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What would you do?

José was in charge of launching an aggressive, new marketing plan. His team consisted mostly of analytical thinkers like himself. Before the project got underway, someone suggested that he bring on people with different skill sets to enhance the "intellectual diversity" of his group. The idea was intriguing, but different skill sets probably translated into different ways of thinking, different expectations, and very different personalities. All that diversity could mean chaos, and that made José nervous.

What would you do?

Chaos at the beginning of the creative process is a good thing. In order to generate fresh, new ideas that push the boundaries, José should invite people with different points of view and different areas of expertise to join his team. For example, José might include someone from Sales who would represent the voice of the customer, and someone from Product Development who's good at generating unusual ideas. When people with different thinking styles and expertise interact, they may indeed come up with conflicting points of view. but they will also likely generate more innovative ideas that will, in turn, yield a more original, creative marketing campaign.

In this topic, you'll learn how to combine different approaches and sets of expertise to build a diverse team or enhance an existing one, establish ground rules for creative brainstorming, and use tools that can help you resolve conflicts to get the most out of your team.

Part of your job as a manager is to foster new ideas. But how do you assemble a team with the right mix of skills and perspectives to promote creativity?

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Topic Objectives

This topic helps you:

  • Recognize your own cognitive preferences as well as those of your team
  • Assess how creativity is supported in your work environment
  • Design teams to increase their creative potential and channel conflict towards productive purposes
  • Alter attitudes, group norms, and physical surroundings in ways that improve the likelihood of innovative results

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About the Mentor

Dorothy Leonard
Dorothy Leonard

Dorothy Leonard is the William J. Abernathy Professor Emeritus of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, where she teaches courses in corporate creativity, new product and process design, knowledge management, and innovation.

Professor Leonard is the author of two books on innovation, Wellsprings of Knowledge: Building and Sustaining the Sources of Innovation and When Sparks Fly: Igniting Group Creativity. Professor Leonard's major research interests, consulting expertise, and teaching efforts relate to creativity and managing the innovation process.

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The Manager's Role

Nurturing creativity

José and his team gather around the conference table to brainstorm new business ideas, but they are uninspired.
quote beginEvery child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.quote end
—Pablo Picasso

Is your group having trouble generating new business ideas? Is the group thinking too much along traditional lines, or having difficulty thinking very far down the road? Is your group reluctant to take risks? What can you do as a manager? Are there steps you can take to change such patterns of behavior?

Here's the good news: the answer to the last question is yes. Essentially, all the dilemmas just described trace back to a problem in the creative functioning of the group. Contrary to what many people believe, group creativity doesn't just happen—it can be planned for, nurtured, and enhanced.

Unleashing creative potential

 José stands back while his group congregates around the table to work on their shared creative project.

As a manager, you are the designer of your group. Even though you probably didn't have the opportunity to handpick the members of the team you supervise, you can shape and mold their interaction. The way you manage the various personalities can help unleash your team's creative potential. Make no mistake about it, this can be very demanding work. You start by developing a deep appreciation for the different thinking styles of each member of your team. Then you consciously try to have those differing approaches rub against each other—making sure that the "abrasion" improves rather than undermines the quality of the group's work.

There are other steps you can take as well. By paying close attention to group norms, you can foster a climate in which people feel good about their work, in which they are motivated to seek out problems and solve them. You can alter the physical workspace in ways that make for more robust, stimulating communication. And you can lead your group through structured thinking exercises that will help them make connections they might not have made otherwise.

What Are Creativity and Innovation?

Definitions

José imagines creativity as the proverbial light bulb illuminating above his head.

Just what are creativity and innovation? You know them when you see them, right? But a deeper understanding of what creativity is—and is not—can help you enhance the creativity of any group you lead. Let's start with a couple of definitions, and then move on to correct the most common misconceptions people have about creativity.

Creativity is a process of developing and expressing novel ideas that are likely to be useful.

Innovation is the embodiment, combination, and/or synthesis of knowledge in original, relevant, valued new products, processes, or services.

Distinctions

The team completes the creative process, and, as if a giant light bulb has illuminated, the process leads to innovation.

Embedded in these definitions are three key insights:

  1. Creativity is not so much a talent as it is a goal-oriented process. Making your group more innovative is not a matter of importing a few people who have creative character traits, and then relying on these folks for all your breakthrough ideas. Rather, it's a matter of designing a collaborative approach that maximizes everyone's distinctive gifts, experience, and expertise. Moreover, the purpose or goal of the creative process is the solving of a particular problem or the satisfying of a specific need.
  2. Creativity involves convergent as well as divergent thinking. The creative process begins with divergent thinking—a breaking away from familiar or established ways of seeing and doing that produces novel ideas. Convergent thinking occurs in the later stages of the process. As the original ideas generated by the divergent thinking are communicated to others, they are evaluated to determine which ideas are genuinely novel and worth pursuing. The group then uses convergent thinking to choose an option with the potential to solve the problem that initiated the creative process.
  3. An innovation is the end result of the creative process. Again, creativity is a process you employ to improve your problem solving. So you're not done until your creative efforts have produced a product, service, or process that answers the original need or solves the problem you identified at the outset.

Key Misconceptions

Creativity is misunderstood

José imagines several light bulbs floating above his head and wonders when creativity will strike next.

There's actually quite a bit of research on creativity that's been done over the years. In the course of all this experimentation and exploration, it's become clear that creativity is a widely misunderstood subject. Do you have any of the following misconceptions about creativity? Doing away with them extends your managerial arena—the range of possible actions you can take to maximize your group's creative potential.

By defying the five misconceptions about creativity, managers can extend their teams' creative dynamics.

Misconception #1

The smarter you are, the more creative you are.

Intelligence correlates with creativity only up to a point. Once you have enough intelligence to do your job, the relationship no longer holds. That is, above a fairly modest threshold—an IQ of about 120—there is no correlation between intelligence and creativity.

Misconception #2

The young are more creative than the old.

Age is not a clear predictor of creative potential. Research shows that it usually takes seven to ten years to build up deep expertise in a given field—the kind of expertise that enables you to perceive patterns of order or meaning that are invisible to the novice. Thus, in the business world, the necessary creativity can be found in an adult of any age. At the same time, however, expertise can inhibit creativity: experts sometimes find it difficult to see or think outside established patterns.

Misconception #3

Creativity is reserved for the few—the flamboyant high rollers.

The willingness to take calculated risks and the ability to think in untraditional ways do play a role in creativity. But that doesn't mean you have to be a bungee jumper in order to be creative. It doesn't mean that you have to be markedly different from everyone else. Nor does it mean that creativity is restricted to high-impact, high-risk endeavors. Moreover, there are steps managers can take to help anyone be a more innovative worker. On rare occasions, those innovations will be visionary leaps forward that revolutionize an industry. But more often, they will be small improvements that advance the organizational cause.

Misconception #4

The creative act is essentially solitary.

In fact, a high percentage of the world's most important inventions resulted not from the work of one lone genius, but from the collaboration of a group of people with complementary skills. Individuals and groups who make important discoveries pass through a number of stages. The stage of illumination, when a flash of insight occurs, is the next-to-last stage. Although this stage tends to get all the press, most innovations come about only after much toil, many dead ends, and more than a few apparent breakthroughs that don't pan out.

Misconception #5

You can't manage creativity.

Granted, creativity is rather like a genie that can't be bottled: you can never know in advance who will be involved in a creative act, what that act will be, or precisely when or how it will occur. Nevertheless, as a manager, you can create the conditions that make creativity much more likely to occur. That is, you can increase the probability of innovation.

So what's involved in creating these conditions?

  • Carefully determining the composition of your group.
  • Enriching the workplace environment—the psychological and the physical environment.
  • Providing tools and techniques that enhance idea generation.
  • Managing the process of innovation so that the best insights and ideas are translated into innovative products, services, and ideas.

Five Steps in the Creative Process

Creative group process

Sometimes, ideas come in flashes of inspiration. More often, though, they come as a result of a deliberate process. Knowing this process is a key part of managing a creative group.

Key Idea

Innovation is the end result of a creative group process that progresses through several stages.

Preparation involves selecting group members to maximize creativity.

In the innovation opportunity stage, group members identify the problem requiring creativity.

Next is the generation of options stage, which involves promoting divergent thinking.

Then the group moves into the incubation stage, when they take time to consider options.

Finally, the group progresses to convergence on one option, when they move from many options to one innovation or innovative idea.

The creative process is not as linear as these stages might suggest, but each phase is vital to group creativity. As a manager, it's important that you ensure your group's progression through each stage.

Identify opportunities

Most successful innovation is the result of a conscious, purposeful search. Some areas represent more fertile ground than others. Inside a company, such opportunities include:

  • Unexpected occurrences, such as the loss of an overseas factory because of political upheaval
  • Incongruities—for example, the need to rethink corporate strategy in the wake of a merger
  • Process needs, such as the need to create separate distribution channels for a new line of products
  • Industry and market changes

Opportunities generated outside the company include:

  • Demographic changes—for example, a shift in consumer demand for leisure activities in accordance with the aging of the population
  • Changes in perception, such as the strengthening of a company's brand equity
  • New knowledge—for example, the advent of a new technology that cuts production costs in half
  • The need to provide new products or services

Looking for an area in which to concentrate your creative efforts? Use these categories to help you make that assessment. Another approach is to make of list of all the aspects of the company's operations that require special knowledge or expertise, and concentrate your efforts there.

