When sparks fly


Dorothy Leonard from Harvard University has authored a number of books in the field of creativity and innovation.

Her first book, “Wellsprings of Knowledge: Building and Sustaining the Sources of Innovation,” was one of the first books on knowledge and technology management. She also co-authored with Walter Swap, “When Sparks Fly: Harnessing the Power of Group Creativity,” which was awarded Best Book on Creativity by the European Association for Creativity and Innovation. In this book, Leonard, a specialist of innovation management and Swap, a specialist of group dynamics, converge their knowledge and create a roadmap for innovative groups.
First, they question the myths about organizational creativity.
There are some dominant creative individuals in society. They have always unusual ideas and some of them go on to become icons like Steve Jobs. Barton and Swap claim that for group creativity, the required ingredient is people who come from different backgrounds. A creative group and a group of creative individuals are different formations. The authors believe that we can achieve creative output from creative groups formed by ordinary but different people.
The light bulb is the number one symbol for creativity. But this symbol reminds us that creativity is an individual process because the bulb is always depicted over the head of an individual. However, many creative products, projects or buildings are often accredited to famous individuals who had groups working with them. For example, the transistor is known as having been invented by William Shockley. But the transistor was the invention of a team including Walter Brattain, John Bardeen and Shockley. Creativity is a process of group interactions.
A certain IQ level might be good for creativity. According to Frank Barron, the author of “Creativity and Psychological Health: Origins of Personal Vitality and Creative Freedom,” an IQ of 120 is sufficient for creative thinking. An IQ above this level does not create a significant difference. I think this is questionable. If for creativity we need some dumb ideas, we need some dumb questions and these can come from people at all levels.
Some may think that creativity is important only for big innovations, such as the light bulb, computer or the space shuttle. Ideas for small improvements are also important and should be regarded as creativity. For example, in traditional refrigerators, the freezer section is located on top. Whereas in more recent refrigerator design the less-used freezer is located on the bottom, and more frequently used compartments are located within easy reach on top. This is not a big innovation, but it is a practical improvement.
Leonard and Swap also mention that creativity should be managed, organized and facilitated. Without providing a budget, resources and a place for the creative team, it is not logical to expect creative output.
They explain creativity as a process “of developing and expressing novel ideas that are likely to be useful.” The end result of the creative process is innovation, that is, the embodiment, combination or synthesis of knowledge in novel products, processes and services.
The creative process involves different steps which are not necessarily linear. Within any step, a smaller cycle of some or all of five steps can occur: preparation, innovation opportunity, generating options (divergence), incubation and selecting options (convergence).
Preparation requires prior information, research or knowledge. Innovation opportunity is usually a problem in one area. If you invent a can, you will need a can opener. Generating options is necessary and in general this is what we perceive as creativity. Incubation is stopping to think, or research; it is the free flow of minds for a while expecting to reach an ultimate solution. It is sometimes walking, driving or resting. The final step is choosing the right option. With this step, the process of implementation begins.
Leonard and Swap’s book is not a revolutionary book in group creativity but might be a practical map.
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