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Diversity of the Mind as the Key to Successful Creativity at Unilever

  • Mostert Consultancy for Creativity and Innovation Management


In contrast to the general belief that we need a diversity of people attending the creativity session in order to generate ideas, this article states that it is more important that the participants of the creativity session have a ‘diversity of the mind’ meaning they have the ability to think creatively. In the R&D environment of Unilever we have encountered many ways in which the diversity of participants and the environment of a creativity session have an impact on the results. Based on four years of experience, this article describes how diversity impacts creativity from a practitioner point of view.
Diversity of the Mind as the Key to
Successful Creativity at Unilever
Nel M. Mostert
In contrast to the general belief that we need a diversity of people attending the creativity
session in order to generate ideas, this article states that it is more important that the partici-
pants of the creativity session have a ‘diversity of the mind’ meaning they have the ability to
think creatively. In the R&D environment of Unilever we have encountered many ways in
which the diversity of participants and the environment of a creativity session have an impact
on the results. Based on four years of experience, this article describes how diversity impacts
creativity from a practitioner point of view.
The question that this article addresses is: ‘Is
diversity the Philosopher’s Stone for cre-
ativity. Will it lead to the Golden Idea?’. The
answer is: ‘No’. This article shows that having
a ‘diversity of people’ in your team is not the
key guarantee to successful creativity; ‘diver-
sity of the mind’ is even more important.
The article first defines creativity and diver-
sity from a practitioner point of view. Then
creativity is discussed in the context of emo-
tions leading to the conclusion that a too
diverse group of participants hinders indi-
vidual creativity and therefore the flow of a
creativity session. The reason is that very cre-
ative ideas only emerge in an environment
where there is complete trust and safety, even
after a creativity session, when all ideas have
to lead to that one solution. We show diversity
barriers that need to be managed before,
during and after a creativity session. The
article ends with the conclusion that there is
one type of diversity that is most necessary to
obtain creative ideas, namely ‘diversity of the
This paper is based on the experiences of the
author with facilitating teams in more than 125
creativity sessions and her research on creativ-
ity sessions over the past four years in Uni-
lever (Mostert, 2004). Unilever is a fast-moving
consumer goods (FMCG) company in both the
Foods and Home & Personal Care markets.
Unilever’s mission is ‘To add vitality to life.
Unilever meets everyday needs for nutrition,
hygiene and personal care with brands that
help people feel good, look good and get more
out of life’. 223,000 people work at Unilever
spread over 100 countries. Unilever’s 400
brands include Knorr, Hellman’s, Bertolli,
Lipton, Magnum, Dextro,, Omo and
What is Creativity?
Before discussing what we mean by diversity,
we describe creativity. To describe creativity
we first need to make clear what the difference
is between creativity and innovation. Creativ-
ity is a soft process that starts from when the
problem is brought up, including the moment
when the idea to solve the problem has been
born and ends with the sharing of the idea
with others. It is a soft, imaginative process. As
soon as an idea is made public, then the hard
innovation process starts, where organizations
start up a team, prepare a budget and project
description, etc.
The four phases of creativity are:
1. getting into contact with the problem,
2. incubation time to think about a solution,
3. the ‘aha’ moment when you think of an idea
4. action to share the idea with others.
In a working environment, the company
cannot allow employees to take all the time in
the world to go through all four phases at their
own pace. In particular, the second phase, the
incubation time, can be quite considerable.
Think of a ‘writer’s block’ when trying to think
Volume 16 Number 1 2007
© 2007 Unilever R&D Vlaardingen, The Netherlands
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing
of a subject for a next novel; sometimes it can
take years to come up with that great idea.
That is the reason why creativity sessions are
organized: to decrease the incubation time.
A creativity session can have the following
Start with a problem definition including an
explanation of the background of the
problem by the problem owner.
Next the participants generate ideas using
creativity techniques that stimulate the cre-
ativity of the participants (varying from
normal brainstorming to using any other
creativity technique that suits the purpose).
Then a selection of the ideas takes place.
The chosen ideas are discussed further.
Finally, action plans are agreed for all ideas
that seem worthwhile pursuing.
However, every session is custom-made
according to the wishes of the client and the
content of the problem. No two creativity ses-
sions are the same.
What is Diversity?
Diversity in creativity reflects the different
backgrounds of the participants in Unilever
creativity sessions. The diversity can be mani-
fest in many ways, for example:
• gender
• introvert/extravert
• language
• nationality
cultural differences
work level
• science
• function
expertise (R&D/Marketing/Supply Chain)
level of expertise
being part of a large or small team
years with the company
years in the current job
country where the office is located
internal employees/external persons/
It is not just the participants that can vary, but
also the locations:
The country where the session is organized.
The service provided, such as the availabil-
ity of flipcharts, pens, stimulus material
(magazines, etc.), post-its, drinks, coffee,
music, good light lunches/dinners and last
but not least enough room to move around.
Does the meeting take place in an internal
meeting room at the company or an external
Is the meeting room located in a creative
surrounding (castle) or a dull surrounding
(portacabin, or room with no windows)?
