Combining the Two Routes to Creativity
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