Characteristics of Creative Groups

Paradoxical tendencies

The creative group exhibits paradoxical characteristics. This chart shows tendencies of thought and action that appear to be mutually exclusive or contradictory, but which somehow manage to exist side by side. For example, to do its best work, your group needs deep knowledge of the subjects relevant to the problem it's trying to solve, and a mastery of the processes involved. But at the same time, your group needs fresh perspectives that are unencumbered by the prevailing wisdom or established ways of doing things. (Often called a "beginner's mind," this is the perspective of a newcomer: someone who is curious, even playful, and willing to ask anything—because he doesn't know what he doesn't know.)

Characteristics of Creative Groups

Paradoxical tendencies

Activity: Formulate the perfect creative team

As you build an optimal creative team, what combination of team member characteristics would be most effective? Choose the best mix below.





Determine the ideal mix of traits in a creative group.

Different Thinking Styles

The value of creative groups

Teams ensure a level of creative output that is greater than what any individual could achieve.

Key Idea

The characteristics that are necessary for creative work seem contradictory, and they rarely exist in one person. That's one reason why teams are increasingly important in today's economy: they ensure a level of creative output that is greater than what individuals working alone could achieve. But in order to achieve that kind of output, you have to carefully examine the composition of your group. You need to make sure that your group, as a whole, has all the requisite skills and attributes that help a group produce creative ideas.

Intellectual diversity

While ethnic and gender diversity are important, strive to have intellectual diversity represented in your group.

Key Idea

The key ingredient here is intellectual diversity. You need people with different areas of expertise and deep knowledge in different disciplines, but you also need people with different thinking styles. Here, it's important to understand that intellectual diversity is not the same thing as ethnic and gender diversity. Ethnic and gender diversity can often enhance your group's variety of thought, but they don't guarantee it. You can't assume that people of the same gender or ethnic group will think alike—or that people of different groups think differently. So even as you consider the ethnic and gender representation of your group, focus on preferred thinking styles, functional specialties, and the particular skills that influence how a person approaches a problem.

Preferred thinking styles

quote beginIt requires a very unusual mind to undertake the obvious.quote end
—Alfred North Whitehead

What is a preferred thinking style? It's the essentially unconscious way a person looks at and interacts with the world. When faced with a problem or dilemma, a person will usually approach it by thinking in the way she is most comfortable. And although each style has particular advantages, no one style is better than another.

There are many different ways to describe how people think and make decisions. For the purposes of ensuring that your group has all the characteristics necessary for creative work, what's most important is that you develop the ability to recognize and describe different thinking styles.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator breaks down thinking preferences into four categories, with two opposite tendencies in each category.

Opposing Myers-Briggs Types

Extroverted: These people look to other people as the primary means of processing information.

Introverted: These people tend to process information internally first before presenting the results to others.

Sensing: These people tend to prefer hard data, concrete facts—information that is closely tied to the five senses.

Intuitive: These people are more comfortable with ideas and concepts, with the "big picture."

Thinking: These people prefer logical processes and orderly ways of approaching problems.

Feeling: These people are more attuned to emotional cues; they are more likely to make decisions based on the values or relationships involved.

Judging: These people tend to prefer closure—they like having all the loose ends tied up.

Perceiving: These people like things more open; they tend to be more comfortable with ambiguity and often want to collect still more data before reaching a decision.

Don't get hung up on the actual word used to describe a particular tendency. Everyone exhibits all eight of these tendencies, but they do it in varying degrees. For example, it's not that a feeling person is incapable of logical thought—rather, it's that his or her thinking about a decision tends to be guided by the emotional impact of that decision on key relationships.

Start with yourself: how would you characterize your own thinking style? Knowing your own preferences helps you appreciate other thinking styles—you begin to understand how different perspectives can complement or round out your own. You may be particularly good at generating unusual ideas. But for those ideas to lead to something productive, your team will also need people with strong analytical skills who can assess whether your novel ideas fit the criteria that your customers require. In addition, your team will need people with the practical intelligence necessary for translating your idea into a product or service.

When different thinking styles rub against each other, creative sparks fly. That's the insight behind the phrase creative abrasion.

Building Intellectual Diversity

Make creative sparks fly

Sparks fly and creativity blooms in the intellectually diverse group.

An intellectually diverse group thinks more creatively and is more likely to generate innovative solutions. You can't make people adopt a different thinking style, but you can orchestrate thinking styles in such a way that your group's output benefits from the different perspectives.

How do you get creative abrasion? You import creative diversity from the outside, or you build your internal capacity for it.

Building Intellectual Diversity

Make creative sparks fly

Diversity of experience creates opportunity

Personal Insight

Twelve years ago, I saw John Neil, the Chief Executive of Unipart. There had been a riot in Oxfordshire and I, as the new Chief Executive of Business In The Community, was rather interested to see what we ought to be doing differently.  How much were companies really involved in the issues that were affecting the competitiveness of their businesses and the cohesion of their communities?

So I rang up John Neil, knowing that he ran a big plant outside Oxford, and said "John, can you ring the Chief Constable - because he'll take your call, he won't take mine—and find out what's going on, on Blackbird Leys? Why is there a riot in Oxford for God's sake?" John rang up the Chief Constable and, given that John was an important character in the local business world, the Chief Constable said: "Yes, it's a real issue. It's about naughty boys being let off on bail who pinch cars. As fast as we lock them up, they're let out again and we never seem to manage to get to the bottom of it." And John, instead of saying "thank you so much just for letting me know" did what really matters which is to say: "I'll tell you what. I wonder if I could send two young engineers down to talk to some of the naughty boys about what they've been doing and how they've been doing it?" And the Chief Constable said: "Yes, fine." So he sent two of his youngest, brightest engineers to meet with ten or 12 of these characters who'd just been let out on bail. And the engineers asked them why they were pinching the cars; what was so exciting? Was it just the thrill of the chase? And one child said: "No, I just love driving cars. I'm only 14, and I love driving! But I'm not allowed to drive cars. The only way I can get them is to pinch them." And another character said: "Well it's just so interesting to see how we can always get into these cars, isn't it?" The young engineer asked: "Show us how you get into these cars." And the cocky little tyke said: "I can get into any car you like, any car in the street. You just tell me which car you want." So they said: "Get into that Merc, get into that Ford." And they got in.

One engineer went back to the laboratory and had, as a result of that connection, a creative thought. It had triggered in him the idea that they were actually making their car alarms in the wrong way because everybody knew where they were; in a Ford they were always going to be under the left-hand seat. So he started to think about it and he invented the immobilizer, which now earns Unipart a sizable stream of income. That thought had come to him as a result of doing something different, being with people he wasn't normally with and seeing life through somebody else's eyes. It's diversity and experience that so often breed creativity, not the same thing time and time again.

Looking at your business through someone else's eyes gives a different viewpoint and brings valuable new ideas. Diversity of experience often breeds creativity, as it gives companies the opportunity to learn things they didn't previously know about their customers or markets.

Julia Cleverdon

Chief Executive, Business in the Community

Julia Cleverdon started her career working in industrial relations at British Leyland. She was Director of The Industrial Society's Education and Inner City Division from 1981 until 1988 before becoming Chief Executive of Business in the Community—the movement of 700 companies across the UK committed to continually improving their positive impact on society—in 1992.

During her time there, one of her key roles has been to lead 'Seeing is Believing', the initiative launched in conjunction with HRH The Prince of Wales to help business leaders see the role business can play in tackling social problems. To date more than 1,400 business leaders have taken part.

She is a Director of In Kind Direct, the charity that acts as a clearing house for surplus goods from the corporate sector that are channeled to good causes in the voluntary sector.

Assess team diversity

Consider yourself lucky if you have the opportunity to compose your team from scratch. The more likely scenario is that you're assigned a team to lead, and the membership has already been determined. Once you've assessed how the thinking styles of your team members complement (or duplicate) your own, you'll have a pretty good feel for whether any gaps exist. If the team lacks vital skills or expertise, you're going to have to look outside your group to find what you need.

Building Intellectual Diversity

Assess team diversity

Activity: Got diversity?

Answer each of the following five questions "yes" or "no." Record your answers manually as you go.

1. Group members seem reluctant to disagree with each other.

2. Your group needs more radical innovations than they are currently generating.

3. The group has been working together for more than three years.

4. Group members tend to agree rapidly on what to do.

5. You suspect that there are minority opinions in the group that are not being heard.

Select your tally.




Is your group composed of people with similar thinking styles and skills?

Import intellectual diversity

quote beginWhen all men think alike, no one thinks very
much. quote end
—Walter Lippmann

First, look elsewhere within your organization. Are there people with different thinking styles or skills who could temporarily take part in the work of your team? If not, you'll need to go outside your organization—and maybe outside your industry.

