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The Application and Impact of Creativity Techniques in Innovation Management

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Creativity techniques are procedures and heuristics for enhancing creativity in the idea generation process. So far, empirical studies on creativity techniques in business practice are scarce. The present study is one of the first to interview innovation experts, 68 in number, concerning their creativity technique application behavior. We reveal that creativity techniques are far away from being systematically applied and integrated in innovation management. Brainstorming is, against all empirical findings on its disadvantages, still the most commonly used technique. The application of electronic techniques is rare. However, in almost all projects investigated, creativity techniques positively affect idea generation. Furthermore, we show that the selection of a creativity technique is mainly influenced by a technique's prominence, practicability and time exposure. Prospectively, the interviewees predict an increasing use of creativity techniques.
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This paper was presented at The XXVII ISPIM Innovation Conference Blending Tomorrow’s
Innovation Vintage, Porto, Portugal on 19-22 June 2016. The publication is available to ISPIM
members at www.ispim.org.
1
The Application and Impact of Creativity Techniques
in Innovation Management
Martin Meinel*
Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg,
Lange Gasse 20, 90403 Nürnberg, Germany.
E-mail: martin.meinel@fau.de
Kai-Ingo Voigt
Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg,
Lange Gasse 20, 90403 Nürnberg, Germany.
E-mail: kai-ingo.voigt@fau.de
* Corresponding author
Abstract: Creativity techniques are procedures and heuristics for enhancing
creativity in the idea generation process. So far, empirical studies on creativity
techniques in business practice are scarce. The present study is one of the first
to interview innovation experts, 68 in number, concerning their creativity
technique application behavior. We reveal that creativity techniques are far
away from being systematically applied and integrated in innovation
management. Brainstorming is, against all empirical findings on its
disadvantages, still the most commonly used technique. The application of
electronic techniques is rare. However, in almost all projects investigated,
creativity techniques positively affect idea generation. Furthermore, we show
that the selection of a creativity technique is mainly influenced by a technique’s
prominence, practicability and time exposure. Prospectively, the interviewees
predict an increasing use of creativity techniques.
Keywords: creativity techniques; brainstorming; critical incident technique;
idea generation; innovation management; interviews.
1 Introduction
Creativity is the ability to generate new and useful ideas (Amabile 1996) and therefore
the basis of fruitful innovation management corresponding with long-term business
success. In fact, creativity has been examined in various disciplines and facets uncovering
specific levers to foster creativity particularly in an organizational context. The use of
creativity techniques with its roots in Osborns (1953) brainstorming is one of these
levers still attracting unbridled interest. Creativity techniques, in general, can be
summarized as all heuristics to enhance creativity (Geschka 1983), ranging from simple
what if...-questions to complex methodologies like synectics. They are common and
useful methods in business practice, especially in the front-end of innovation
management (Fernald & Nickolenko 1993; Geschka 1983; Horn & Brem 2013). Such
techniques can, for example, help creative professionals think up new advertising
This paper was presented at The XXVII ISPIM Innovation Conference Blending Tomorrow’s
Innovation Vintage, Porto, Portugal on 19-22 June 2016. The publication is available to ISPIM
members at www.ispim.org.
2
campaigns (Herring et al. 2009), assist engineers in developing innovative products
(Kalogerakis et al. 2010), or enhance researchers’ creative capabilities (Jafari et al. 2013).
Despite the emergence of innumerable creativity techniques, the literature focuses on
non-empirical descriptions or classifications of these. In contrast, empirical studies
mainly concentrate on brainstorming in all forms (Paulus & Yang 2000). Specifically, the
application and usefulness of creativity techniques in business practice is under-
researched so far (Wang 2014). 20 years after Geschka's (1996) last investigation, this
paper presents the current state-of-the-research, identifies the creativity techniques used
in innovation management practice and examines the techniques’ impact on the success
of innovation projects.
2 Literature Review
There is consensus in academic literature regarding the usefulness of applying creativity
techniques in innovation management. In fact, such techniques foster creativity through
both, effective idea generation in the comparatively short run (Smith 1998) and evolving
the individual creative abilities through creativity training in the long run (Scott et al.
2004). Despite the vast number of existing creativity techniques, they can simplistically
be classified into divergent thinking techniques provoking ideas through distant or
previously unrelated memories, and convergent thinking techniques sharpening the
applicability of ideas in a certain domain (Kilgour & Koslow 2009). Much has been
revealed about the positive effects creativity techniques can have on the idea generation
output in laboratory settings. In particular, the effects of parameters like group size or the
moderator (e.g. Fern 1982), the advantages and disadvantages of electronic techniques
(e.g. Pinsonneault et al. 1999), and the differences between real and nominal groups (e.g.
Lamm & Trommsdorff 1973) are well researched. More recent studies focus on the
influence of personality types of different group members on the idea generation process
(e.g. Cherian & Priyadarshini 2013) or the impact of various stimuli (López-Mesa et al.
2011).
