Posted by: Katherine Raleigh
Programme Manager on Wed 21 Jan

In order to survive and thrive, organisations must develop new products, strategies, techniques, and processes that are both novel and useful. Dr Sarah Harvey, Assistant Professor at UCL, shared her latest research at KnowledgeBrief’s Innovation Day on how creativity is an imperative for today’s organisations.

Children are encouraged to think creatively and, if asked, could quickly devise dozens of novel uses for a paper clip. But as adults, prior knowledge, experience and fear of being judged often constrains creativity.

Organisations are encouraged to promote creativity through the following five environmental factors:

  1. Safe environment for sharing ideas
  2. Tolerance for failure
  3. Time for creativity
  4. Intrinsic motivation
  5. Playful environments

However, embedding these factors is challenging. Organisations must remember that ideas do not exist in isolation - creative thinking is often a product of working together, sharing ideas and building creative input. By managing teams that allow diversity, giving exposure to different perspectives and backgrounds, it can help stimulate novel ideas.

The real challenge is how to manage diverse teams to build greater trust and understanding so that all the ideas generated can be integrated. Dr Harvey’s presentation drew examples from firms like Pixar, an advocate of diverse teams, to illustrate effective creative processes. Pixar perform both ‘expected’ and ‘unexpected’ processes to elicit creativity:

  • Expected factors to facilitate creativity: power to the creatives, autonomous teams, flat communication channels, open information flows, freedom to express ideas, trust and respect, and a building structure that promotes incidental meetings
  • Unexpected evaluation processes: cross-functional development and evaluation teams backed by an expert council, team leaders who provide clear vision and direct the processes, daily reviews that critique progress to date, clear quantified metrics, and operating within strict time, budget and people constraints

Most research focuses on divergent idea generation. However, Pixar’s processes demonstrate how idea evaluation in groups can be a productive activity that facilitates the generation of novel ideas. For example, by conducting daily reviews of film animation, Pixar’s animators and directors construct a series of problems to work on for the day. Problem construction and idea evaluation in the creative process means that groups work more elaborately on one theme, allowing them to build new ideas on top of others. Organisations must ‘unpick’ what they already have and construct the problem, and challenge the proposed solutions as best as possible.

Participants included City of London Corporation, Interserve, NHS North of England CSU, Pentland Brands and St. James’s Place.

Next, this group will be discussing Innovation through Better Business Models. For more information and to join, please view the event page.


Afford the teams the space, time and permission to be creative.

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