When engineers working at a ceramics manufacturer were having difficulty getting the ceramics to release from their molds, they realized that their problem had to do with quick-freezing, not with ceramics. So instead of seeking out other ceramics experts, they turned to the experts in quick-freezing: the food industry.

Other suggestions for sparking your group's creativity: guest speakers, interns, even field trips to other organizations.

Hire for creative abrasion

On those occasions when you are able to hire new employees, take full advantage of the opportunity:

  • Look for people whose intellectual perspectives complement (but don't duplicate) your own preferred styles and skills, as well as those of your group.
  • Look for a balance of expertise and personal characteristics (such as initiative, ability to get along with others, etc.) in each new hire.
  • Look for people who are able and willing to work across functional boundaries.
  • When you set specific hiring criteria, put a premium on increasing your group's intellectual diversity and finding necessary skills that the group currently lacks. Don't simply list a standard set of skills.

Also consider exploring nontraditional hiring channels (channels other than your company's human resources department). For example:

  • Consider interns who've spent a summer or semester with your company.
  • Ask colleagues for referrals.
  • Ask friends outside your industry to be on the lookout for people whose skill sets match your needs.

Remember: if your goal is to create change within the group, it won't be enough just to hire one person who has a different perspective. A lone hire soon feels isolated and becomes marginalized. For the different thinking styles to make a difference, you need to begin by hiring a critical mass of newcomers with fresh perspectives.

Integrate team members

You can imagine the integration of new team members as fingers interlacing to join hands.

After hiring new team members, your work doesn't stop. It's up to you to take the initiative to ensure that new members are thoroughly integrated into the functioning of the team:

  • Discuss with group members why it is valuable to have people with different perspectives and skills.
  • Give the group some input into the hiring decisions.
  • When someone with different perspectives or skills is brought on board, make sure that person has a mentor.
  • Make sure that group members who represent different skills and perspectives will be able to demonstrate their value to the group—even if it's only in small ways at the outset.
  • Meet regularly with new members to discuss their experience with the group.
  • Make certain that a new member's role within the group's overall vision is very clear.
  • Make sure that new people are included in social events.

Fostering Creative Abrasion

Manage creative conflict

In a creative team, conflict can be a good thing: it sharpens ideas and increases the energy of the discussion. You must learn to distinguish between positive and negative creative conflict.

Key Idea

Make no mistake about it: intellectual diversity does have its hazards. When you put different thinking styles together on one team, the result will not be unbroken harmony—nor would you want it to be. Expect to have disagreements and clashes—that way, you won't be surprised when they occur. But you must be vigilant nonetheless, constantly asking yourself if the conflict is creative or not.

For creative abrasion to work, you have to maintain a dynamic equilibrium. You want to foster substantive conflict—that is, the kind of abrasion that gets team members interacting. You want your team members to listen to each other's points of view and question each other's assumptions.

At the same time, you must prevent the conflict from becoming personal, or else the group will splinter and productivity will suffer.

Fostering Creative Abrasion

Manage creative conflict

Embracing conflict

Personal Insight

Which leads to the three key points, which is, first, a premise of mine, that prolonged equilibrium is a precursor to death. I mean, certainly in the, in the natural world and, indeed, in organizations when you're in a niche for a long time that is fairly stable, there's a strong tendency for a species or for an organization to become overly adaptive. You become so comfortable and so well suited for a particular niche, that when the world changes around you, you're actually mal-adaptive to the new environment.

One of the corollary rules here is that you've got to be smarter than your food. Often, as an organization, your food changes, or other people compete for it, and being smarter than that food requires something to get you out of your comfort zone. Conflict is a fabulous fuel for doing that.

The second is to really listen to the hidden conflict because most organizations shy away from it, submerge it, smooth and avoid or, in some cases, fight and reload is the dominant means where they go to battle with great vigor like New Guinean natives only to rearm and go back to working with no real resolution. But the ability to confront and problem solve is at the heart of the task if you're, as point two, trying to make conflict work for you. You need to look for the hidden tensions that organizations essentially have to embrace between people who want things centralized so they can control them and the people who need lots of latitude and decentralization between an approach to the future that's opportunistic versus people who really want to have a nailed-down game plan and really know where their strategy is taking them. We swim in these in organizations.

If you seize upon these as a means of moving an organization forward and using the tension as a wake-up call, it can be very powerful. The unfortunate default setting for most organizations is to do something quite different, which is to rely on what I call social engineering, where some senior person, the senior's head organization is body; the senior person, the senior group, the experts, figure it out. And then on the premise of some kind of continuity during the time in which you're going to supposedly solve a problem, and the assumption of cascading intention, namely that once you figure out the answer, you can get everybody to lay the train track and the trains will stay on the track, but that premise is deeply baked in to how organizations try to cope and be rational which, first of all, denies human nature and seriously under-utilizes the power of conflict.

When harnessed correctly, conflict can be a powerful force for renewal—which is important in business, as complacency will only lead to decay.

Richard Pascale

Writer, Lecturer, and Consultant, Oxford University

Richard Pascale is the Principal of Pascale & Brown. He is also an Associate Fellow of Oxford University and an accomplished author.

Mr. Pascale spent 20 years as a member of the faculty at Stanford's Graduate School of business, where he taught a course on organizational survival, the most popular course in Stanford's MBA program.

During his career he has also been a White House Fellow, Special Assistant to the Secretary of Labor and Senior Staff of a White House Task Force.

In 1981 he co-authored the best-selling title The Art of Japanese Management. His other acclaimed books include Surfing the Edge of Chaos: The Laws of Nature and the New Laws of Business and Managing on the Edge: How the Smartest Companies Use Conflict to Stay Ahead.

Mr. Pascale is an architect of corporate transformation programs, and serves as an Advisor to top management for a number of Fortune 100-size companies.

Corporations whose CEOs and top management teams he has worked closely with include AT&T, General Electric, The New York Times, Marriot, British Petroleum and Intel.

Mr. Pascale's latest research focuses on the emergence of self-organization.

Establish group norms

Group norms won't prevent all conflict from happening, but they are very useful to turn to when there is strife. Being able to refer team members back to the agreed-upon ways of behaving can help you restore a sense of team identity, and turn conflict into something substantive and productive.

What should your group's operating guidelines be? That depends on the purpose of the group and the personalities of its members. But certainly any effective set of norms should be clear and concise. They should also include the basics: respect for all members of the group, a commitment to active listening, and an understanding about how to voice concerns and handle conflict.

To guarantee the free flow of ideas, some groups may want to go further—for example, making explicit that anyone is entitled to disagree with anyone else. They may also want to adopt specific guidelines that:

  • Support calculated risk taking
  • Establish procedures about acknowledging and handling failure
  • Foster individual expression
  • Encourage a playful attitude

Whatever principles your group decides upon, make sure all the members participate in establishing them—and that everyone is willing to abide by them.

Learn from failure

Failure can be useful if it is "intelligent failure." However, this does not mean simply learning from mistakes or making the same mistakes over and over. For intelligent failure to take place, you must:

  • Acknowledge that there is a risk and plan contingencies
  • Keep management informed
  • Assess and learn from any failures

Enhancing the Psychological Environment

Promote group norms

José asks himself whether his actions as a manager foster or undermine group norms.

Group norms are important for establishing a psychological climate that promotes creativity, but they will get you only so far. If you want team members to believe that the norms are for real, you have to back them up with the following:

  • Your concrete actions as a manager—how you respond to events and to what your team members say and do. What you say you value most highly and how you actually respond to the course of events can often be two very different things. To make sure there is no dissonance between these two, ask team members to fill out anonymous evaluation forms from time to time, in which they assess whether your behavior fosters free-flowing communication, a willingness to take risks, and an ability to acknowledge and examine failure. Moreover, don't underestimate the importance of direction and feedback. Research indicates that a cogent explanation of employee responsibilities and clear, frequent feedback from supervisors are among the most powerful motivational elements of a manager's tool kit.
  • The reward system—your company's compensation plan, plus any additional incentives and means of recognition that you set up.

Establish a reward system

Creativity will not flourish without a reward system that encourages individuals to stretch their ideas, to try totally new approaches, and to push beyond the bounds of normal work processes. Creative energy is a limited resource and must be replenished—not just at the end of the creative process, but throughout the project's life cycle. An exhausted or discouraged group cannot maintain their creativity. Rewards serve to rejuvenate and refresh creative energy.

There are many mechanisms for helping people feel motivated and energized to work creatively. Rewards can be based on:

  • Recognition—for example, acknowledging an individual or group with a plaque or public announcement
  • Control—allowing an individual or group to participate in making a decision or choice that affects them, or giving a group the resources it needs to carry out a project
  • Celebration—for example, acknowledging a successful new-product launch by throwing a party
  • Rejuvenation—providing time off or away from the task

How rewards motivate

A team member experiences intrinsic rewards through enjoyment of his work and extrinsic rewards through recognition for that work.