In contrast, empirical investigations of creativity techniques in real business settings
are scarce. Geschka (1983; 1996) reports that creativity techniques are well-known in
German business practice and the application is steadily growing. Brainstorming is a
technique almost everyone uses, while less common techniques like confrontation
techniques are used by specialists and for special problems only. The contributions of
creativity techniques are generally deeply valued, reflecting that the observed highly
successful innovative companies use creativity techniques more frequently, stick to the
technique’s theoretical description, and apply more complex techniques. Through their
survey, Fernald and Nickolenko (1993) confirm the frequent use of brainstorming.
Nonetheless, they find that creativity techniques are seldom systematically integrated in
the innovation process. Another survey by Herstatt et al. (2006) analyzes the use of tools
in the innovation front end in Japanese companies. Similar to the observation in German
firms, brainstorming is commonly used to generate ideas in more than half of the
companies. Another mentionable technique often used in Japan is kaizen. Only 11
percent of the companies report to use other creativity techniques. Experimentally
analyzing the advertising industry, Kilgour & Koslow (2009) find that creativity
techniques enhancing convergent instead of divergent thinking lead to more appropriate
ideas among creative practitioners. They largely attribute this to the way creative
3
professionals think and work, since they implement heuristics of creative thinking like
analogies into their daily routines (Kalogerakis et al. 2010). Finally, Wang (2014)
contributes to the understanding of the adoption of creativity techniques in real business
settings. Through four interviews with creativity technique experts in different industries,
he reveals that organizational support and the perceived usefulness of a technique are the
main influences on the adoption of creativity techniques.
Still, the current body of empiric literature provides no coherent explanation for
which and how creativity techniques are applied in real business practice. Even newer
studies, that expand Geschka’s (1996) observations, can only rudimentarily explain why
innovation executives decide for or against using particular creativity techniques.
Furthermore, many findings recently gained in laboratory settings are not confirmed in
business practice yet. Therefore, we state the following main research questions: First,
which creativity techniques do innovation experts in different industries really use?
Second, why do practitioners decide to use them? Third and lastly, which effect do
creativity techniques have on a project’s success?
3 Method
Data were collected through telephone interviews and lasted 35 minutes on average. The
interview guide was basically designed after a preliminary review of the literature.
Though, after the first few interviews conducted, we adjusted some formulations as
suggested by Strauss and Corbin (1990). Firstly, according to Spradley (1979), we asked
basic questions regarding the expert and company. Afterwards, we requested their
understanding of creativity and creativity techniques in order to create a common view.
Finally, we retrieved data on the adoption, application and effect of creativity techniques
in completed projects following the critical incident technique (Flanagan 1954).
Therefore, we asked all informants to remember specific projects in which they applied
creativity techniques. In all of the interviews, we encouraged the experts to tell coherent
stories rather than simply answering our question. Whenever necessary, we requested
further explanations.
As a next step, we analysed the generated raw data according to Mayring (2013).
Therefore, we firstly transcribed the recorded conversations. We were then able to
structure the answers by their topics (e.g. reasons for applying a certain creativity
technique). Afterwards, two independent coders inductively formed categories out of the
given answers. As a last step, after unifying the coding system, each of the interviews
was coded accordingly.
Table 1 Distribution of interviews by industry (N = 68)
Manufacturing industries
Creative industries
Industry
n
Industry
n
Automotive
10
Advertising
10
Machinery and plant engineering
16
Fashion
8
Medical engineering
13
Magazines
11
This paper was presented at The XXVII ISPIM Innovation Conference Blending Tomorrow’s
Innovation Vintage, Porto, Portugal on 19-22 June 2016. The publication is available to ISPIM
members at www.ispim.org.
4
We conducted a total of 68 semi-structured interviews with managers from German
companies in six different industries, namely automotive, machinery and plant
engineering, medical engineering, advertising, fashion, and magazines (see Table 1). Our
sample contained companies of any size, ranging from small firms with less than 10
employees to large corporations with more than 80,000 employees, including B2B as
well as B2C businesses. The majority of our sample (52%) was made up of medium sized
companies (see Figure 1). The interviewees were innovation or creative experts (57 men
and 11 women) in the particular company, including but not limited to CEOs, innovation
managers, chief developers, research engineers, chief editors, creative directors, and
designers. While the majority of informants (91%) worked in the particular industry for
more than three years, most of the sample (75%) also showed an organizational tenure of
more than three years.
Figure 1 Distribution of sample companies by company size (N = 68).
4 Results
Brainstorming is used in 63% of the projects and therefore, by far, the most frequently
used technique. Other commonly used techniques are brainwriting (20%), and the
morphological box (15%). Mind mapping appeared in nine percent of the projects and the
provocation technique in seven percent of them. The creativity techniques just mentioned
as well as the ones that are reported less than five times are shown in Figure 2.
Techniques only mentioned once are not shown for the sake of simplicity.
5
Figure 2 Use of particular creativity techniques (N = 75; multiple answers possible;
only techniques appearing more than once).
The following results relate to specific projects as critical incidents, in which creativity
techniques were used. Since some interviewees report on either none, one, or more than
one project involving creativity technique usage, we refer to cases rather than companies
in the results. Overall, 75 cases are observed so that every interviewee reports on 1.1
projects on average. In 40% of the cases, creativity techniques are used for efficient idea
generation (see Figure 3). In another 11% of the cases, creativity techniques are used for
making the idea generation process more transparent. The problem structuring feature of
creativity techniques is used in 9% of the projects. For 35 projects, no data can be
retrieved.
