Why the Big-Company Monster Kills Creativity

In this Aug. 22, 2012 photo, Scott Marshall, top, of Calhoun, Ga., files for unemployment, in Dalton, Ga. Collapsing industry
In this Aug. 22, 2012 photo, Scott Marshall, top, of Calhoun, Ga., files for unemployment, in Dalton, Ga. Collapsing industry or not, Dalton city officials are still the proud owners of the label “Carpet Capital of the World,” but what they aren’t happy about is the most recent label: The city that is leading the nation in the number of job losses per capita this year. The city that makes nearly 75 percent of the nation’s flooring has lost 4,600 jobs between June 2011 and June 2012 according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Dalton’s economy hit bottom in 2009 with the collapse of the housing market, taking hundreds of distributor business and support services down with it and struggling to recover in recent years. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

"Creativity" and "innovation" are buzz words that companies like to leverage and claim as monikers of their success. But when people think about large companies, or small companies that just work like large companies, creativity and innovation are the last things they find.

I have worked for both large corporations with thousands of employees, and small startup companies with less than four people. In each company that I've been with, there was an internal culture that everyone followed. This culture defined how employees worked and interacted with each other on a daily basis. In some sense, the culture helped to organize and set the expectations of the company. But when the culture begins to reach into each individuals strengths and force itself upon the organization, it evolves into a "Frankenstein's Monster," leaving employees asking, "What have we created?" This monster, in time, kills the creative nature of people, leaving behind a shell of the organization that once stood.

Creativity and innovation almost always fall victim to big-company mentality. Unless the organization purposely spends efforts to "control the monster," inventors and innovators become crushed under the weight of structure and regulation. Apple Computer is a rare example of how to "control the monster"; though the company is valued in billions of dollars, with thousands of employees worldwide, it continues to innovate, with new products coming out at regular intervals that surprise and delight end users.

As a product designer, I've observed the tell-tale signs of a company wanting to be creative, but choking at the hands of its own monster. Companies that decide that they need to run like big corporations need to realize that employees must be given room to breathe, not constraints to avoid crossing. They need the opportunity to use their strengths in a way that's positive for both the employee and the organization. If the company feels that it needs to put regulations in place, it should do so sparingly, so as to allow creativity to remain active.

Creators and inventors alike dream of having a job where they can employ their skills to excite and teach their employers the wonders of innovation. Don't allow your organization's culture to become the monster that kills such aspirations, and watches creativity die.