Having facilitated a lot of different teams in a
lot of different locations, it is clear that they all
have their own energy, communications and
emotion. Here are a few examples.
• The first example concerned a creativity
session on detergent powders for scientists
with various backgrounds, such as microbi-
ologist, flavour technologist, nutritionist,
spray expert, etc. They came together to
solve the problem of a cluttering powder.
Instead of running the agenda and process
of a creativity session, the only thing the
facilitator had to do was guide the very
vivid conversation. There was a free flow of
ideas and in-depth scientific discussions
because they had a high appreciation of
each other’s expertise and the atmosphere
was open and trusting. The end result was
many possible solutions and new contacts
between different scientists. Some of them
agreed to have these types of sessions more
frequently with the aim of learning from
each other’s expertise.
Another creativity session with scientists in
the field of foods went differently. The
atmosphere was dull, concentrated, no
laughing, very serious and it just felt like
participants were not enjoying themselves
that much, or at least they did not show
such emotions. Nevertheless, they were
working hard and putting ideas on paper.
At the end of the session the participants
were asked ‘Did you enjoy the session?’
They said that it was the greatest session
they had ever had, they were very happy
with the high level of intellectual, creative
and professional ideas and the project
leader dashed off to the Patents Office to get
some ideas filed right away.
Working with marketers and brand
managers/developers is a totally different
story. Most of the time the participants are
young, vibrant, positive people with lots of
energy. However, they are quickly bored
with the task at hand as they want to move
ahead with the next step in the process. It is
hard to keep them under control, and it is
just as hard to put the brakes on. High
speed, high spirit and lots of ideas and
enthusiasm to work on the ideas. In con-
trast to scientists, marketers have a short-
term, high-speed vision and that is
definitely reflected in working with them.
• Another team consisted of process and
mechanical engineers. Where other teams
are tired after 90 minutes of generating
ideas, they kept on persistently for more
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Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing
than two hours! Every creativity technique
that was offered to them, made them think
of a new method/process or tool they could
use to create a new idea. The team was very
loud and laughed a lot. The diversity of
ideas was enormous; the one session gave
enough material for one year of further
research. The minds of engineers are truly
creative in the sense that they seem to find a
solution for everything. This is logical in a
way, because if you are constructing a
factory or a new machine, there is no way
that something turns out to be ‘not pos-
sible’. There is a mechanical solution to
every problem. Typing out all the ideas was
very difficult because this team produced a
lot of drawings, which had to be scanned.
It is the challenge for the facilitator to set the
scene in such a way that within all the variety,
participants feel free to generate and express
ideas, while taking the diversity into consider-
ation and even trying to exploit it! However,
the more sessions we facilitated, the more we
became aware that we might be looking at
diversity from the wrong point of view. We
concluded that the above overview of diver-
sity needed reconsideration because creativity
might be in need of a different kind of diver-
sity. For that we need to take a deeper look at
personal creativity.
Personal Creativity
If asked who considers himself a creative
person in a group of 20, maybe two or three
people dare to raise their hands. Creativity
seems to be something to be proud of if you
feel and dare to admit that you ‘are creative’ or
if you are considered to be creative by others.
That is very strange because it is commonly
known that everybody is creative in his/her
own way. If you feel you are not creative and
you want to be, then you can train yourself.
Creativity is a trick of the mind, which every-
body can learn to do. Byttebier, CEO of the
Belgian COCD (Centre for Creative Thinking),
says: ‘Everybody can think creatively; you can
learn how to do it and you can develop your-
self’ (Byttebier, 2002) and Brown, CEO of the
English ?What If! Consultancy (2006) says:
‘You are a creating machine’ and gives lessons
on how to be creative: ‘Brain Basics’.
When you show people how easy it is to
trigger more ideas, they learn to their surprise
that they can come up with more ideas than
they would ever have thought. Mostert and
Frijling (2001) witnessed that at the end of a
creativity awareness training session, many
participants stated that they were relieved to
find out that ‘I am creative too!’. Sometimes
people feel creativity is almost like a religion,
they feel liberated in the mind and free to face
the world in a different mindset because they
now realize that many business and private
problems can be solved using their newly
learned skill.
The glorious facial expression of a person
who just thought of a great new idea tells it all.
It feels so much better to think of an idea your-
self than to expand on other people’s ideas!
The energy and adrenaline that flows through
your body at the ‘aha’ moment feels so good, it
makes you laugh and you feel surprised at
your own contribution. We believe that people
can be creative on their own. You do not need
to be in a large group that is sharing ideas.
Also Nijstad (2000) found that being alone can
trigger as many ideas as working in pairs or in
a team, even higher quality ones. It often
happens that participants enter the creativity
session with a number of ideas already
thought of before the session, provided the
participants are given and have taken the time
to go through the phases of creativity in
advance. Einstein understood this too. After
his daily work at a Swiss Patent Agency, he
spent long nights thinking about his theories,
on his own, far away from the world of science.
