Summer 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 2 // Research in Brief // 2RIB2

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Innovation and Creativity in Extension


Keith L. Smith
Leader, Personnel Development
Ohio Cooperative Extension Service and
Associate Professor, Agricultural Education
The Ohio State University-Columbus

Recommendation 2 of the Report of the Futures Task Force to the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy states that the Cooperative Extension System must convey to its publics the image of a contemporary, progressive, and forward-looking organization.1 Many of the 32 recommendations deal with the need for Extension professionals to have a sense of vision, innovation, or creativity. If we're to be innovative, visionary, and proactive, we need staff on all levels with these characteristics.

Amabile tells us that some innovators of great and memorable works are surprisingly ordinary. Her studies show that these innovators are set apart by their drive. They start young, they work hard, they keep going, often far into old age. Above all, they're motivated to achieve from within. Amabile suggests that other studies also indicate that optimal IQ for creativity is about 19 points above the average of other people in the same subject area. Too much education seems to get in the way of creativity because rote methods for doing things, little step-by-step procedures often blind people to offbeat but creative solutions.2

Stein, currently Professor of Psychology at New York University, recently researched personality typology and creativity of adults and children. Here's a list of personality traits of the creative person:

  • Achieving.
  • Motivated by need for order.
  • Curious.
  • Self-assertive, dominant, aggressive, self-sufficient.
  • Less inhibited, less formal, less conventional.
  • Persistent of motive.
  • Independent and autonomous.
  • Constructively critical, less contented, dissatisfied.
  • Widely informed, wide interests, versatile.
  • Open to feelings and emotions.
  • Aesthetic in judgment and value orientation.
  • Low in economic values.
  • More freely expresses feminine interests and lack of masculine aggressiveness.
  • Little interest in interpersonal relationships, is introverted, and low in social values.
  • Emotionally unstable but capable of using instability effectively.
  • Sees self as creative.
  • Intuitive and empathetic.
  • Less critical of self.
  • Makes a greater impact on others.3

The implications for Extension may not be finding these individuals as much as learning what kind of environment turns them on. Campbell, from his research at the Center for Creative Leadership, has indicated that there are seven blocks to creativity in organizations.4

Let's look at three of those blocks. One is fear of failure. As an organization, do we place too much emphasis on success and attach penalties for failure to the degree that potential innovators don't want to "risk it"? The reward structure in most Extension organizations discourages anything but a safe alternative.

Another block is an obvious problem in Extension - a preoccupation with order and tradition. Order is important, even vital; but as Campbell tells us, if everything happens according to plan, there's no innovation. For example, in Extension, the order has been that men report to men and women report to men. Do we need to enrich our leadership and change this tradition?

Finally, another block is resource myopia. As Campbell points out, organizations typically use only a fraction of the total talent available to them, and individuals typically use only a fraction of their talent on their jobs. I think of secretaries in Extension who often aren't used to their greatest potential.

The implication seems clear that we need to free the innovative people currently in our organization to take the risks to design "it-will-never-work" programs. We need to continue to search for these types in the future to complement the many good "builders" in our organization, to allow us to be proactive now and in the future.


1. Futures Task Force to the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, Extension in Transition: Bridging the Gap Between Vision and Reality (Blacksburg: Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, 1987).

2. Alfie Kohn, "Art for Art's Sake," Psychology Today (September, 1987), 52-57.

3. Morris I. Stein, Stein on Creativity [videotape] (Greensboro, North Carolina: Center for Creative Leadership, 1986).

4. David Campbell, Take the Road to Creativity and Get Off Your Dead End (Greensboro, North Carolina: Center for Creative Leadership, 1985).