Another way to think about rewards is in terms of how they motivate. A reward can either be:

  • Intrinsic—something that appeals to a person's desire for self-actualization or challenge, to her deep interest and involvement in the work, or to her curiosity or sense of enjoyment; or
  • Extrinsic—something that appeals to a person's desire to attain a goal that is distinct from the work itself. Examples can include incentive pay, a luxury vacation given as a reward for generating the most sales, or special recognition for winning a competition or meeting an important deadline

In any effective reward system, these two sources of motivation work hand in hand. Especially where the work is not routine, you need to rely on the power of intrinsic motivation to generate creative thought. In other words, you must make sure that any rewards or incentives you establish don't become more important than the work itself, thereby undermining team members' intrinsic motivation. But at the same time, don't underestimate the power of money, recognition, or other incentives to bolster a group member's self-esteem, and thus enhance his intrinsic motivation. They can also give a team the freedom to attempt experiments or to take risks that it wouldn't have had the means to do otherwise.

Obviously, it's highly unlikely that you'll have the leeway to create a compensation plan for your team—but there probably are areas where you have the power to tweak the existing system to better suit your team's situation. Some questions you may want to consider:

  • Does the group need special incentives, different from the larger reward system of the organization as a whole?
  • If you cannot change the formal reward structure of your group, what informal awards can you design and distribute?

Enriching the Physical Environment

Promote play

José's physical surroundings promote creativity. His workspace includes crayons and a stability ball.

Physical surroundings can have an enormous impact on creativity. When an environment is filled with many types of stimuli, it sends the message "think differently." It encourages people to make new connections and to think more broadly.

Truly creative environments are notable for the variety of art, toys, and reading material they contain. For example, a software company might include illustrated books about architectural design along with technical reading in the employees' lounge. Another company might sprinkle wind-up toys or 3-D gadgets throughout the workspace.

Encouraging a playful attitude is especially important, because it helps people fully express their individuality and so enhances the quality of the group's creative output. Play serves a serious function: when employees are taking a play break, their work problems are incubating. The conscious mind takes a break from the problem at hand and then is able to return refreshed—perhaps with a new approach or a unique solution.

Encourage reflection

quote beginThe workplace itself is alive with the unexpected; when employees interact with it, it yields provocations no one can possibly expect.quote end
—Alan Robinson and Sam Stern

Creative environments don't just provide casual and playful spaces—they also provide areas where employees can be quiet and reflective. The goal is to open up the range of emotional responses people experience at work—quite a contrast from the traditional, "buttoned-down" approach to the work environment.

Improve the environment

quote beginThe world is but a canvas to the
imagination.quote end
—Henry David Thoreau

You may not be able to design your workspace from the ground up, but there are valuable—and relatively inexpensive—steps you can take to enhance your team's physical surroundings. As you consider your options, keep the following questions in mind:

  • How might you encourage casual conversations that lead to creative ideas?
  • Conversations and spontaneous meetings often occur in public areas such as mailrooms, kitchens, or around water coolers. Are these areas centrally located? Do you have comfortable, informal gathering places? One company designed staircases wide enough for people to stop and chat. Another placed beanbag chairs in conference rooms to create a more casual atmosphere.

  • What tools might you supply to encourage better communication?
  • Some companies place whiteboards and flip charts in informal meeting spaces—for example, the kitchen—and not just in conference rooms. This allows people to sketch out their ideas during a spontaneous discussion. Other companies spread crayons and white paper on conference room tables to encourage doodling and diagramming ideas—enabling a mode of thought that is quite different from verbal discussion.

  • What types of media do team members respond to?
  • One person may find a lively discussion the most effective means of generating new ideas. Another may prefer the time and quiet afforded by e-mail communication. Still another may respond best to visual imagery. Including nontraditional communication tools helps you capture the creative potential of all the members of your group.

Divergent Thinking Techniques

Generating options

Team members think beyond the usual solutions, imagining last year's "light bulb," and then pushing it in new directions.

All stages in the creative group process are critical to innovation. However, two of the stages are more complex and warrant further explanation: divergence and convergence.

Innovative ideas and products result from the application of divergent thinking. Especially if your group is charged with tasks that are not routine, it will need to be able "to think outside the box."

Such thinking consists of:

  • Seeing connections among facts or events that others have missed
  • Asking questions that haven't been asked before
  • Asking questions from different perspectives

The goal of divergent thinking is to generate—and to generate quickly—a wide variety of options. (From the list you generate, you select the best options to pursue further—this is the convergent part of the innovation process.)

Divergent Thinking Techniques

Generating options

Listening to the periphery

Personal Insight

What's the lesson here? Inquiries of all kinds, whether it's an executive trying to get the root cause of an issue in a company  or whether it's an academic engaged in field research often run by what they're trying to catch, to use that phrase again, in that you're so fixated on your thesis, or the thing you think you want to know, that you tune out the noise. And the "noise," in quotes, often has the signals within it that really contain great information, if you just start to take that stuff as important rather than irrelevant. So, several things come out of this.

First, be conscious of the ways in which your focus can breed its own kind of myopia.

Related to this is to go about the data collection phase, which is often hard to replicate, expensive, and time consuming, in a way that captures the noise as well as the central stuff you know you're after and you're looking for anyway.

I guess, the third point here would to be remember Einstein. Honor the thought problem, not just the answer and the hypothesis you want to confirm, because in the question, and the willingness to wade around in the periphery of the question, not just in the center of it, are often the real discoveries that are the breakthroughs.

Focusing too hard on an ultimate goal will lead to a lack of peripheral vision: which is inevitably where the great jewels of insight are to be found.

Richard Pascale,

Writer, Lecturer, and Consultant, Oxford University

Richard Pascale is the Principal of Pascale & Brown. He is also an Associate Fellow of Oxford University and an accomplished author.

Mr. Pascale spent 20 years as a member of the faculty at Stanford's Graduate School of business, where he taught a course on organizational survival, the most popular course in Stanford's MBA program.

During his career he has also been a White House Fellow, Special Assistant to the Secretary of Labor and Senior Staff of a White House Task Force.

In 1981 he co-authored the best-selling title The Art of Japanese Management. His other acclaimed books include Surfing the Edge of Chaos: The Laws of Nature and the New Laws of Business and Managing on the Edge: How the Smartest Companies Use Conflict to Stay Ahead.

Mr. Pascale is an architect of corporate transformation programs, and serves as an Advisor to top management for a number of Fortune 100-size companies.

Corporations whose CEOs and top management teams he has worked closely with include AT&T, General Electric, The New York Times, Marriot, British Petroleum and Intel.

Mr. Pascale's latest research focuses on the emergence of self-organization.

Brainstorming principles

quote beginCreativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a
different way.quote end
—Edward de Bono

A particularly useful tool for stimulating divergent thought is brainstorming. Brainstorming builds:

  • Fluency, your ability to produce many original ideas easily
  • Flexibility, your ability to come up with many different kinds of ideas

For a brainstorming exercise to succeed, it's crucial to observe four key principles:

  • Focus the brainstorming on an actual problem that your group is trying to solve. In other words, your brainstorming should be bound by real-world constraints.
  • Judgment should be suspended while ideas are being generated. Even the wildest ideas are to be encouraged because the quantity of ideas affects the quality of the final decision.
  • Limit the discussion to one conversation at a time and keep it focused on the topic.
  • Try to build on the ideas of others whenever possible.

Four brainstorming techniques

José uses brainstorming techniques to free his group from imagined constraints and think outside the box.

Brainstorming techniques fall into four broad categories: visioning, exploring, modifying, and experimenting. Each category uses a different thought process, but there are some commonalities. Modifying and experimenting techniques, for example, start with existing data and use intuition to draw ideas from those facts. With visioning and exploring techniques, the intuitive process is followed by information gathering and data analysis.

Visioning

This approach asks you to imagine, in detail, a long-term, ideal solution as well the means of achieving it. The idea is to break free of the ingrained practicality that inhibits innovative thought.

Begin by ignoring constraints: if money, time, and resources were no object, what ideas would produce the ideal future?

For example, if your consulting company could provide any services, which services would you choose?

As you try to imagine the ideal future, follow what intrigues you—a breakthrough idea often comes from a seemingly irrelevant place. The following are three strategies to help people on your team imagine an ideal future:

  1. Wish List: Ask your team members to "let themselves go" and imagine an ideal situation where they would be granted any wish they wanted. Encourage everyone to review their lists: what did they discover about themselves or the situation?
  2. The Ideal Scenario: Ask the group to imagine what the ideal solution would look like. This can be done with words or images. For example, participants could pore over magazines, select images, and paste them together in a collage. Follow the creation with discussion and exploration.
  3. Time Machine: Ask participants to pretend that they can time travel to 5–7 years from now. What would the situation look like then? What would have been accomplished? Add whatever questions are relevant to the creative challenge being explored.

Once you've generated several ideas that would constitute an ideal future, ask what it would take to make those ideas happen. How would you actually bring about the ideas you've envisioned?

Exploring

These strategies often use guided imagery—symbols, analogies, and metaphors—to describe an ideal scenario as well as to challenge assumptions.