He preferred to work on his own. We have
implemented the ‘five minutes of silence’ in
our creativity sessions. After the problem
owner has explained the problem, the partici-
pants are given five minutes of silence to write
down their first ideas. Often we see that par-
ticipants write down between four and seven
ideas. In a group of 12 participants, the first
score of 48–84 ideas are harvested in just five
minutes. No research has been done yet to
investigate if the ‘winning ideas’ are among
the ideas generated in these first five minutes.
Creativity in Teams: the Limits
We might even reconsider whether we need an
organized creativity session where many
people sit together to generate ideas at all.
There are two main reasons for these doubts.
The first reason is that on your own, you can
have what we could call your own ‘thought
train’ rolling. Your thought train has to reach
the end station to get the best idea. If another
person’s thought train crosses your railway,
either a collision takes place, or the two trains
join to become one new train and drive
together. The latter is good, the former not,
because if a collision takes place, the end
station is not reached, meaning that a poten-
tially perfect idea has crashed. If you are with
a large group of people and everybody is
Volume 16 Number 1 2007
© 2007 Unilever R&D Vlaardingen, The Netherlands
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing
shouting ideas, then a lot of collisions happen
and a lot of ideas are crashed. Rietzschel (2005)
comes to a similar conclusion: ‘Nominal
groups generated more ideas, and more high-
quality ideas, than interactive groups’. This is
why the facilitator should take great care in a
creativity session to prevent too many colli-
sions. There are ways to do this as shown in
Box 1.
Box 1. Ways to Prevent Collisions
One solution is to let the team work
individually and/or in pairs when gen-
erating ideas. Never do idea generation
with the entire team shouting out ideas!
Of course you must have process tricks
that enable all participants to share the
ideas with all participants, but doing
it in such a way that the thought
trains join, instead of crashing. These
techniques are: gallery, brain-write,
working in pairs and offering the pairs
creativity techniques that suit the pair.
If the pair is not generating ideas
because they do not ‘connect’ (which
sometimes happens), the facilitator can
help them, but the pairs must stay the
same. The reason is that the two people
need to build confidence and trust in
each other so that at a certain point they
feel comfortable with each other and
start to dare to share the most crazy and
wild ideas.
A second reason is that participants can be
too different to be able to work together.
• We have introvert and extravert partici-
pants. In order to prevent the extraverts
from taking over the session, it is better to
make small teams, allowing the introverts a
safe room to share their ideas. Participants
appreciate it when they are all able to be
creative, active participants and still build
interactively on other people’s ideas.
Working with different cultures on the one
hand gives a large variety of different para-
digms, but on the other hand cultural diver-
sity might decrease the level of creativity in
an idea-generating team. Of course there is
the richness of the different paradigms, but
there is also the difficulty of finding a
common ground in the diverse worlds of all
participants and the beliefs they have. Some
cultures do not allow employees to have
better ideas than their superiors. True cre-
ativity can only happen when there is real
respect and connection between two or
more people.
Creativity in Teams: the Flow
You might have noticed that in the last sections
the words ‘confidence, feeling comfortable,
trust, share, safe, common ground, respect and
connection’ appear. These emotions are
important in connection to creativity for two
reasons. The first is that creativity is all about
taking risks. You only dare to take risks if you
know that you can trust that the people you
are working with will support you and back
you up. The second reason is that creativity is
all about trust. Creativity requires full open-
ness towards each other to accept each other’s
ideas. If there is openness and trust between
the participants of the session, the most daring,
new and creative ideas can be expressed and
the group will produce a flow of these ideas.
When facilitating an idea generation session,
a good facilitator knows if the team is in the
right flow. That is, when ideas emerge that are
related to sex. Why? What does creativity have
to do with sex? If people are sharing ‘sexy’
ideas, then they share emotions and risk. A
colleague of mine said ‘Why is it that creativity
feels like sex and the idea is like a new born
baby?’ Maybe the two are not that far apart
because most creativity techniques have the
objective of creating new connections between
already existing things, and the Dutch Van
Dale dictionary even gives the translation for
sex as ‘multiplication/the ability to propagate’.
Some examples:
• During a session on new food formats,
there was an idea that we could invent a
tool with which melted ice cream could be
turned into a spray. This would allow the
consumer to spray the melted ice cream in
the mouth, or (as a participant added) on
the body. Another participant joked: ‘When
I come home with my melted ice cream, I
spray it on my body and I will shout to my
wife “Honey, I’m home!!!” ’.
Another idea from that session was the ‘ice
cream condom’, resulting in a new ‘roll-off’
packaging suggestion.
Or during a session on ‘How to make envi-
ronmentally safe detergents’ one participant
suggested that all people should walk
naked so we would not need detergents at
all. Another participant springboarded with
the question: ‘How do animals keep their
fur clean?’ and...what could we learn
from that?
Volume 16 Number 1 2007 © 2007 Unilever R&D Vlaardingen, The Netherlands
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing
Research on Creative Teams
at Unilever
To find out if inviting a mixture of people to a
creativity session offers a high chance that
ideas are really implemented after the session,
we have evaluated 100 creativity sessions by
means of a questionnaire. We received 78 com-
pleted questionnaires that contained enough
information on which to base further analysis.
