The Relationship Between Creativity & Discipline



In our last article, we explored common obstacles organizations run into when micromanaging people. We also discussed how these actionable feedback cycles are better reinvested in managing the company’s collective vision.


We may wonder why management efforts are worth balancing between the actors carrying out the creation process and the imagined, continuously evolving product.


There are two forces we ought to place under scrutiny.


In this discussion, we created a model to represent the relationship between creativity and discipline.


We explain how the two seemingly opposing forces work together as fundamentals of a cyclical paradigm, along with how this motion is observable in individuals and teams.


A Model For The Fundamental Relationship Between Creativity And Discipline


If creativity is the engine that makes the car move, then discipline is the fuel intake valve that regulates how much fuel mixes with air to burn and allow the engine to run.


Cycles of creativity and discipline are what determine the efficiency of a system, and that’s the same for a car, a company, or a growing plant. What’s worth remembering is that all systems are cyclical in nature, despite our linear perception of them.


The simplest example is organic life. There’s becoming and growth. Eventually, there’s disintegration and death, the return to the ground.


There are larger, complex examples of such discipline we can freely observe and learn from. A plant needs water to grow, alongside other nutrients. That said, too much water causes rot, and so we can observe nature’s multi-layered, yet fundamentally simple adaptations of discipline.


Such larger cycles of adaptation in favor of creativity are what organizations are ought to take inspiration from in their strategy and execution processes.


What Does Too Much Creativity Look Like?


In this case, we speak of creativity as the ability to create associations between different data points. Physical action from creativity can only take place if the creator, you, has the ability to make an association and act on it.


If musicians create constant associations with the ‘inner ear’ and wait months before bringing the inner creation to what we call reality, that’s absolutely fine. As long as there are no incremental deadlines and subsidiary goals to meet.


In fact, stories say Nikola Tesla would imagine and near-ready models of his greatest works before putting anything down on paper or giving the idea a physical form. The man created an innumerable number of associations before he acted on them.


Unfortunately, organizations don’t have this degree of creative freedom. Even if they did, the majority of individuals within organizations are incapable of such artistic flair, because they haven’t practiced it.


Besides, there are daily goals to meet, so the intoxicated artist approach isn’t what companies are looking for.


What Does Too Much Discipline Look Like?


Too much discipline results in inaction, an enemy of the corporate culture.


Thousands of rules are in place with an infrequent reflection about their productive value, and creativity is suppressed. This harms the company’s quality of output, as well as the employee’s personal wellbeing.


Whether we’re considering the role of a line-worker in a factory or a data entry employee at a marketing company, there’s a human being with an incredible creative capacity limited to a devolutionary role as a cog.


Sure, people are needed to perform particular tasks, but the controlled (sometimes intentional) negation of development harms the company as much as the individual. With an active management effort of the creativity-discipline cycle of teams and individuals, an organization begins to create an internal balance of innovative workers across all scales.


People want to learn more than ever, and companies must adapt.


How Can We Strike A Balance?


What’s perplexing at first, is that ‘too much’ creativity turns straight into ‘too much’ discipline. Like our example of Nikola Tesla, the creation is built mentally and transmuted into the physical world.


As to how the physical creation process can include some degrees of creativity, we need to ask ourselves how this cycle works. Since everything is always moving, it’s logical to assume that we are always in motion on the creativity-discipline cycle.

We are continuously moving around this cycle. Naturally, the rate at which we shift between the two determines the creative output into the ‘physical world’.


Once an association is made, a degree of discipline is needed to carry out the necessary actions to bring it into existence. Then again, organizations have other areas where they fall short alongside the lack of understanding of this phenomenon.


Some teams are assigned entirely ‘disciplinary’ roles, while others are assigned entirely ‘creative’ roles. What this does is disrupt and slow down an otherwise naturally occurring cycle that we’re all capable of practicing. Abilities vary based on the individual’s ‘talent’ and practice, and this is where an attentive HR department can excel.


We’ve already touched on re-investing in existing talent, more, noticing existing talent.


This article shows the figures spent due to high employee turnover and negligence of existing talent.


Identifying An Actionable Starting Point


As per the ACM approach, companies must identify an actionable starting point to implement their understanding of the cyclical creativity-discipline model.


The fourth stage workshop of ACM is a human-centered approach to design activities where teams and individuals are given a space to experiment. Experimentation is a place where novelty is discovered, and upper management are then encouraged to observe such workshops.


The creativity-discipline workshop also ties into capability development, a topic we’ll discuss in the next article. Once the talent and potential of each individual is recognized in an organization, all levels of management carry a new-found responsibility to assemble a set of tools that allow gradual, sustainable implementation.