If your group is trying to create truly innovative customer service, for example, you could ask: if customer service were music, what music comes to mind when you think of best-practice customer service? Or, what are the feelings that you want your ideal level of service to generate in customers—and what are the sensory images that come to mind when you envision that service?

A variation of this method is to take the assumptions you've been working under and literally reverse them—the new possibilities that emerge are often fruitful. A related approach, called paradoxical thinking, helps free your mind from conventional patterns by developing an awareness of opposites.

Modifying

Whereas visioning techniques begin by assuming that there are no constraints, modifying techniques begin with the status quo—with current technology or conditions—and seek to make adaptations. One great way to see how to modify or adapt your current product or service is to try to look at it as though you were a customer. For example, if you work at a design software company, try to envision yourself as a designer who wants a new program. What features or functionality would you like the program to include?

Experimenting

These methodologies help you systematically combine elements in various ways and then test the combinations. One such approach involves creating a matrix. For example, a car-wash owner in search of a new market or market extension would begin by listing parameters across the top: method, products washed, equipment, and products sold; under each parameter, he lists all the possible variations he can think of. Under the equipment category, the variations might include sprays, conveyors, stalls, dryers, and brushes; the products washed category might include cars, houses, clothes, and dogs. The resulting table allows him to put together new business possibilities using alternatives listed under the columns. Thus, he might decide to start a service for pet owners to wash their dogs by using stalls and brushes.

Divergent Thinking Techniques

Four brainstorming techniques

Activity: Pick the right brainstorming technique

You and your team want to "test what you know about the box." That is, you want to combine different pieces of your knowledge and then test those combinations to generate creative ideas. What brainstorming technique would you use in this situation?





You and your team want to "break out of the box" in solving a problem. That is, you want to ignore practical concerns and constraints. Which brainstorming technique would you use?





You and your team want to "get into the box" to solve a problem. Put another way, you want to reverse the assumptions you've been working under. For example, instead of "You can't increase sales and profitability at the same time," reverse the assumption to "Sales and profitability will always increase at the same time." Which brainstorming technique would you use in this situation?





You and your team want to "be bigger than the box." In other words, you want to look at current conditions and consider how you might improve on them. What brainstorming technique would you use in this situation?





Different creativity challenges call for different brainstorming techniques. Choose the right technique for the particular challenge at hand.

Convergence Techniques

Selecting options

José encourages his team to use convergent thinking to choose the light bulbs – or new ideas – that are most useful.

At various points in the life of a project, the fruits of divergent thinking must be harvested and put to use. In moving from divergent to convergent thinking, a team stops emphasizing what is novel and starts emphasizing what is useful. The work of convergence involves setting limits—narrowing the field of solutions using a given set of constraints.

Narrowing

And how do you determine those constraints? The culture, mission, priorities, and high-level concept of your company and project all contribute to the answer. They help you rule out options by identifying potential solutions that lie beyond the scope of your project.

Helpful questions to ask your team once it has generated a range of possible solutions to a problem include the following:

  • What functions are essential (from your customers' point of view) and what are "nice-to-haves"?
  • What criteria are determined by the company's values?
  • What are your cost constraints?
  • What are your size or shape constraints (for a product)?
  • Within what time must you complete the project?
  • In what ways must the product or service be compatible with existing products or services?

Starting convergence activities

José considers how much time to devote to divergent thinking and how much to convergent.

When the problem to be solved is well understood or fairly routine, your group may not need to devote much time to divergent thinking. When time is not an issue, you may want to devote more time to divergent activities than you otherwise would. For general creative problem solving, however, the time spent on convergent thinking should more or less equal the time spent on divergent thinking.

Practice

Scenario

Part 1

Part 1

Emily oversees the New Product Development group. The team is talented and has a solid history of working well together. Over the last year, business has been on an upswing. For once, Emily has a generous budget and a few open positions to fill.

Senior management's latest strategy places an emphasis on bringing innovative products to market fast. Emily knows that the success of her team will be measured by the quality of products they develop. The pressure is on to be innovative, original, and cutting-edge.

Emily has recently read about a term called "creative abrasion." For creative sparks to fly, she understands that she needs to enhance the creative potential of her group. She contemplates where to begin.

To enhance the creativity of her group, what step might Emily take next?

Explore all the choices.

  • Look for non-traditional, creative types to add to the group

  • Not the best choice. It's a common misconception that creativity is reserved for a select few. A willingness to think in untraditional ways does play a role in creativity. But that doesn't mean that creative people are markedly different from everyone else. Emily should begin by analyzing the composition of her existing group and then looking for those who can complement the existing group.

  • Make sure she includes young people who bring fresh ideas

  • Not the best choice. Age is not a clear predictor of creative potential. To foster creativity, Emily needs to bring together a diverse group with a mix of skills and styles. Emily may decide to add youth to the overall mix of the group, but she shouldn't assume that young people are more creative than older individuals.

  • Analyze the thinking styles and skills of her existing group

  • Correct choice. Emily needs to start by analyzing the composition of her existing group. What mix of skills and thinking styles do the members of the team bring to the creative table? What is missing that might be added to the creative mix? The goal is to create a group with intellectual diversity. Intellectual diversity is not the same as ethnic or gender diversity. Intellectual diversity among individuals in a group means different skills, different areas of expertise, different thinking styles, and different ways of approaching problems.

Part 2

Part 2

Emily begins by analyzing the composition of her existing group. The fact that they have a solid history of working well together makes her question whether they have enough intellectual diversity to foster "creative abrasion." After examining their thinking styles and skills, she finds a few gaps. Emily then looks for people, internally and externally, who can fill those gaps. She adds temporary team members who cross functional boundaries. She invites outsiders to attend meetings and creates a weekly lunch seminar with invited guests. Eventually, Emily gets results: different ways of approaching problems, plenty of ideas—and some strong disagreement.

Emily asks herself what she should do to manage this process. How might she further enhance creativity? How should she harness the creativity? Or should she?

What else might Emily do?

Explore all the choices.

  • Create a more casual physical setting by adding comfortable furniture and toys

  • Good choice. Creating a more casual and playful physical setting can add to an environment that fosters creativity. Companies that specialize in innovation often invest in designing physical settings that encourage the exchange of ideas. The physical setting can be enhanced even with a low budget—by adding a casual grouping of comfortable chairs, unusual magazines, engaging toys, or even a ping-pong table. When an environment is filled with many types of stimuli, it sends the message "think differently," and encourages people to make new connections and to think more broadly.

  • Step back and let improvisation, play, and freedom drive the group

  • Not the best choice. While improvisation, play, and freedom all play a part in the creative process, so do the seemingly contradictory characteristics of planning, professionalism, and discipline. Managing creativity involves a number of paradoxes, such as: improvisation within careful planning, playfulness within the bounds of professionalism, and freedom disciplined by the confines of real business needs.

  • Establish group norms of acceptable behavior

  • Correct choice. Emily should help the group establish clear principles that describe how they want to work together. A diverse group with different ways of approaching problems will likely foster creativity—and disagreement. Emily needs to make sure the group establishes a way to navigate through any disagreement. Group norms won't prevent conflict from happening, but they can help restore order and turn conflict into something more substantive and productive.

Part 3

Part 3

Emily has built a haven for creativity and innovation. She introduces techniques that encourage people to brainstorm, explore, modify, and experiment. Most conflict is creative, but when it veers toward the more personal, Emily brings up the group norms.

The group flourishes—until it reaches a state of bountiful plenty. Now it feels like there are too many ideas and possibilities. Some ideas are both good and feasible. Others are downright risky. Emily senses that she needs to help the group move forward.

What else might Emily do?

Explore all the choices.

  • Impose an appropriate set of constraints

  • Correct choice. Emily needs to help her group establish a set of constraints for narrowing their possibilities—and eventually making a choice. What are their constraints? Do they have a limited budget? Must they get their product to market before the end of the next fiscal year? How does the competition affect their choices?

  • Analyze each solution in terms of the marketability of the innovation, its potential cost to develop, and the time to get to market

  • Not the best choice. First, Emily's group needs to establish a set of constraints for narrowing their possibilities. Marketability, cost to develop, and time to market may—or may not—be included in the criteria, depending on the particular situation. A group determines its constraints by looking at a number of factors, such as the culture, mission, priorities, and the high-level concept of the company and the project.

  • Take a chance and go for the more risky solutions. This is, after all, innovation time!

  • Not the best choice. First, Emily's group needs to establish a set of constraints for narrowing their possibilities. Depending on the constraints, they may—or may not—decide on a risky solution. A set of constraints helps you rule out options by identifying potential solutions that lie beyond the scope of your project.

Conclusion

Conclusion

Emily led her group through a stage of divergence. She began by analyzing the composition of her existing group. Next, she added people that contributed to the group's overall intellectual diversity. Then she invited outsiders to bring different perspectives to the group. Finally, she promoted brainstorming and exploration of ideas, and encouraged the group to establish norms to help them navigate their differences.

Emily then led the group through a stage of convergence. She helped the group establish a set of constraints to narrow its options and finally make a decision.

Emily has successfully "managed" the creative process.

