Functional Creativity in Management and the distinction between Creativity and Innovation –

While in economics usually we don’t find a clear distinction between what is Creativity about the creation of ideas or about the production of new works for the market; in management, as a closer analysis of the functioning of organizations, we can more easily find this distinction between Creativity and Innovation as two different concepts. According to Teresa Amabile, a well-known researcher of creativity in business, creativity is the generation of new and appropriate ideas and innovation implements these ideas in markets or other areas of the business. For Amabile, unlike the arts, “in business, originality isn’t enough. To be creative, an idea must also be appropriate – useful and actionable. It must somehow influence the way business gets done – by improving a product, for instance, or by opening up a new way to approach a process.”1

Amabile argues that creativity has three essential components: Creative-thinking skills (refers to how people approach problems and solutions, their ability to assemble existing ideas into new combinations), Expertise (talent or skill in a particular domain, or knowledge – technical, procedural or intellectual) and Motivation (extrinsic or intrinsic, and this one can be most immediately influenced by the work environment).

The research of Amabile and many other authors has been searching functional relationships between components of individual creativity and productivity of labor, team creativity and organizational innovation that can generate more production for the markets. In this instrumentalization of creativity, research tries to understand, for example, how the work environment can influence creativity and motivation, tries to create theories of creativity and innovation, methods of evaluating creativity and a set of prescriptions to maintain and stimulate creativity and innovation. Thereby, research tries to find solutions to improve creativity and business operations, that is, in all those cases management seeks to understand the cause-effect relationship between creativity and labor, work and business life. We are then essentially in the context of labor and work activities and not in the thought and action of the human being in the world.

So, we are seeing that the Creativity that Management has generally been dealing with is what we call Functional, characterized by its instrumentality. It is related to a production of things for the world where there begins to be some creativity, there is a certain quality of freedom, but it is still instrumental, since work is always a means to an end. In this case, Creativity is at work when we do a work that is a means to achieve an objective, such as making a car or a film with certain characteristics, or solving a question or a problem. But in these cases there is only Creativity when the idea is appropriate, as Amabile says? How is it that at any moment in the creative process, with so many ideas and things happening, can one say that something is appropriate to the objective? Because it is useful and actionable? The “how to do it” doesn’t exist in Creativity, neither in the functional nor in the world. Creativity, even when we are doing something to achieve an objective, is not explained, doesn’t have a “how to do it”. Creativity needs everyone to express their freedom and conditions that stimulate it, but people do not need to be told how it is done..

One can try to analyse later what happened, when the work, the product is made, but that is to make history, economic in this case. It is to tell cases of what happened in human creativity, cases always unrepeatable, in a world of unexpected situations, where unpredictability and irreversibility prevail. Making these stories is often to tell very interesting cases, but we hope that they do not feed the will to establish theories of creativity, “methods of evaluating creativity” (Is it possible to evaluate creativity?) and a set of prescriptions to maintain and stimulate creativity (such as a cookbook, creativity “à la carte”). We will return to these subjects.

From my perspective, trying to understand Functional Creativity in Management is part of understanding what Creativity is and the distinction between “Functional Creativity” and “Creativity in the World”. This is essential to improve the relationship of all with labor, work and the thought and action of the human being in the world. Everyone needs to use their Individual Creativity to be better in life, in the family, business and other organizations, and in the world, in those human affairs that concern everyone and for which there is no common measure or denominator that can be invented.

What do you think about this? To see more go to our posts “Creativity in different Human Activities – labor, work and action” and “Functional Creativity is different from Creativity in the World“.

Filipe Novais, Porto, Europe.

Note: This is part of a Text I wrote and presented at a management and arts conference in 2018, titled “Creativity in the World and Leadership in Organizations” (22 pp). If you want to read the Text, I can email it if you contact me to

1. Amabile, Teresa, 1998. “How to Kill Creativity”; Sep-Oct 1998 issue of Harvard Business Review; Brighton, Massachusetts.

Image – William Kentridge, Felix in Exile, 1994; Tate, London.

[Note: I used this image not for what it could originally symbolize in the William Kentridge’ Video, but because of the drawing of two people trying to measure each other, perhaps looking for common measures or denominators and other ways to evaluate something human…]

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