By Ryan Gertner, Ph.D.
We’ve all heard about the importance of creativity as a skill set for executives and organizations. The old adage has changed: “In business you’re either growing innovating or you’re dying.” There are countless tips and tricks, strategies, plans, and resources for instilling creativity in yourself, your workplace, and your colleagues. By drawing on research findings about creative teams and our experience with the importance of assessing for innovative thinking, I have developed some insights into how companies successfully build and foster creative collaborations.
During my PhD. program at UT Arlington, I had the opportunity to study a series of factors that contribute to group innovation and creativity. In a recent publication we focused on the impact of expertise on creativity. You may have assumed that with more experts on a team you will get more high-quality, creative ideas. But expertise alone doesn’t necessarily spark creativity. You have to consider the diversity of perspectives on the team.
What we found is that groups with low levels of expertise generated the most ideas and the most novel replies to one another. We can all agree that being an expert in any one field doesn’t necessarily mean being better at innovating. In fact, expertise can limit one’s ability to generate creative ideas due to cognitive fixation (focusing on the one thing you know too much without considering information from outside). Depending on the field, experts don’t generally explore novel, innovative ideas; they depend on what they know and what they’re good at (rightfully so!). In fact, many experts may be too concerned with what they know will work causing them to censor creative ideas that they find to be impractical. And even though no one likes a “Debbie Downer”, teams must consider the resources they have available (time, financial, restrictions, etc.) to develop innovative, creative ideas that are also within the bounds of reality.
What is important here is that organizations need to figure out how to involve experts and non-experts alike in their innovative or creative teams. Consider matrixed environments with cross-functional teams. If applied correctly, you can draw experts from diverse fields to provide input in areas that are new and exciting to them. Before creating your dream team to spearhead your next innovative project, think about how to leverage your team’s expertise and diversity to produce both creative and workable results.