Check Your Knowledge

Question 1

The process of evaluating ideas to determine which are worth pursuing is called:

Click the button next to the correct answer choice. After you have read the feedback, explore the other choices. Note: Your first selection will be used in tallying your score.

  • Divergent thinking

  • Not the best choice. Divergent thinking is the process you would use to generate ideas. To evaluate different ideas or options to determine which are worth pursuing, you would use convergent thinking.

  • Convergent thinking

  • Correct choice. Convergent thinking is often an evaluative process whereby you review different options to determine which are worth pursuing.

  • Innovation

  • Not the best choice. Innovation is the outcome of creativity and manifests itself as the fresh changes that are implemented in products, processes, or services. To evaluate different ideas or options to determine which are worth pursuing, you would use convergent thinking.

Question 2

Which of the following statements are true? (A) Creativity is a talent, you either have it or you don't, (B) The creative process is basically a solitary pursuit, (C) The smarter you are, the more creative you are, or (D) Age is not a clear predictor of creativity.

Click the button next to the correct answer choice. After you have read the feedback, explore the other choices. Note: Your first selection will be used in tallying your score.

  • A and B

  • Not the best choice. The beliefs that you're either creative or you're not and that the creative process is a solitary pursuit are common misconceptions about creativity. The only true statement is D, "Age is not a clear predictor of creativity."

  • All of the above

  • Not the best choice. Statements A, B, and C are all common misconceptions about creativity. The only true statement is D, "Age is not a clear predictor of creativity."

  • D

  • Correct choice. "Age is not a clear predictor of creativity" is the only true statement in the list; the other three statements represent common misconceptions about creativity.

Question 3

Is the following statement true or false? Most innovations are the result of a conscious, purposeful search, not sudden illumination.

Click the button next to the correct answer choice. After you have read the feedback, explore the other choices. Note: Your first selection will be used in tallying your score.

  • True

  • Correct choice. Most innovations are not so much the product of sudden insights as they are the result of a conscious process that often goes through multiple stages.

  • False

  • Not the best choice. The statement that most innovations are the result of a conscious, purposeful search and not sudden illumination is actually true. Illumination is more often one stage in a series of stages through which innovation unfolds.

Question 4

Creative groups often need to balance contradictory behaviors or characteristics to generate fresh ideas. Which of the following pairs of contradictory behaviors and characteristics does a group not need to balance in order to strengthen its creativity?

Click the button next to the correct answer choice. After you have read the feedback, explore the other choices. Note: Your first selection will be used in tallying your score.

  • Beginner's mind and experienced perspective

  • Not the best choice. Creative groups do need to balance beginners' perspectives with more seasoned members' experience. Choice number 4—focus on process and focus on results—is the correct response. That's because while groups need to balance process (how they work together) with results (what they accomplish), this balancing is not unique to the creative functioning of groups.

  • Freedom and discipline

  • Not the best choice. Creative groups do need to balance freedom with discipline. Choice number 4—focus on process and focus on results—is the correct response. While groups need to balance process (how they work together) with results (what they accomplish), this balancing is not unique to the creative functioning of groups.

  • Improvisation and planning

  • Not the best choice. Creative groups do need to balance improvisation with planning. Choice number 4—focus on process and focus on results—is the correct response. That's because while groups need to balance process (how they work together) with results (what they accomplish), this balancing is not unique to the creative functioning of groups.

  • Focus on process and focus on results

  • Correct choice. While a group often needs to balance concern for process (how the group is working together) with concern for results, this balancing is not unique to a group's creative functioning.

  • Play and professionalism

  • Not the best choice. Creative groups do need to balance play with professionalism. Choice number 4—focus on process and focus on results—is the correct response. That's because while groups need to balance process (how they work together) with results (what they accomplish), this balancing is not unique to the creative functioning of groups.

Question 5

Creative abrasion occurs when:

Click the button next to the correct answer choice. After you have read the feedback, explore the other choices. Note: Your first selection will be used in tallying your score.

  • Individuals' different thinking styles clash, forcing them to examine new ways of looking at an issue

  • Correct choice. The creative abrasion created by individuals' different thinking styles can greatly enhance a group's creative potential if it is managed well.

  • Individuals' thinking styles are compatible, allowing the group to develop new ideas quickly

  • Not the best choice. When individuals' thinking styles are similar, they may actually have greater difficulty achieving breakthrough ideas. "Creative abrasion" is the potential for creativity that occurs when different individuals' thinking styles rub against each other. If it is well managed in a group, creative abrasion enhances the group's creative potential.

  • Individuals in the group dislike each other

  • Not the best choice. "Creative abrasion" is the potential for creativity that occurs when different individuals' thinking styles rub against each other. However, if this conflict becomes personal, the group will splinter and productivity will suffer. If it is well managed in a group, creative abrasion enhances the group's creative potential.

Question 6

Intellectual diversity and different thinking styles can generate conflict in a group. This substantive conflict is the same as personal conflict. True or false?

Click the button next to the correct answer choice. After you have read the feedback, explore the other choices. Note: Your first selection will be used in tallying your score.

  • True

  • Not the best choice. Substantive conflict and personal conflict are actually different. Substantive conflict occurs when members grapple with issues or tasks at hand; for example, two members of the group challenge each other's assumptions. By contrast, personal conflict has no relation to the tasks at hand.

  • False

  • Correct Choice. Substantive conflict and personal conflict are actually different. Substantive conflict occurs when members grapple with issues or tasks at hand; for example, two members of the group challenge each other's assumptions. By contrast, personal conflict has no relation to the tasks at hand.

Question 7

Rewards of various kinds can improve a group's creativity. Pay and bonuses are examples of rewards that tap into an individual's:

Click the button next to the correct answer choice. After you have read the feedback, explore the other choices. Note: Your first selection will be used in tallying your score.

  • Extrinsic motivation

  • Correct choice. Pay and bonuses are extrinsic motivators: They appeal to a person's desire to attain a goal that is distinct from the work itself. But to encourage your group's creativity, you should augment extrinsic motivators with intrinsic motivators, such as challenging assignments. Intrinsic motivators appeal to a person's desire for self-actualization or challenge, deep interest and involvement in the work, or curiosity or sense of enjoyment.

  • Intrinsic motivation

  • Not the best choice. Intrinsic motivators, such as challenging assignments, appeal to a person's desire for self-actualization or challenge, deep interest and involvement in the work, or curiosity or sense of enjoyment. Pay and bonuses are examples of extrinsic motivators: They appeal to a person's desire to attain a goal that is distinct from the work itself. To encourage your group's creativity, you should augment extrinsic motivators with intrinsic motivators.

Question 8

You're conducting a brainstorming session and participants are evaluating options and ideas as they generate them. Is this the best way to proceed?

Click the button next to the correct answer choice. After you have read the feedback, explore the other choices. Note: Your first selection will be used in tallying your score.

  • Yes

  • Not the best choice. Evaluating options or ideas as they are generated is actually not the best way to proceed, because it can stifle creativity and slow down the group's brainstorming process.

  • No

  • Correct choice. Evaluating options or ideas as they are generated can stifle creativity and slow down the group's brainstorming process.

Question 9

Three of the following techniques or strategies can be useful for brainstorming. Which one is not?

Click the button next to the correct answer choice. After you have read the feedback, explore the other choices. Note: Your first selection will be used in tallying your score.

  • Using guided imagery to describe an ideal scenario

  • Not the best choice. Using guided imagery to describe an ideal scenario is a strategy or technique that could be used in brainstorming.

  • Keeping constraints such as time and money in mind while trying to envision an ideal solution

  • Correct choice. Keeping constraints such as time and money in mind while trying to envision an ideal solution is not a useful technique for brainstorming. Rather, individuals should try to break free of the ingrained practicality that inhibits innovative thought.

  • Looking at ways to adapt the status quo, rather than invent from the beginning

  • Not the best choice. Looking at ways to adapt the status quo, rather than invent from the beginning, is a strategy or technique that could be used in brainstorming.

  • Systematically combining elements of a project or product in different ways and then testing these new combinations

  • Not the best choice. Systematically combining elements of a project or product in different ways and then testing these new combinations is a strategy or technique that could be used in brainstorming.

Question 10

A "moose on the table" is an expression describing an issue that a group is ignoring or avoiding and that could become a problem and impede progress. Which of the following is not something you would do to deal effectively with a "moose"?

Click the button next to the correct answer choice. After you have read the feedback, explore the other choices. Note: Your first selection will be used in tallying your score.

  • Stop what you are doing to acknowledge the issue

  • Not the best choice. Stopping what you are doing to acknowledge the issue is something you would do to deal effectively with a "moose on the table." The issue needs to be surfaced, discussed, and resolved promptly by the group. The one action in the list that's not advisable is to discuss the "moose" with a group member one-on-one outside the group.

  • If the "moose" issue involves someone's behavior, discuss this one-on-one outside the group

  • Correct choice. Discussing a behavior-related issue within the group is an advisable strategy for dealing with a "moose on the table." The issue needs to be surfaced, discussed, and resolved in terms of the impact of the behavior on the group. During this discussion it is important to keep things impersonal. The point is not to assign blame—discuss what is impeding progress, not who.

