Com­bin­ing the Two Routes to Cre­ativ­ity

Rotman Management Magazine - - FACULTY FOCUS - In­ter­view by Karen Christensen

In the realm of cre­ativ­ity re­search, there are two schools of thought: the ‘ten­sion’ view and the ‘foun­da­tional’ view. Please de­scribe them.

Most peo­ple are fa­mil­iar with the ‘ten­sion view’ — which is com­monly re­ferred to as ‘di­ver­sity of thought’ or ‘re­com­bi­na­tion of ideas’. The un­der­ly­ing con­cept is that new ideas are in ten­sion with how we cur­rently think. We get so embedded in one way of think­ing about the world, that it is very dif­fi­cult to break out of it. Within this view of cre­ativ­ity, if you want new ideas, you should bring di­verse peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds, brain­storm, and do some form of re­com­bin­ing of their ideas to get to a break­through.

The sec­ond view of cre­ativ­ity is known as the ‘foun­da­tional view’, and it sug­gests that, in fact, cre­ativ­ity isn’t so much about re­com­bin­ing dis­parate ideas as it is about the in-depth ex­plo­ration of a par­tic­u­lar do­main. Sim­ply put, when you know about a topic in great depth, you can ‘see’ where the prob­lems, in­con­sis­ten­cies or is­sues in logic are, and that leads to ideas for break­through in­no­va­tions.

While the first ap­proach warns against deep knowl­edge in one do­main, the sec­ond ap­proach says that this can ac­tu­ally be a source of in­no­va­tion. As re­searchers, we know much more about the first ap­proach; the sec­ond has been largely ig­nored.

Which ap­proach is most ef­fec­tive in to­day’s com­plex en­vi­ron­ment?

If you’re in­ter­ested in break­through in­no­va­tion — rather than in­cre­men­tal change — you re­ally need both. As in­di­cated, peo­ple tend to fo­cus on en­abling di­verse ideas, but the re­search shows that if you don’t cou­ple that with some re­ally in-depth knowl­edge, you will not achieve a break­through. That might ex­plain why so many com­pa­nies are frus­trated when they take steps to in­no­vate, but just end up with the next in­cre­men­tal idea. For ex­am­ple, a new in­no­va­tive colour of Post-it note — in­stead of the next in­no­va­tive way to take notes. Un­for­tu­nately, most com­pa­nies are not or­ga­nized to fos­ter both forms of cre­ativ­ity.

Tell us about the ‘dou­ble-edged sword’ of re­com­bi­na­tion that you un­cov­ered.

In my re­search I found that re­com­bi­na­tion — i.e. the ten­sion model of cre­ativ­ity — is great for sort­ing through ideas and com­ing up with the one that will have the high­est eco­nomic

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