For the remaining 22, it was either no longer
possible to contact the problem owners or they
did not respond to all the questions in the
questionnaire. Most sessions took place at Uni-
lever R&D Vlaardingen (UR&DV), and some
took place at other Unilever offices.
Typical examples of problem areas defined
for Creativity Sessions organized by Unilever
innovation teams are (numbers reflect percent-
age of 100 investigated sessions facilitated in
Area: To solve technical problems (42%)
How to improve dispensing of X
Think of new applications for ingredient
Area: To start up a project (21%)
How to determine alternatives for A
Think of ingredients with a C benefit and
products to apply it to
Area: To generate ideas for new products/
projects (17%)
Think of a next generation P
What would a new format of product M
look like?
Area: To tackle consumer-related issues
How to identify signals that communi-
cate benefit H
What would a campaign to raise aware-
ness of product S look like?
Area: Culture and communication (6%)
How to have more fun at work
In the R&D environment of Unilever, the cre-
ativity sessions typically result in (proposals
for) new projects, products, patents and other
opportunities. Another benefit of organizing a
creativity session is that it results in a more
creative attitude of team members.
One to two years after the session took
place, we asked the relevant project leaders
‘Did the creativity session solve the problem?’
The results are shown in Table 1. This shows
that out of 78 sessions, 41 (53 per cent) had
already produced a solution to a problem. The
outcome of 16 sessions (20 per cent) is still
work in progress and may lead to solutions
later on. With a possible success score of
53 +20 =73 per cent, we can state that creativ-
ity sessions offer project teams a very high
chance of finding a solution to their problem.
A total of 21 (27 per cent) of the sessions
encountered barriers, resulting in no work
being done on those problems. We discuss the
reasons for this later.
We also constructed an overview of how the
teams were composed (see Table 2). This
answers the question ‘Is there a relation
between the team composition and solving the
problem using the ideas generated in the cre-
ativity session, after two years or less?’
Looking at this table from a diversity point
of view, it could be concluded that the success
(success judged as ‘The problem is solved’) of
a session is unexpectedly not dependent on
the diversity of the composition of the group.
Composition 1 (only URDV project team
members) gives the highest rate of immediate
success: 70 per cent, whereas compositions 2,
3 and 4 score an immediate success rate after
two years of 47–50 per cent. This means that
the less diverse the group, the higher chance
of success. This could be for a number of
Team members know each other well and
accept each other ideas more readily.
Project team members are goal oriented and
have the urge to reach the goal, more so
than a group that consists of people that are
not part of the project team.
Project team members tend to choose those
ideas that they can implement rather than
the more creative ideas. Byttebier (2002)
calls this the ‘creadox’, meaning that
‘people, when confronted with a very large
amount of new ideas, tend to play it safe
and to choose those ideas that fit within
those thinking patterns that can be realized’.
Table 1. Effectiveness in Problem Solving in Creativity Sessions Run in 2000–2003
Yes, the
problem is
Not yet, the
problem is
not yet solved
No, the
problem is
not solved
Total number
of sessions
Total number of sessions (%) 41 (53%) 16 (20%) 21 (27%) 78 (100%)
Volume 16 Number 1 2007
© 2007 Unilever R&D Vlaardingen, The Netherlands
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing
Barker (1996) emphasizes this: ‘Reality that
does not fit in our paradigm will have diffi-
culty passing our filters’.
It also seems to be more difficult to get ideas
quickly implemented if they are invented in a
team that (also) had other URDV and or Uni-
lever members. This is shown with all compo-
sitions because they have 20 per cent or more
of the session’s ideas still in progress whereas
in composition 1 only 5 per cent of the sessions
have ideas still in progress. The reason could
be that if the team works with only their own
team members, there are no problems with the
‘not invented here syndrome’ meaning that
ideas are accepted more easily and turned into
actions quickly.
We can conclude that inviting ‘outsiders’ to
the session has a benefit that is not directly
related to the success of the session itself. This
is very surprising because the entire objective
of inviting a diversity of people to the session
is the expected higher success of the session.
We have to conclude that inviting a diversity
of people to the session is not a guarantee that
your problem will be solved. Other factors are
responsible for that, which we elaborate on
Having said this, it needs to be stressed that
having a diversity of people does have other
advantages. Our experience shows that partici-
pants appreciate a mixture of types of exper-
tise for reasons of getting to know each other
and to meet people who look at the problem
from a different angle. New contacts are made
during creativity sessions, broadening the
network. Often the people agree to meet again
after the session because they want to learn
more about each other’s expertise and to
benefit from sharing knowledge.
Results on Need for Diversity
With 20 per cent of the sessions still having
work in progress, Table 2 also shows that a
creativity session does not give the team the
Philosopher’s Stone for the Golden Idea.
Although the research shows that 90 per cent
of the problem owners stated that ‘useful ideas
came out of the session’, the output of the
session in most cases does not include the one
Big Idea that is the solution to all the problems
or immediately leads the team into a brilliant
new innovation. Instead, the session gives dif-
ferent directions or routes in which possible
solutions might be found. A creativity session
sometimes causes more problems than there
were before the session. The reason is that the
team has to work on the output of the session,
investigating all ideas that are worthwhile
pursuing to solve the problem. Only after a
couple of months or longer the team might
have found a solution and in hindsight they
see that the solution is a combination of ideas
that have resulted from the earlier creativity
session. This means that a creativity session
leads the minds of the project team members
in directions that might offer a solution to the
problem. With work in progress, even more
barriers need to be taken into account.