  • Encourage the person who identified the "moose" to be specific and use examples

  • Not the best choice. Encouraging the person who identified the "moose" to be specific and use examples is useful for dealing effectively with a "moose on the table." The issue needs to be surfaced, discussed, and resolved promptly within the group. The one action in the list that's not advisable is to discuss the "moose" with a group member one-on-one outside the group.

  • Discuss what is impeding progress, not who

  • Not the best choice. Discussing what's impeding progress, not who's impeding progress, is a good strategy for dealing with a "moose on the table," because it helps the group surface, discuss, and resolve the issue without affixing blame to any specific individuals. The one action in the list that's not advisable is to discuss the "moose" with a group member one-on-one outside the group.

Apply

Steps

Steps for fostering creative conflict: depersonalizing issues

  1. Grant legitimacy to others and assume the best about them.
    • Assume others are trying to do the right thing.
    • Assume that others may see things that you miss.
    • Assume that you may see things that others miss.
    • Assume that conflicting views are an important source of learning.
  2. Allow all parties to the conflict a chance to speak.
  3. Without interruption, have all parties to the conflict:

    • Describe the data on which they based their decisions (observations, reading, reports, etc.)
    • Use their own words to describe what they saw or heard
    • Explain their interpretations
    • Explain why they decided on the action they took (or want to take)
  4. Seek to understand the differences between individuals.
  5. For example, ask others to comment on the interpretation of data, and then identify alternative interpretations.

  6. Reconcile the various actions/decisions desired by taking into account all the data and interpretations uncovered.

Steps for promoting creative conflict: surfacing unspoken issues

Use these steps to uncover hidden conflict and minimize its potential to derail creative collaboration.

  1. Create a climate that makes people willing to discuss difficult issues.
  2. As the manager, you need to help your team understand the concept of "a moose on the table" (a significant issue or problem that is impeding progress because it is being ignored by everyone). You also need to initiate a conversation about how the team should handle such unspoken issues—before a specific situation arises. Use this checklist to set the stage.

    • Introduce the concept of a "moose on the table" when you are establishing your team principles.
    • Legitimize the process of identifying a moose. Make it clear that you want issues to be pointed out—even though the subject may seem taboo, no one will be penalized for pointing out a moose.
    • Also, make sure that all team members understand that anyone can point out a moose: pointing out an issue should not be limited to those of "higher" ranks.
    • Encourage the use of humor—it helps prevent people from being defensive.
  3. Facilitate the discussion.
  4. How do you manage a moose once it has been identified? Use the following guidelines:

    • If someone points out a moose, it is important to stop whatever you are doing, at least briefly, to acknowledge the issue. Even if you disagree that an issue exists, you must acknowledge that, to one person at least, a problem does exist. Otherwise, group members will not feel safe bringing up such issues.
    • Refer back to your team principles. As a manager, it is your job to remind the team how you have agreed to treat each other.
    • Encourage the person who identified the moose to be specific and use examples.
    • Keep the discussion impersonal. The point is not to assign blame—discuss what is impeding progress, not who.
    • If the issue involves someone's behavior, encourage the person who identified the problem to explain how the behavior affects him or her, rather than make assumptions about the motivation behind the behavior. For example, if someone is not completing work when he promised to, you might say, "When your work is not completed on time, the group is unable to meet their deadlines," not, "I know you are not really excited about this product."
    • If someone is not providing necessary leadership, you might say, "When you don't provide us with any direction, we spend a lot of time trying to second guess you, and that makes us feel unproductive," not, "You don't seem to have any idea what we should be doing on this project."
    • Discuss why the topic is taboo.
  5. Move toward closure by discussing what can be done.
    • Try to leave with some concrete suggestions for improvement—if not a solution—to the problem.
    • If the subject is too sensitive and discussions are going nowhere, consider adjourning the meeting until a (specified) later date so that people can cool down. Or, consider bringing in a facilitator to help keep discussions on an impersonal level.

Steps for enhancing your own creative potential

Use these steps to uncover hidden conflict and minimize its potential to derail creative collaboration.

  1. Strive for alignment.
  2. Make sure that the goals of the organization you work for are consonant with your most cherished values. Instead of considering jobs at which you excel, think instead about jobs that match your deeply embedded life interests.

  3. Pursue some self-initiated activity.
  4. Choose projects for which your intrinsic motivation is high. If you have always loved graphic design, try to determine why the packaging for one of your company's products leaves customers cold.

  5. Take advantage of unofficial activity.
  6. The absence of official status may create a safe haven for nurturing an idea until it is strong enough to overcome resistance.

  7. Be open to serendipity.
  8. Develop a bias toward action and toward trying new ideas. For instance, if an accident or failure occurs while you're prototyping a new LCD screen, don't dismiss it too quickly. Study it for the learning opportunity that may lie within. Each day, write down what surprised you and how you surprised others.

  9. Diversify your stimuli.
  10. Intellectual cross-pollination gets you thinking in new directions. Develop cross-functional skills: rotate into every job you are capable of doing. Get to know people who spark your imagination. Become a lifelong learner: take classes not related to your work. Bring your insights from outside interests or activities to bear on your workplace challenges.

  11. Create opportunities for informal communication.
  12. Take advantage of unanticipated opportunities to exchange ideas with colleagues. Creative thought often happens during spontaneous interactions between individuals. Such interactions, however, are only useful if real communication occurs. You must find ways to encourage and facilitate communication that is appropriate for the creative environment.

Tips

Tips for providing outside stimulation for your group

  • Bring in paid or unpaid interns, such as students, people seeking job transitions, etc.
  • Bring in day visitors to participate in brainstorming or other activities with the group.
  • Bring in temporary group members, such as people on sabbatical from other organizations or universities.
  • Arrange reciprocal visits with other groups or organizations.
  • Bring in a speaker to present a unique perspective or expertise. (Remember to look outside your industry or specialty.)
  • Arrange a field trip to visit the site of a customer, a customer of one of your customers, or even a competitor.
  • Arrange a field trip outside your industry to observe best practices—for example, an airline hoping to improve service might visit a clothing retailer known for its excellent service.
  • Meet with independent inventors or entrepreneurs in your field.
  • Surf the Web to view competitors' sites.
  • Surf the Web to view how people in other industries are using the Web to fulfill the same functions you perform.
  • Bring in consultants to provide different perspectives.
  • Arrange workshops or training in needed skills or processes.

Tips for enhancing the physical workspace to facilitate communication and interaction

  • Put the kitchen and water cooler in a central location.
  • Have a whiteboard or chalkboard that anyone can use in the kitchen and/or next to the water cooler.
  • Have several comfortable, casual places for people to sit and chat.
  • Have conference or meeting rooms easily accessible on short notice.
  • Make the office space open, encouraging people to drop in on each other.
  • Have a recognized and accepted signal that communicates when a person is working on a task that requires uninterrupted concentration (e.g., a sign on door, movable partition across cube entrance).
  • Put whiteboards, chalkboards, or flip charts in every meeting room.
  • Have at least one electronic whiteboard that you can print from.
  • Have paper, crayons, and colored pencils available during brainstorming sessions.
  • Encourage people to draw or doodle ideas during meetings.
  • Have videoconferencing technology available to link up with people who are not in your office.
  • Have e-mail as well as electronic discussion databases or threaded discussion capabilities to allow ongoing discussion of key issues and problems.

Tips for motivating and rewarding creativity

  • Ask a high-level executive to visit the team to express his/her appreciation of what the team is doing or to recognize the team's work.
  • Give a reward for the craziest idea.
  • Recognize a person who has worked outside his or her preferred style or function.
  • Give a reward for collaboration.
  • Give out small, visible symbols of recognition such as plaques, T-shirts, hats, toys, etc.
  • Let team members choose which project they want to work on next.
  • Celebrate a small success by taking the group out to dinner.
  • Celebrate an interim deadline by taking off a half-day to go to a movie together.
  • Send out an e-mail, memo, group voice mail, or announcement describing (visually, if possible) how much work the group has done (e.g., printing out a list of all the orders received so far).
  • Send out an e-mail, memo, group voice mail, or announcement sharing positive feedback from outsiders, customers, or upper management about progress to date.
  • Organize a project fair in which everyone is encouraged to visit other team members (or other teams) to see what they are currently working on.
  • Give team members some time off, or extra vacation days.

Tips for brainstorming sessions

  • You may want to include some customers, noncustomers, or competitor's customers in the brainstorming session.
  • Be sure to provide any supporting infrastructure needed—flip charts, a table covered in paper used for doodling and note taking, or even an electronic whiteboard.
  • In coming up with possible solutions or ideas, be as concrete as possible. You may want to draw or represent some of the ideas visually.
  • Don't assume that it's business as usual, that this problem or challenge is similar to ones that have come before.
  • Set high aspirations—stretch goals for what you'd like your group to achieve.
  • Don't fall in love with the first possible solution you create—generate as many ideas as you can before evaluating and prioritizing them.
  • Remember: productive brainstorming sessions are the result of skillful facilitation.

