Diversity, collaboration needed for creativity

In unleashing creativity, perhaps we could emulate some of the practices of highly innovative organisations such as Pixar, Google and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ("Allow 'childish' imagination to take flight" by Mr Atanu Roy; last Friday).

In her co-authored book, Collective Genius, Harvard Business School professor Linda A. Hill distilled insights gleaned from studying how creative teams form in such organisations and how certain leadership qualities nurture creative endeavours.

Contrary to expectations, most innovations result from collaboration, and not from a "eureka" moment by an individual.

It has been found that creative organisations in diverse industries worldwide have embraced three capabilities critical to innovation: creative abrasion, creative agility and creative resolution.

Creative abrasion is the ability to generate ideas through discourse and debate, with a portfolio of alternatives from people who have learnt to inquire, actively listen and advance their point of view.

Innovative organisations amplify rather than minimise differences, and understand that innovation rarely happens without diversity of thought and conflict.

Contrary to expectations, most innovations result from collaboration, and not from a "eureka" moment by an individual.

Creative agility is the ability to test and refine ideas through quick pursuit, reflection and adjustment.

It encompasses the kind of discovery-driven learning used by people such as scientists and designers to solve problems, with an amalgamation of the scientific method and the artistic process.

Creative agility involves running a series of experiments, and focuses on action instead of planning ways to a solution. Any outcome, even negative ones, can provide important insights.

Creative resolution is the ability to do integrative decision-making so that diverse ideas, even opposing ones, can be recombined or reconfigured to create a new solution.

In innovative organisations, individuals or particular groups - even bosses or experts - are not allowed to dominate. Such organisations do not compromise or decide on an easy solution, allowing leaders to combine multiple ideas, as opposed to selecting only one option.

To be innovative, people need a leader who understands the power of collaboration and is able to create an environment in which everyone is willing to share and refine ideas together.

The creative process is one where people, often with diverse perspectives and expertise, journey together in a collaborative problem-solving process.

Innovative leaders understand that most innovations are the result of bottom-up, not top-down, initiatives, and intervene in a top-down way only when necessary.

These ideas can be adopted by schools, such that students are given free rein to their imagination and creative ideas, with schools providing a culture of active learning and teachers being open-minded facilitators to nurture students' ideas.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2016, with the headline 'Diversity, collaboration needed for creativity'. Print Edition | Subscribe