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A new paper by Ozge Cokpekin (PhD candidate) and Professor Mette Knudsen of the University of Southern Denmark produces research which tests and challenges these assumptions. The authors carried out a survey of 147 small firms in Denmark. They compared the effectiveness of these companies in product and process innovation against seven well-known factors for encouraging creativity in the workplace. The seven elements were based on the work of Teresa Amabile and her 1988 book, A model of Creativity and Innovation in Organisations. The seven factors are:
They used statistical methods to correlate the seven factors with product or process innovation. The results can be summarised as follows. Organizational motivation, resources and idea time are positively correlated with product innovation. Freedom is negatively correlated. When it comes to process innovation only one factor was positively correlated – organizational motivation. The levels of challenge, idea support and proactiveness seem to make no difference to product or process innovation outcomes.
These results are surprising, especially the finding that the more freedom for employees the less product innovation. The authors believe that in small firms, ‘Increasing freedom and providing little task instruction may distract employees’ attention from daily tasks, create confusion and cause them to forget time and rules. In contrast to allowing freedom, formalization of work tasks enhances the likelihood of promoting innovation by allowing best practices to diffuse among employees.’
There is further analysis of the reasons for the differences between product and process innovation. The authors conclude as follows. ‘The results demonstrate that creativity is related to the organizing priorities and abilities of management and has a strong impact on product innovation. The paper encourages managers to exercise freedom cautiously to ensure that operations are carried out effectively, while employees are provided sufficient guidelines to achieve product innovation.’
The authors acknowledge that the small sample size from a relatively homogeneous population of small companies is a limitation of the study. Nonetheless the results make for provocative discussion on what levels of stimulus for creativity and freedom of action should be allowed or encouraged in the pursuit of innovation.
Full Paper: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi…
By Paul Sloane
Paul Sloane held senior positions at IBM, Ashton-Tate, MathSoft and Monactive. He is the author of over 20 books which have sold over 2 million copies in total. Titles include How to be a Brilliant Thinker and The Innovative Leader. He speaks, writes and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and lateral thinking. He also facilitates innovation camps for major corporate clients. For more information visit www.destination-innovation.com