One of the most fundamental ways of making your group or team more creative (particularly new ones) is this:
Increase the level of diversity.
As professors B.A. Nijstad & P.B. Paulus note, ‘a group’s creative potential first and foremost depends on the level of diversity in the group’ (from Group Creativity – Innovation through Collaboration, 2003, page 327).
It’s kinda obvious but often overlooked.
A more diverse group means there is a broader range of values, perspectives, experiences, skills and knowledge than can be brought to bear in solving a problem.
In this context I mean a variety of views rather than (only) a difference in ages, sex or race.
I have worked in many organisations where there is seemingly a range of roles, sexes and ages yet because the culture (or leader) is so strong there is a real lack of divergent opinions.
It also can mean greater dissent in the group. Research by Professor Jeanne Nemeth (et al.) found that authentic dissent led to greater creativity and reduced conformity of ideas (http://works.bepress.com/jack_goncalo/5/).
It has also been found that group members can ‘experience lower levels of group identification, psychological safety and group satisfaction than homogeneous groups’ (Group Creativity – Innovation through Collaboration, 2003, page 41) when diversity is high.
This in turn can result in actual lower levels of creativity e.g. if i do not trust other group members i am less likely to share my left-field ideas.
So where does this lead us?
Group diversity can lead to increased creativity and innovation performance.
But this diversity needs to be managed.
Some possible leadership actions might include (Group Creativity – Innovation through Collaboration, 2003, pages 54-55):
- Acknowledging that the group is a diverse one and the reasons for it (i.e. because fresh, original solutions are needed to solve a tough challenge).
- Build in regular processes to ensure that dissenting voices are heard.
- Use our new Ideas Blitz tool to solve specific problems and generate ideas. The reason? Because in a Blitz, we start with the individual trying to generate 9 ideas in 2 minutes. Hence everyone plays and no one person can dominate.
- Openly discuss and value different perspectives.
In short, when in doubt go for diversity.
Have people in the group that are close to the problem and those outside it (often out of this dynamic tension new ideas emerge).
Add in some astute leadership and you have a magic formula for success.