Although this is probably no new thing, I’ve just begun to notice how my generation treats creativity as a romanticized notion. In my organizational behavior and strategic IT management class, my fellow classmates are always praising the creativity fostered by companies like Apple, Google, and Southwest Airlines.
The interesting thing about this is the business world tends to actually deter creativity. According to psychologist and Wharton management professor Jennifer Mueller, research shows that even as people explicitly aspire to creativity and strongly endorse it as a fundamental driving force of positive change, they routinely reject creative ideas and show an implicit bias against them under conditions of uncertainty. Subjects in Mueller’s study also exhibited a failure to see or acknowledge creativity, even when directly presented with it.
If you think about it, this observation makes perfect sense. One of the reasons the accounting major is extremely popular is because of the job-stability it provides, the low-risk nature of the job, and the fact it can be very compliance based. In the accounting industry, there are very adverse perceptions towards risk and creativity.
Now accounting and creativity are two words no one wants to hear together. With so many widely-publicized scandals of “creative accounting” leading to multi-million dollar frauds, there is no wonder why this is the case. However, I have come to discover this year that accounting is a relatively creative organization, despite this negative association with “creative accounting”. The strict legal and ethical bounds of accounting contribute to making creativity in accounting more challenging and more rewarding.
What might I mean by this? A good example is the balanced scorecard. An article written by Theresa Amabile from Harvard Business School does a great job explaining the creativity and novelty going into the balanced scorecard and its immensely rewarding effect:
“Created by Robert Kaplan and David Norton in the 1990s, this system for assessing organizational performance builds on, but goes way beyond, traditional accounting methods. The Balanced Scorecard’s primary form of novelty is that it takes into account the intangible assets that are so crucial for information-age companies. In addition to standard financial metrics such as profit and return on investment, it also includes non-financial measures such as customer satisfaction and organizational learning. Not only does this accounting innovation fit well with GAAP but, for hundreds of business, governmental, and non-profit organizations that use it worldwide, it powerfully serves their goal of linking every aspect of their activities to overall strategy. There you have it: An accounting breakthrough that really could land its practitioner in a well-earned corner office rather than in jail.” –Theresa Amabile
So now that we know there is a delicate balance between accounting and creativity, what does it have to do with Texas MPA? Well, while I have been a student here in the MPA program, I feel the program has prepared me and my fellow students to be ethical and creative in the accounting world. The program achieves this by emphasizing the importance of laws and generally accepted practices and sticking to them, giving us enough technical knowledge to understand how to make decisions, giving us room to exercise our ability to be creative, and opening our eyes to all the places an accounting degree can lead us. Texas MPA has mastered the ability to properly manage our creativity and ensure it is within the ethical and legal bounds of the profession.
In Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us (a video I saw in my organizational management class), creativity is properly managed when autonomy, mastery and purpose are encouraged. Here are some examples in how these are encouraged.
- Autonomy- professors tend to give students assignments with some ambiguous guidelines, allowing for students to really exercise their creativity in the way they complete the assignment
- Mastery- every professor motivates their students to master the course material throughout the semester. Every student wants to become better prepared for the real world after every class session
- Purpose- the MPA program is lucky in that the University of Texas as a whole has a very clear purpose: “What starts here changes the world.” This purpose pervades every aspect of the university, and every student is expected to bring the skills they learn in the program out into the world in order to make it a better place.
In conclusion, I have come to respect the way Texas MPA develops our creativity as accountants. It is a challenging concept to encourage in a field where it has such a negative perception, and takes great skill to teach it within the necessary legal and ethical bounds.