Creativity produces original concepts or combines existing ideas to yield new concepts. Innovation deploys such new concepts within a disciplined framework to reach a strategic objective. Success thus requires a delicate balance between unbridled creativity and the discipline needed to achieve complex goals.

We were all born with vast inborn creativity. We learned to walk and talk without a teacher and had the ability use a smartphone long before we could read. As we grew older, parents and elders became increasingly critical of our instinctive efforts to learn about life by trying out new things. That is when they started disciplining us to make us conform to various rules intended to give us a cultural identity with behavioral guidelines.

Instead of helping little children develop their vast inborn abilities, parents and elders use discipline to discourage and even punish them when they try to be too smart or do new things deemed risky. Studies show that the very high levels of creativity possessed by preschool children come down drastically as they become older and more disciplined.

This is caused by the misconception that leaders must make their followers disciplined. Most organizations and their leaders are struggling to understand the relationship between discipline and team performance. Teams are composed of individuals with diverse motivations, mindsets, attitudes, and behaviors, all of which lead to varying degrees of performance. Good leaders maximize the individual and collective performances of different groups of people. They use subtle forms of correction that don’t destroy individuality and creativity.

Every human activity has boundaries that determine what is acceptable and what is not. This applies to every field of human endeavor ranging from science and technology to sports and performing arts. These boundaries change over time. The role of discipline is to make people understand existing boundaries without limiting their ability to stretch such boundaries through new thinking and concepts.

Misguided notions of discipline can drastically reduce human creativity that can find solutions to even the most complex problems. Conventional control compels children and adults to adopt restrictive attitudes and behaviors. It obstructs their inborn creative ability to overcome complex challenges, especially during unpredictably turbulent modern times. Strictly enforcing the conventional 8-hour work shifts does not work, because the brain naturally functions in spurts of high energy (one hour) followed by periods of low energy (10-15 minutes).

By allowing its engineers to spend 20% of their work week on projects that interest them, Google taps into the diverse talents of its employees. Several well-known companies (such as Microsoft and Dell) are abandoning one of the most loathed traditions in management discipline: the annual performance review. However, a total lack of control can produce unruly and disruptive behaviors that are counterproductive. Therefore, discipline has to steer a delicate course for nurturing creativity and innovation while preventing anarchy.


This article appeared in the April 2016 edition of Lightworker Advocate Magazine