On the way from idea to innovation, Table 2
shows that 27 per cent of the sessions have not
resulted in a solution to the problem. The
research shows that these teams have encoun-
tered six types of barriers after the creativity
Table 2. Effectiveness in Problem Solving by Composition of Groups in Creativity Sessions Run in
Composition of participants in
the session
Yes, the
problem is
Not yet, the
problem is
not yet solved
No, the
problem is
not solved
Total number
of sessions
1. Only URDV project team
14 (70%) 1 (5%) 5 (25%) 20 (100%)
2. URDV project team members
and other URDV members
14 (50%) 8 (29%) 6 (21%) 28 (100%)
3. URDV project team members,
other URDV members and
other Unilever members
5 (50%) 3 (30%) 2 (20%) 10 (100%)
4. Other Unilever members 7 (47%) 3 (20%) 5 (33%) 15 (100%)
5. Other Unilever members and
1 (20%) 1 (20%) 3 (60%) 5 (100%)
URDV =Unilever Research and Development at Vlaardingen
Volume 16 Number 1 2007 © 2007 Unilever R&D Vlaardingen, The Netherlands
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing
session that prevented the ideas from being
pursued. These are, in rank order (percentages
reflect the number of remarks/reasons noted
down from the 21 failed creativity sessions):
lack of ownership (32%),
no budget available to work on the ideas
quality of the ideas is too high/overdone
(NASA technology) for the project (12%)
the project changed scope, thus the ideas
became useless (17%)
the technical composition of team was not
equipped to deal with the ideas (19%)
a lack of time to work on the ideas (6%).
This list of barriers is of high value. Mostert and
Bruins Slot (2004) report that the barriers are
now used to manage the expectations of project
leaders who organize a creativity session and
to warn them that successful teams are those
teams that do not encounter these barriers, or
that are able to use their motivation and passion
for the idea to overcome or anticipate the barri-
ers, and turn them into enablers.
Another specific barrier when working with
the Background Scientist is the fact that an
ambitious scientist has two main goals in life:
1. To be the first author of the article,
2. To be the first name on the Patent.
These two goals might be the reason that true
creative scientific innovations are not shared at
an early stage because scientists want to keep
the idea to themselves until it is sufficiently
protected by Intellectual Property Rights
(patents) and he/she is recognized as the idea
generator and owner.
Summarizing the outcomes of our findings
so far, we can conclude the following:
Creativity is a skill you can learn.
Prior to a creativity session the barriers that
might prevent the ideas from being imple-
mented need to be identified.
You don’t need a large group of people to
generate creative ideas, working alone or in
pairs is sufficient; as long as you know how
to do it.
Creating ideas together with people only
works if you know and trust them.
Having a diversity of people in the creativ-
ity session is no guarantee of quick success.
Diversity of the Mind
Having a diversity of people attending a cre-
ativity session is not the key to success. The key
to success in solving problems in a creative way
lies in each individual. The diversity of the
individual mind enables people to be creative
and to push ideas to implementation. Diversity
of the mind opens up the opportunity to run
into ideas ‘by coincidence’. How do you meet
with ‘coincidence’? The answer is: ‘By making
sure you are there at the right time in the right
place with the right question’. If you have a
seemingly non-solvable problem, you can find
answers and solutions everywhere. These can
be with people you meet, places you visit,
books you read, seminars you follow, a televi-
sion programme you are watching, attending a
dull meeting, a picture you look at, a dog you
see running, a child you see playing. Creativity
takes place in your own mind. Your mind is
responsible for making the ‘click’, the ‘vital
link’ or ‘linking pin’ between problem and
solution, in other words: get out of your
comfort zone, breaking out of the limits of your
paradigms. Organizing a creativity session
with a lot of different people is just one way to
try to find the ‘coincidence’. Taking a walk,
having a coffee, some minutes of ‘window
shopping’ can do the same trick. As long as you
allow your own brain the opportunity, time
and space to think.
Another small but very valuable experiment
shows how this works. We ask the participants
to stand in line according to the time of day
when they are most creative. Surprisingly, on
average half of the people stand in the
morning zone (waking up, at the toilet, taking a
shower, travelling to work), half of the people
stand in the evening zone (exercising, falling
asleep, driving home). Only a very few partici-
pants claim to be creative during the day and
when asked in more detail it showed that only
one or two of them claim to be creative at the
office during working hours (during meetings,
talking with colleagues). Almost all partici-
pants get their best creative ideas outside
working hours. This little exercise clearly
shows that the office just does not allow your
brain the time to think, to step back from the
problem. You have to let your mind flow
(almost like in hypnosis), concentrate and
listen to what is happening around you, while
inside you your mind is making new connec-
tions between already existing things.
