Posted by: Katherine Raleigh
Programme Manager on Thu 01 Jun

Welcome to the latest in a series of brief interviews with guest experts from KnowledgeBrief’s Innovation Programmes, providing a window into the experts’ latest ideas and new advice for executives.

Following the Innovation Day in May, Jeanne Meinholt, Senior Researcher at KnowledgeBrief (KB), interviewed Dr. Sara Jones (SJ), Cass Business School, to discuss the number of important considerations when balancing the human-computer partnership to enhance creativity and innovation in the workplace.

KB: What’s the key business challenge that organisations need to address, that your research tackles?

SJ: How to develop capacity for creativity and innovation in the workplace, and the role of digital tools and technologies within that.

KB: What advice would you give to executives, based on your findings?

SJ: I would advise two approaches in parallel: first to develop the creative skills and competencies of individuals and teams in the workplace, and work on supporting a healthy creative climate; and then at the same time to build consideration of creativity and innovation in to your digital strategy, so that the digital tools and technologies your organisation uses will tend to help rather than hinder creativity and innovation.

KB: What should organisations consider when looking to implement new tools in the creative process?

SJ: First, it goes almost without saying that digital tools and technologies that are used as part of creative and innovation processes must be well-designed, usable and offer a great user experience. This is not just because we of course want all of our tools to work effectively, but also because positive emotions, of the kind experienced when we use a product we love, can increase performance on creative tasks such as problem-solving in the workplace.

Next, it is worth considering how comfortably your digital tools sit with a creative climate. Do they support trust and openness, allow people to get involved, encourage playfulness and humour, debate and perhaps a certain level of risk-taking, for example by providing the safety net of a roll-back, or ‘undo’ option, in case certain actions don’t play out well?

A major consideration relates to the choice between physical and digital media in individual or team-based creative work. Using physical media such as pens and Post-It notes, whiteboards and physical sketchbooks, has the advantage of familiarity and ease of use for most of us, which means that creative flow, for example in generating ideas in a personal notebook or a team brainstorming session, is not interrupted by trying to figure out how to use unfamiliar digital media, such as digital stickies.

Times are changing of course, and it is important to match tools to the specific individuals who will use them – right now, younger team members are often more familiar and comfortable with working directly in digital media than more senior colleagues, but this balance will continue to shift over the coming years. Equally, we need to remember that using digital media, such as those available through online collaborative platforms, offers advantages that physical media simply cannot match, in terms of variety (e.g. sound and video, as well as text and pictures) and support for distributed teams. It can therefore also be important to think about how easily information can be transitioned from a physical format – such as the Post-Its left behind after a face to face focus group – to a digital format that can be shared with colleagues in other locations. The best solutions currently often involve blends of physical and digital tools and media, tailored to the specific needs of particular teams, projects or locations.

KB: To what extent does digital tools provide explicit and deliberate support for creativity and innovation?

SJ: Search tools such as Yossarian aim to do this by using AI to support associative thinking, long known to foster the generation of new ideas. Tools such as BrightSparks help with the use of specific creative thinking techniques – in this case the Hall of Fame technique – and StumbleUpon is a third example of a tool that has been deliberately designed to facilitate serendipitous online encounters with new information. All of these can be useful in boosting creative outputs in a range of circumstances. Also, while tools such as BrightSparks focus on supporting just one part of a creative process – the generation of new ideas – other tools, such as Hype and Spigit, provide much broader support for organisation-wide innovation processes, from idea generation, through idea evaluation, to innovation portfolio management. And finally, while all of the above tools can be used in more or less any project or domain, a huge range of more specialist digital tools and technologies are available for creative work in particular areas, involving the production of, for example, music, film or graphics.

KB: What did you learn or take away from meeting with the executives in the KnowledgeBrief Innovation Programmes?

SJ: That there is still a lot to do in terms of developing creative climates in organisations and encouraging creative behaviour in people and teams, but probably even more work needed to understand how digital tools and technologies can impact on these!

With thanks to Dr. Sara Jones, Senior Lecturer in Creative Interactive System Design, Cass Business School.

Next month, KnowledgeBrief will be talking to Professor Mark Anderson, Edge Hill University, to find out how augmented reality is providing new opportunities for organisations to engage with customers. Find out more here.

Part of a series of interviews with expert guests from our Innovation Programmes, we cover insights from the latest research and key advice for executives to stay ahead in management and innovation.

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