Figure 3 Purposes of creativity technique usage (N = 75; multiple answers possible).
This paper was presented at The XXVII ISPIM Innovation Conference Blending Tomorrow’s
Innovation Vintage, Porto, Portugal on 19-22 June 2016. The publication is available to ISPIM
members at www.ispim.org.
6
Figure 4 Factors influencing the selection of a creativity technique (N = 75; multiple
answers possible).
Regarding the question, why companies decide for or against using a particular
technique, a technique’s prominence (33%) is most influencing (see Figure 4). As such,
brainstorming is often preferred for its mainstream renown. Another reason for using a
particular technique is experience or routine due to previously successful usage, resulting
in a technique’s perceived practicability advantage, reflected in 28% of the cases. Time
issues are a concern in 24% of the projects. This means, e.g., that brainstorming is in
many cases preferred for it is less time-consuming compared to more complex techniques
including, such as, e.g. synectics, six thinking hats, or morphological analysis. In eight
percent of the cases, gut feeling is mentioned as a selection factor. For 21 projects, no
answer is given on this question.
Figure 5 Effect of a particular creativity technique on project outcome (N = 75).
7
Overall, in 84% of the cases, the use of a creativity technique has an impact on a project’s
success (see Figure 5). While the effect is positive in 81% of the projects, a negative
effect is observed in 3% of the projects. For 6 projects, no information can be retrieved.
In the future, 47% of the informants assume a moderate or strong increase of
creativity technique usage (see Figure 6). Another 35% of the interviewees foresee no
change in creativity technique use. While for 10 participants no answer is given, no
expert expects a decreasing use.
Figure 6 Prospective development of the usage of creativity techniques in a particular
company (N = 68).
5 Discussion
Our findings approve the broad popularity and frequent use of brainstorming in business
practice, which is a common finding of previous studies (Geschka 1996; Geschka 1983;
Herstatt et al. 2006; Fernald & Nickolenko 1993). When creative experts from whatever
industry arrive at the decision of using a particular creativity technique, brainstorming is
always on top of the list. This can be largely attributed to the fact that brainstorming is
widely known and recognized for its positive creativity boosting effect. Thus, especially
under time pressure, other creativity techniques often go by the board. However, there is
a huge body of empirical literature examining the production blockades occurring while
brainstorming (e.g. Gallupe et al. 1991; Mullen et al. 1991; Diehl & Stroebe 1987).
Especially electronic techniques, where ideas are generated in nominal group
constellations, show significantly better results than brainstorming regarding both, idea
quantity and quality (Gallupe et al. 1991; Aiken et al. 1996). Therefore, creative
practitioners, against all routines and positive experience, should adapt diverse creativity
techniques according to the particular problem.
Our study furthermore reveals the factors influencing creativity technique selection.
While Wang (2014) detects mainly a technique’s perceived usefulness and leadership
support as the most influencing selection factors, we additionally identified a technique’s
prominence and time restrictions as important. Still, it is worth notable that for 28% of
the projects, interviewees gave no answer on the purpose of using a particular creativity
technique. This might be attributed to the fact that we rather asked generally for
This paper was presented at The XXVII ISPIM Innovation Conference Blending Tomorrow’s
Innovation Vintage, Porto, Portugal on 19-22 June 2016. The publication is available to ISPIM
members at www.ispim.org.
8
influencing factors on creativity technique adoption than for purposes on the one hand
and selection criteria at the other. Thus, both categories emerged inductively. However,
this discrepancy could also indicate unconscious decision-making processes when
selecting and applying creativity techniques. Consequently, future studies could retrieve
both categories separately.
6 Conclusion
The present study extends the short body of empirical literature on creativity techniques
in business practice. Our investigations are one of the first to ask users of creativity
techniques in innovation management concerning their application behavior. We reveal
that creativity techniques are far away from being systematically applied and integrated
in practical innovation management. While the empirical literature attributes
brainstorming manifold disadvantages due to production blockades, it is still the number
one method to boost creativity in professional practice. We furthermore show that experts
preferably apply creativity techniques for efficient idea generation, leaving the rest of the
creative process unattended. Thus, systematic-analytical or comprehensive methods, e.g.
morphological analysis and synectics, could improve convergent thinking, leading to
more appropriate creative ideas. Accordingly, in order to really becoming creative,
innovation experts in any branch should take time for looking closer at the opportunities
of alternative creativity techniques that are freely available.
Nonetheless, our study is limited in a few ways. First, we interviewed only one expert
of one innovative team from each company. An investigation of more than one team
within each company might lead to controversial results, because we observed the use of
creativity techniques as not company-wide integrated. Second, we analyzed the data
intentionally neglecting the respective industry. However, especially regarding the
creativity techniques used, industry-specific differences might occur. Thus, further
studies identifying the specific disparities of creativity technique usage in different
industries or departments could reveal valuable insights.
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members at www.ispim.org.
10
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