There is only one way to do that: you have to
do that yourself! You have to find your own
time and place during the day where you are
most creative. To become more creative, you
have to build diversity into your own mind.
You have to have diversity of the mind.
This article describes the many ways in which
the participants and the environment of a cre-
ativity session have an impact on the results. It
Volume 16 Number 1 2007
© 2007 Unilever R&D Vlaardingen, The Netherlands
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing
is commonly believed that ‘diversity of the
people’ stimulates creativity. However, from a
practitioner’s point of view ‘diversity of the
mind’ of the participants is the real key to
If the management of a company wants to
achieve a truly creative culture, the starting
point is to invest in time. Time is needed to
raise the awareness of employees of what cre-
ativity actually is, how they can learn to be
creative and how they can use creativity to
their benefit both in business and in private
life. The management of an organization needs
to create a culture where there is space to
‘think things over’ in order to get diversity of
the mind.
Barker, J.A. (1996) Paradigms, Scriptum Books,
Brown, C. (2006) How to Have Kick-ass Ideas, Harper-
Element, London, pp. 38, 56.
Byttebier, I. (2002) Creativiteit Hoe? Zo! Lannoo,
Tielt, pp. 23, 167.
Mostert, N.M. (2004) What did 83 Creativity Sessions
deliver? Unilever R&D Vlaardingen, The Nether-
Mostert, N.M. and Bruins Slot, H.J. (2004) ‘Creativ-
ity, the Knowledge Connector’, Knowledge
Management Chronicles, Travelogue 2. Elsevier
Butterworth-Heinemann, Burlington, pp. 255–69.
Mostert, N.M. and Frijling, L. (2001) ‘Creativity in
Organisations can be Measured and Acquired’,
Chemical Innovation, 31 (11), 50–53.
Nijstad, B.A. (2000) ‘How the Groups Affects the
Mind: Effects of Communicating in Idea Gener-
ating Groups’, InterUniversity Centre for Social
Science Theory and Methodology, University of
Utrecht, pp. 151–2.
Rietzschel, E. (2005) ‘From Quantity to Quality;
Cognitive, Motivational and Social Aspects of
Creative Idea Generation and Selection’, Univer-
sity of Utrecht, p. 35.
Nel Mostert ( is
an innovation process facilitator for the
Facilitation Unit at Unilever Research
Vlaardingen, The Netherlands. Her work is
linked to culture changes, people behaviour
and facilitating teams and individuals
during organizational transformation
phases. She provides support for Unilever
innovation project teams world-wide with
the aim of accelerating the innovation
process. This support consists of facilitation
and training, offering processes, tools and
techniques in the fields of creativity, strat-
egy development, project planning, project
management, project risk assessment and
team building.
Volume 16 Number 1 2007 © 2007 Unilever R&D Vlaardingen, The Netherlands
Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing
... Considered as complex and individual, modern researchers see creativity as an inherent talent, learnable and exploitable by any human being with the right motivation (Amabile, 1997;Souza, 2001;Mostert, 2007). ...
... The fore-mentioned incubation time is the weak link in the creativity chain (Mostert, 2007). ...
... Time resource is scarce in current competitive world and must be shortened to maintain productivity. Without adequate creativity tools, a capable team may reach a creativity block, requiring weeks or months to develop the ideas into creative and real solutions, as do musicians and writers (Mostert, 2007). In order to abbreviate time requirements in creation, the use of creativity tools arises as a process catalyzer, giving the team different routes to find possible solutions (King e Schlicksupp, 1999). ...
... The various works on creativity sessions have often focused on the profiles of participants (Csikszentmihalyi 1996;Mostert 2007;Coursey et al. 2018), the methods used to facilitate the sessions (Cruickshank and Evans 2011;Freitag Granholt and Martensen 2021;Mosely, Wright, and Wrigley 2018;Aguirre, Agudelo, and Romm 2017), the social dynamics during the session (Mullen and Copper 1994;Langfred 1998;Marques Santos, Uitdewilligen, and Margarida Passos 2015), assessment of the ideas generated during the sessions (Shah, Smith, and Vargas-Hernandez 2003;Nelson et al. 2009), etc. The proposed grid includes all of these factors. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
To renew their innovation and creativity practices, companies are now equipping themselves with new specific places: innovation laboratories. These laboratories support project teams during creativity sessions to generate ideas. In order to improve these practices, it is necessary to be able to assess and compare the different sessions organized. By joining the Clean Mobility Lab of Faurecia, we were able to analyze, observe and participate in creativity sessions. This immersion allowed us to develop an assessment grid of forty-eight indicators covering the entire creativity process.
... It has been observed that the desired level of quality and output comes from employee skills and knowledge and not because of strong supervision (Jones & Nigel, 2005;Vegt, Vliert, & Huang, 2005). In an organization where gender diversity exist the creativity depends on the environment and support from the organization and also the level of acceptance and tolerance on an individual's part and the creativity which lies in his mind using the diverse people and location (Mostret, 2007). ...