Tools

Creativity checklist

Creativity checklist

Tools

Form for setting a target for creative change

Form for setting a target for creative change

Tools

Psychological environment for creativity assessment

Psychological environment for creativity assessment

Tools

Enhancing the creativity of the physical workspace worksheet

Enhancing the creativity of the physical workspace worksheet

Tools

Planning for innovation worksheet

Planning for innovation worksheet

Tools

Form for listing attributes

Form for listing attributes

Explore Further

Explore Further

Online Articles

Richard Florida and Jim Goodnight. "Managing for Creativity." Harvard Business Review OnPoint Enhanced Edition. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, February 2007.

How do you accommodate the complex and chaotic nature of the creative process while increasing efficiency, improving quality, and raising productivity? Most businesses haven't figured this out. A notable exception is SAS Institute, the world's largest privately held software company. SAS has learned how to harness the creative energies of all its stakeholders, including its customers, software developers, managers, and support staff. Its framework for managing creativity rests on three guiding principles. First, help employees do their best work by keeping them intellectually engaged and by removing distractions. Second, make managers responsible for sparking creativity and eliminate arbitrary distinctions between "suits" and "creatives." And third, engage customers as creative partners so you can deliver superior products.

Harvard Business School Publishing. "Debriefing Luc de Brabandere: Boost Your Company's Creativity." Harvard Management Update, April 2006.

Today, popular tastes mutate continually, and technologies advance at a blistering pace. Businesses must continually innovate to keep up. But leaders who can't detect and respond to rumblings of change—that is, who can't be creative—stand little chance of generating these innovations. The key to creativity, according to Luc de Brabandere, a partner in the Boston Consulting Group, is learning to articulate and change the stereotypes that limit us. In this debriefing, he outlines four rules managers can follow to circumvent these blocks and hone creative powers.

Harvard ManageMentor Web Site

Visit the Harvard ManageMentor Web site to explore additional online resources available to you from Harvard Business School Publishing.

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Articles

Click on a link below to go to Harvard Business Online, the Web site of Harvard Business School Publishing, where you can browse or purchase products. Your Harvard ManageMentor program will remain open while you are at the site.

Teresa M. Amabile. "Managing for Creativity." Harvard Business School Case Note. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 1996.

After discussing environmental stimulants and obstacles to creativity, this article addresses the delicate balance involved in managing for creativity. It also describes a questionnaire instrument for assessing an organization's climate for creativity.

Richard Florida. "America's Looming Creativity Crisis." Harvard Business Review, October 2004.

In this article, the author suggests that the strength of the American economy turns on one factor—the country's openness to new ideas, which has allowed it to attract the brightest minds from around the world and harness their creative energies. However, the author suggests the United States is on the verge of losing that competitive edge. To defend the U.S. economy, the business community must take the lead in ensuring that global talent can move efficiently across borders, that education and research are funded at radically higher levels, and that we tap into the creative potential of more and more workers.

Peter F. Drucker. "The Discipline of Innovation." Harvard Business Review OnPoint Enhanced Edition. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2000.

In this HBR Classic article, Peter Drucker, Professor Emeritus at Claremont Graduate University, argues that success is more likely to result from the systematic pursuit of opportunities than from a flash of genius. For managers seeking innovation, engaging in disciplined work is more important than having an entrepreneurial personality. Drucker describes opportunities for innovation that can be found in unexpected occurrences, incongruities of various kinds, process needs, or changes in an industry or market, demographic changes, changes in perception, or new knowledge or processes, or services. Drucker emphasizes that in seeking opportunities, innovators need to look for simple, focused solutions to real problems.

Andrew Hargadon and Robert I. Sutton. "Building an Innovation Factory." Harvard Business Review OnPoint Enhanced Edition. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2001.

New ideas are the precious currency of the new economy, but generating them doesn't have to be a mysterious process. The image of the lone genius inventing from scratch is a romantic fiction. Businesses that constantly innovate have systematized the production and testing of new ideas, and the system can be replicated by practically any organization. The best innovators use old ideas as the raw materials for new ideas, a strategy the authors call knowledge brokering. The system for sustaining innovation is the knowledge brokering cycle, and the authors discuss its four parts. The first is capturing good ideas from a wide variety of sources. The second is keeping those ideas alive by playing with them, discussing them, and using them. Imagining new uses for old ideas is the third part—some knowledge brokers encourage cross-pollination by creating physical layouts that allow, or even force, people to interact with one another. The fourth is turning promising concepts into real services, products, processes, or business models. Companies can use all or part of the cycle. Large companies in particular desperately need to move ideas from one place to another. Some will want to build full-fledged consulting groups dedicated to internal knowledge brokering. Others can hire people who have faced problems similar to the companies' current problems. The most important lesson is that business leaders must change how they think about innovation, and they must change how their company cultures reflect that thinking.

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Books

Click on a link below to go to Harvard Business Online, the Web site of Harvard Business School Publishing, where you can browse or purchase products. Your Harvard ManageMentor program will remain open while you are at the site.

Howard Davis and Richard Scase. Managing Creativity: The Dynamics of Work and Organization. Buckingham, England: Open University Press, 2001.

The creative industries are a growing economic as well as cultural force. This book investigates their organizational dynamics and shows how companies structure their work processes to incorporate creative employees' needs for autonomy while at the same time controlling and coordinating their output.

Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap. When Sparks Fly: Igniting Creativity in Groups. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999.

Where do the best creative ideas come from? Most managers assume that it's the readily identifiable "creative types" that offer the quickest route to out-of-the-box, breakthrough thinking, and if you don't have an eccentric genius on your team, your group is doomed to mediocrity. Yet, say Leonard and Swap, most innovations today spring from well-led group interactions. In When Sparks Fly, the authors reveal that any group—if designed and managed effectively—can produce more innovative services, products, and processes. Unlike most books on creativity, When Sparks Fly focuses on the process as it applies to groups of people who may not fit the stereotype of right-brained "creatives." Leonard and Swap offer managers strategies for generating the group dynamics that lie at the heart of innovative thinking, including specific techniques for rechanneling the tensions of conflicting points of view into new ideas and alternative options. When Sparks Fly explores how all aspects of the work environment, from leadership style to the use of space, sound, even smell, can enhance innovation.

William C. Miller. Flash of Brilliance. Reading, MA: Perseus Books, 1999.

Miller emphasizes the ways in which an individual's values and spirituality enrich and inform his or her creativity. But the book also includes concrete suggestions for overcoming obstacles to creativity and provides an extended treatment of four basic approaches to brainstorming.

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eLearning Programs

Click on a link below to go to Harvard Business Online, the Web site of Harvard Business School Publishing, where you can browse or purchase products. Your Harvard ManageMentor program will remain open while you are at the site.

Harvard Business School Publishing. Case in Point. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2004.

Case in Point is a flexible set of online cases, designed to help prepare middle- and senior-level managers for a variety of leadership challenges. These short, reality-based scenarios provide sophisticated content to create a focused view into the realities of the life of a leader. Your managers will experience: Aligning Strategy, Removing Implementation Barriers, Overseeing Change, Anticipating Risk, Ethical Decisions, Building a Business Case, Cultivating Customer Loyalty, Emotional Intelligence, Developing a Global Perspective, Fostering Innovation, Defining Problems, Selecting Solutions, Managing Difficult Interactions, The Coach's Role, Delegating for Growth, Managing Creativity, Influencing Others, Managing Performance, Providing Feedback, and Retaining Talent.

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Source Notes

Learn

Teresa M. Amabile. "Creativity and Innovation in Organizations." Harvard Business School Case Note # N9-396-239, January 5, 1996.

Derm Barrett. The Paradox Process. New York, New York: AMACOM, 1997.

Mark Cannon and Amy Edmondson. "Confronting failure: Antecedents and Consequences of Shared Learning-Oriented Beliefs in Organizational Work Groups." 1999 (under review by an academic journal).

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

Peter Drucker. "The Discipline of Innovation." Harvard Business Review. November–December, 1998.

Dorothy Leonard. Managing Groups for Creativity and Innovation. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 1998.

Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap. When Sparks Fly: Igniting Creativity in Groups. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999.

Michael Michalko. Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 1998.

William C. Miller. Flash of Brilliance. Reading, Mass.: Perseus Books, 1999.

Alan G. Robinson and Sam Stern. Corporate Creativity. San Fransisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1997.

Ernie J. Zelinski. The Joy of Thinking Big. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 1998.

Steps and Tips

Dorothy Leonard. Managing Groups for Creativity and Innovation. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 1998.

Tools

Dorothy Leonard. Managing Groups for Creativity and Innovation. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 1998.

Rebecca M. Saunders. "Better Brainstorming." Harvard Management Communication Letter, November, 1999.

Scott G. Isaksen, K. Brian Dorval and Donald J. Treffinger. Creative Approaches to Problem Solving. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1994.

Scott G. Isaksen, K. Brian Dorval and Donald J. Treffinger. Toolbox for Creative Problem Solving. Williamsville, New York: The Creative-Problem Solving Group - Buffalo, 1998.