So you (the executive) have determined that it is critical to become more innovative and creative in your organization! How are you going to accomplish this, assuming you are serious?
Jonah Lehrer wrote an interesting article in 30 January 2012 The New Yorker titled (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/01/30/120130fa_fact_lehrer): Groupthink – The Brainstorming myth. There is a widely held view within (and without OD) that the best way to come up with creative ideas is to utilize the classical (free wheel, and no criticism) brainstorming. This article, through the research it cites, does a good job of suggesting this technique is less useful than other approaches (e.g., allow criticism and questioning of each other’s ideas).
What I found interesting in the article is the evidence that creativity and innovation is often a function of diverse perspectives interacting within a physical space that encourages unpredictable interactions and chance meetings between people.
This suggests that becoming more creative and innovative means doing “some” things differently than you are now. How you cluster people and how you configure physical space and conveniences (meeting rooms, hallways, all on the same floor, common coffee/lunch area, etc.) within them.
Lehrer notes two specific examples where the above principles were successfully applied.
First, he talks about Steve jobs at Pixar and how virtually “forced” people to interact in novel, unpredictable ways. By forced, he created various single convenience points within Pixar that enabled people to meet and interact with unexpected people. For people to get on with their commonly typical tasks he physically located them as meeting spots for these chance meetings. And Pixar was enormously successful during this time.
Second, Lehrer talks about a second world war building at MIT called Building 20 (that was a in many ways considered a failure – crafty, poor ventilation, dim lighting, etc.) that became a centre of groundbreaking research. Interestingly, Building 20 was set up as a temporary structure and yet (like many temporary things) was still around towards the end of the twentieth century.
Those of us in OD who flatter ourselves with helping groups of people be more creative need to examine the research that repeatedly suggests that classical brainstorming is not all that effective (compared to some other conflict and serendipity creating approaches).
Those of us in organizational leadership roles who make grand pronouncements and passionate pleas that people within become more creative and innovative need to understand what may be necessary to achieve this.