Tapping into creativity

Aart Goud and Godelieve Spaas argue the case for embedding innovation into
management development programmes, drawing on examples from Rotterdam School of

Creativity is more than simple brainstorming. It is part of a comprehensive
process of innovation which sees ideas being generated and the process being
accepted. This comprehensive view ensures that powerful ideas are not stripped
of their energy in subsequent project phases.

To achieve this in our management development (MD) programme sessions
dedicated to creativity, we encourage executives to consider innovation in
their own organisations in two different ways. We offer them new stimuli, then
get them to reflect on processing those stimuli.

People, information, surroundings and methods are four different stimuli
which can induce creativity. Here we will consider each briefly:

People We set up diverse project groups. We have experimented with
groups that were uniform and those that were pluriform in terms of cognitive
preferences and expertise, leading to various levels of effective results.
These allow line managers to set up a sufficiently diverse innovation team on
the shopfloor.

Information Apart from traditional brainstorming methods, we opt for
challenging hidden assumptions. This reveals an organisation’s preferred way of
operating and attempts to redirect it towards new business ideas.

Changing surroundings This liberation, although requiring substantial
mental effort, results in what are often groundbreaking innovations. A
well-known example is the success of the US-based carrier SouthWest Airlines,
where executives were inspired by Formula 1 motor racing. The extremely short
pit-stops prompted them to consider how they could optimise their planes’
maintenance, allowing them to enhance the effectiveness of their fleet

Different methods By using metaphors, for example, executives can
express what was previously impossible to put into words. In one programme, we
used a tape of how cellist Yo Yo Ma collaborated with a choreographer on a
music-dance production. This served as a metaphor for people from different
disciplines working together, without which innovation would be impossible.

Using information from other disciplines and combining it with one’s
personal experiences is only possible when specialists from various disciplines
are open to new information. This requires them to think more freely and
outside the mental frameworks of their own discipline.


Executives must be able to process all these new stimuli to allow for
innovation. So we have also incorporated reflection on these stimuli within our
MD programmes. We recognise that executives process stimuli in different ways
which reflects on the creative process. We use the Ned Herrmann model to
characterise each executive’s cognitive processing preferences.

The graph (left) illustrates four cognitive preferences and relates them to
the accompanying repertoire of behaviour. It allows executives to analyse the
best way to kick-start the creative process for him or herself, enabling them
to contribute in a natural way to their work environment. Such an analysis can
apply equally to a single individual participant right up to complete business
units participating in the MD programme.

Executives have experimented with diverse stimuli and their processing of
them. This allows them to gain insight into their personal, natural creative
style and teaches them how to influence the creative process. As the programmes
proceeds, executives start to extend lessons learned to other sessions within
the programme.

Embedding creativity in MD programmes creates a win-win situation for both
regular sessions and those specifically dedicated to creativity.

Comments are closed.