their time effectively and be deadline oriented. This is what we have been advocating and practicing for decades now. We have developed a whole lot of processes, methodologies, trainings etc around this and people have changed their habits, thinking and approach to adapt to this model. But then came the surprise. There was definitely stagnation. Though the efficiency and productivity improved, the organizations did not really get the breakthrough they wanted to. Then came the concept of creativity – people said the stagnation is caused by lack of creativity and that’s what is needed to be successful in today’s world.

            Now the organizations that were so far obsessed with improving the productivity, took up creativity too and said – here is another new parameter we need to show improvement on. C’mon guys, how can we survive without being creative and continuously innovating? Look at Google, Ideo….

            In reality, how well these two can co-exist? I am a firm believer that creativity needs those ‘gaps’ or ‘spaces’ for it to express. The more you pack your schedules, the more you chase deadlines; you are actually doing the reverse – getting rid of those gaps. When organizations push two such contradicting initiatives simultaneously, they neither end up in a creative organizations nor a productive organization. All that will result is individuals (or even groups) that will start exhibiting one of these traits predominantly. And organizations  become an assorted bunch of people who predominantly lean towards one or few of the concepts / parameters.

            Is that bad? May be not really, in the sense that something is better than nothing. But this is no way near to making an organizational identity or culture. The solution sometimes is to drop one of those parameters. For e.g a company in the creative space like advertising, might actually not much focus on productivity, but just on creativity. But this is not the only solution. It could be possible to correlate them. For e.g an IT company for whom productivity is of prime concern, can look at creative ways to improve it. But in that case, this is quiet different from having them as two separate parameters for improvement.

            Why does it happen ? I think primarily because we understand both as ‘concepts’. We know ‘productivity’ as a concept and also know all that’s needed to improve it. Now we know “creativity” also as a concept and there are all these tools and workshops which teach you how to become creative. When we understand anything at the concept level (mind level), we cannot see the underlying inter connection. So it doesn’t occur to the organizations that they need to drop something to embrace something new.

            I think at the root of this is the basic human problem of wanting more and more (of anything) to make the life more meaningful.

            This is actually an extension of our personal life; where in also we create such contradictions. Take for example: We want to be paid well as well as we want to do a job that we love. This creates a contradiction. And mostly we make a compromise. But the compromise comes from the logical mind and soon it stops making sense. Say you decide that money is important for you right now and you don’t really care what trash you do.Fine. For few months, you are happy. But then the deep dissatisfaction starts emerging and you feel miserable. In rare cases (if it is strong enough), miracles can happen. People can drop everything and start some thing they love and still be successful. But normally such contradictions makes life miserable and you start feeling that there is no progress.

            The same contradiction of productivity vs creativity exists in our personal lives too. When you are too busy chasing deadlines one after another with packed schedules and always a short term goal to achieve, there is hardly any creative space. The conditioning in the mind is so strong that if you don’t do anything in office on a particular day, you feel guilty. You have wasted time; that’s a crime.

Because of all that noise that gets created in the mind, you never get to experience those moments of stillness where creativity blossoms.

Also read The ‘void’ for creativity in Organizations


8 thoughts on “Productivity vs Creativity

  1. steve

    Hi Sajeev

    Yes, the paradox is clear when you stand back and look at what we try to achieve with creativity and/or productivity.

    Productivity is firmly located in the world of content (things) while creativity is borne of emptiness (no-thing).

    One is rooted in money while the other is found in beauty.

    Any organisation must find this difficult to balance.

    If we stand back even further it is clear what happens if we do prioritise productivity over creativity. A planet in distress!

    If corporations wish to see the real dilemma of productivity v creativity they must stand as far back as possible until they see the totality of the question.

    Productivity must be seen for what it is – dysfunctional – in the long run.

  2. Abdul J Tharayil

    Not sure, where would the famous quote “Necessity is the mother of invention” would fit in? I still believe that great ideas come are the result of a spark in the mind, that spark can come even when you are hitting glass ceiling (I mean while chasing deadline and finding noway out) :)-

    1. Sajeev Post author

      Possible. But I think the difference is when the motivation comes from deep within. Many great artists and thinkers are known to be restless when trying to achieve something in the mind. But is that the same case when the dadlines are imposed externally? I am not really sure.
      Necessity is fine, but whose my necessity or someone else’s? If it is mine, ofcourse I would agree to the statement

      1. Abdul J Tharayil

        I think, pressure when applied – either external or internal – will help a person think differently.

  3. Sajeev Post author

    In my view there is a difference. When the pressure is from outside, there is a tendency to build resistance or seek alternatives, unless the pressure is a threat to the existance. Any emotion when pushed to the farthest extend can lead to creativity. Kings used thin the olden days where they got artsist to create stuff by inducing fear.But in this world, it isn’t possible to induce such existance-threatening emotions for organizations.
    But the otherway might still work. A person can push himself to any limits when he sets to achive something. Here there is joy instead of resistance.

    1. Abdul J Tharayil

      Agree with your statement “tendency to build resistance or seek alternatives” and this seeking alternative is something that would result in finding a different way of doing it. And even when you are building resistance in your mind you are thinking differently 🙂

      The next sentence “A person can push himself to any limits when he sets to achive something. Here there is joy instead of resistance.”

      This is about a persoon (or a single person team), where he/he goes on his own way. Doesn’t apply in a team atmosphere where productivity is not a mere addition of individual outputs, but rather it’s the measure of what as a single entity produces.

      1. Sajeev Post author

        Yes. For some weird reason, I have become very individualistic, always refering to the person. But it applies to any entity. If you look closely, all these entities do actually have a mind on their own and definitley it can get creative.
        But I think this has an advantage over an individual per say. In an individual the reactive pattern may be very strong and he would rather escape than to seek alternatives. But in a group, I think the probability of of seeking alternative can be more. Just a thought..not really sure.

  4. Anupam Tandon

    Very beautiful blog. My friend shared this link with me today. Going through the posts. Truly enlightening. Keep writing.


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