This research aims to improve an understanding of the lived experience of the gender diversity of respondents in the Pakistani context. It provides a rich description of the influence that gender diversity had on the organizational culture and the employees. Specific benefits anticipated by the organization, from implementation of gender diversity and related challenges were explored. In depth interviews were conducted with key personnel including HR managers assigned with a specific task to implement gender diversity across the organization. The findings reveal that a lot of concentrated efforts have been put in to eradicate the mental barriers within the system and also inculcate the culture of diverse sets of people, especially gender, allowing multiple and diverse opinions within the organization. Targeted efforts towards gender diversity have started showing its fruits; as such implementation has led to improved performance for the organizations and creation of job opportunities for the female gender, which may have been ignored earlier. Moreover, the organization strongly believes that ongoing efforts will yield better results. Therefore, focused efforts, initiatives and constant messages to change the mindset need to continue. The trustworthiness of the data will be established through triangulation and a chain of evidence has been established between the research objective, research questions and the interview data.
Using the tenets of learned helplessness theory, we propose and test a model suggesting how the perception of supervisor narcissism impacts acquiescent silence and employee creativity. We further suggest acquiescent silence as a mediator, and law and code ethical climate as a moderator, in the link between supervisor narcissism and creativity. We found good support for the proposed hypotheses using multi‐wave data collected from 258 employees of service‐oriented companies in North America. Results show that supervisor narcissism prompts employees to exhibit acquiescent silence, which also mediates the link between supervisor narcissism and employee creativity. The law and code ethical climate moderates the effect of supervisor narcissism on acquiescent silence and that of silence on creativity. Therefore, this study identifies a key factor, acquiescent silence, through which supervisor narcissism impedes employee creativity, and it also reveals how this process might be buffered by the law and code ethical climate. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.
Le design et les méthodes de créativité sont mobilisés au sein des organisations qui s’interrogent sur leur devenir à long terme. Ces démarches impliquent un certain niveau d’incertitude tant au niveau du résultat obtenu que de celui du processus créatif lui-même, dont la mise en œuvre articule des phases dites de « divergence » et d’autres de « convergence ». Dans le contexte d’une étude menée en distanciel au sein de plusieurs projets de prospective, notre analyse de ces pratiques s’appuie sur la sémiotique des transactions coopératives, pour cerner un phénomène qui a pu être qualifié de « creadox », paradoxe par lequel l’originalité permise par les phases amonts d’ouverture ne se retrouve pas suffisamment dans le livrable final.
The creation and refinement of new ideas is a strategic competence for teams and organization to innovate and prosper. This paper addresses the challenge of finding adequate creativity and innovation techniques (CITs) for improving individual or team creativity through the use of Machine Learning (ML). The process of choosing which CIT to use is complex and demanding, especially when taking into consideration the existence of hundreds of techniques and the plurality of different design contexts. This empiric knowledge, usually retained in an expert’s repertoire, can be extracted and implemented in a computational system, making it more available and permanent. This research focused on developing a Decision Support System embedded in an online application with a two-stage ML inference process able to evaluate users’ design scenario through an online form, and infer the most appropriate CITs from the database that would fit their needs. This paper presents two iterative development cycles of the prototype, first focused on core knowledge acquisition, representation, ML implementation, and verification; while second focused on system expansion, addition of web interface, and initial validation. After essaying 12 algorithms, the two-stage model achieved uses a Gradient Boosted Regression Trees algorithm using user provided information about the context to infer the required CITs characteristics; followed by a Logistic Regression classification-ranking algorithm that uses outputs from first model to define which CITs to present to users. To the best of our efforts, no other system was found to use ML approaches to address the problem of CIT selection.
Acknowledging the increased importance of virtual teams in the context of Industry 4.0 and recently in COVID-19 pandemic, this study identifies and addresses several knowledge gaps regarding the development of an effective transaction memory system (TMS), and the influence of its components on team's knowledge sharing and creativity. To investigate these issues, we apply structural equation modeling using AMOS 21, on a sample of 477 managers, enrolled in a French Business School program. The results confirm - with one exception, the positive role of communication frequency and quality in the emergence of TMS components; only the relationship between communication frequency and specialization being non-significant. On the other hand, TMS components have a positive impact on knowledge sharing and team's creativity. Our study also unveils two counterintuitive findings, regarding the non-significant relationships between coordination and knowledge sharing, and respectively, credibility and creativity. These findings are interpreted and explained considering the specific context of virtual projects, leading to several theoretical and managerial implications regarding knowledge management and creativity in virtual teams.
Purpose This study aims to present a novel approach of using technology trends to trigger product ideas. It is primarily addressed to product ideation where limited applied approaches are available. Design/methodology/approach The model is built by extending the theoretical framework of ideation study. It comprises morphological analysis with product breakdown as primary and technological trends as a secondary dimension to prompt product ideas from user’s intuition. The approach is multidisciplinary using insights from the areas of cognition, management strategy and project management. The model is further tested in two different test configurations with university students ( n = 81). Findings The results indicate that this systematic model can increase the quality and number of ideas generated by the students compared to generally practised approaches. It is shown that this approach increases the chances of triggering ideas. Research limitations/implications The testing of the present model is comprehensive and in no means exhaustive. Practical implications Because of the shrinking product life cycle, organisations have a need for systematic product ideation models that can assist in innovating their product ranges. It is important to study idea generation for products to not only assist product innovation but also comprehensively understand the process of creativity. The proposed model is primarily addressed to product innovation projects where limited practical tools are available for product ideation. The present model is easy to apply and has the tendency to generate novel product ideas that can lead to successful product innovations. Originality/value Product innovation currently has limited systematic ideation tools where this study contributes.
Purpose Creativity is an important skill for design teams to reach new and useful solutions. Designers often use one or more of creativity and innovation techniques (CITs) to achieve the desired creative potential during new product development (NPD). The selection of adequate CITs requires considerable expertise, given the multiple application contexts and the extensive number of techniques available. The purpose of this study is to present a creativity support system able to manage this amount of information and provide valuable knowledge to improve NPD. Design/methodology/approach This study presents a knowledge-based system prototype using artificial intelligence (AI) to support knowledge management on the selection of CITs for design. CITs assertion is modelled through a double inference process using five categories, correlating over 500 different entry scenarios to 24 implemented CITs. The techniques are classified according to: design stage, innovation focus, team relationship, execution method and difficult of use. Prototype outputs explanations on the inference process and chosen techniques information. Findings To demonstrate the system scope, two opposite design cases are presented. The system was validated by experts in knowledge management and mechanical engineering design. The validation process demonstrates relevance of the approach and improvement directions for future developments. Originality/value Though literature contains toolkits and taxonomy for CITs, no work applies AI to identify design scenarios, select best CITs and instruct about their use. Validators reported to know less than half of the available techniques, showing a clear knowledge gap among design experts.
To retain competitiveness, succeed and flourish, organizations are forced to continuously innovate. This drive for innovation is not solely limited to product/process innovation but more profoundly relates to a continuous process of improving how organizations work internally, requiring a constant stream of ideas and suggestions from motivated employees. This chapter investigates some recent developments and proposes a conceptual framework for creative participation as a personality driven interface between creativity and innovation. Under the assumption that employees’ intrinsic willingness to contribute novel ideas and solutions requires a set of personal characteristics and necessary skills that might well be unique to each organizational unit, the chapter then explores personal characteristics associated with creativity, innovation and innovative behavior. Various studies on the correlation between creativity and personality types are also reviewed. The chapter provides a discussion of solutions and future development together with recommendations for the future research.
Full-text available
Creativity plays an ever increasing role in organisations. This article discusses a model consisting of five criteria for creativity in organisations. This model was the foundation of the Creativity Awareness Programme, which was applied with much success at Unilever Research Vlaardingen (URV). Like many others, URV want to stimulate the creativity in its workers to reach big and bold innovations. This article is particularly interesting for organisations striving for a continuous innovation flow. After all, no innovation without creativity. The article explains how creativity and its many aspects can be made subject of discussion.
The main principles behind brainstorming are the belief that quantity breeds quality, and the deferment of judgment. Adherence to the brainstorming rules, which are derived from these principles, should increase the number of high-quality ideas that are generated in a brainstorming session, and should therefore increase the chance that a good idea gets selected for further development. This last assumption is central to this dissertation. Eight experiments are reported. My findings indicated that (1) productivity was not related to the quality of selected ideas, i.e., generating more ideas did not increase the chance that good ideas were selected; (2) deep exploration of domain knowledge increased the originality of generated, but not selected, ideas; (3) the selection of creative ideas was hindered by participants' persistent tendency to select ideas that were perceived as feasible and desirable.
Creativiteit Hoe? Zo! Lannoo
  • I Byttebier
Byttebier, I. (2002) Creativiteit Hoe? Zo! Lannoo, Tielt, pp. 23, 167.
What did 83 Creativity Sessions deliver? Unilever R&D Vlaardingen, The Netherlands
  • N M Mostert
Mostert, N.M. (2004) What did 83 Creativity Sessions deliver? Unilever R&D Vlaardingen, The Netherlands.
Creativity, the Knowledge Connector', Knowledge Management Chronicles, Travelogue 2
  • N M Mostert
  • H J Bruins Slot
Mostert, N.M. and Bruins Slot, H.J. (2004) 'Creativity, the Knowledge Connector', Knowledge Management Chronicles, Travelogue 2. Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, Burlington, pp. 255-69.
How to Have Kick-ass Ideas
  • C Brown
Brown, C. (2006) How to Have Kick-ass Ideas, Harper-Element, London, pp. 38, 56.
How the Groups Affects the Mind: Effects of Communicating in Idea Generating Groups ', InterUniversity Centre for Social Science Theory and Methodology
  • B A Nijstad
Nijstad, B.A. (2000) 'How the Groups Affects the Mind: Effects of Communicating in Idea Generating Groups', InterUniversity Centre for Social Science Theory and Methodology, University of Utrecht, pp. 151-2.
From Quantity to Quality
  • E Rietzschel
Rietzschel, E. (2005) 'From Quantity to Quality;
Motivational and Social Aspects of Creative Idea Generation and Selection
  • Cognitive
Cognitive, Motivational and Social Aspects of Creative Idea Generation and Selection', University of Utrecht, p. 35.