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Myths and Facts on Innovation

By Teresa Di Cairano |

Team group work, open spaces, coffee – these seem to be unquestioned elements of innovation teams and most office work in general. But are these just artifacts that support our myths about the workplace? Innovation cultures editorial director, Teresa Di Cairano, chatted with Philippe De Ridder—innovation consultant —as well as dug up some research on whether these are myths or facts.

Myth or Fact? Group Brainstorming produces the most ideas for innovation.

"A key myth is often around brainstorming in groups, which is often associated as the key creative way of generating new ideas. But actually, what you find is that group brainstorming is one of the least effective ways to generate a lot of different ideas or different routes,” argues Philippe de Ridder.  The reason is that the first idea that is put forward influences everyone else’s thinking.  So, the better technique to use is hybrid brainstorming.  Like traditional brainstorming, this method starts from a question or problem statement but kicks off the process with 5-10 minutes of individual idea generation first.  Then you share the ideas as a group and build further on each idea. This will increase the diversity of options that you generate and enable building on top of each other’s ideas - combining the best of both worlds.

Myth or Fact? Open spaces are better for creativity.

“It’s a myth that open spaces and co-working spaces are best for creativity. Actually, the introvert side of inventing something radically new often happens indeed in complete solitude” says de Ridder.

So we need to balance the two needs for solitude and collaboration in our workspace. This concept shares some insight from the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain who also talks about the benefits of introversion in creativity. Her Ted Talk is worth watching. This was also confirmed in Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who led a long-range study of creativity as a process. He interviewed close to 100 people in the arts, business, government and science. He discovered that creative people often were simultaneously introverts and extraverts. Creativity does require a certain amount of solitude and we don’t talk about that very much.

Myth or Fact? Coffee is better than wine for stimulating creativity.

“Another interesting fact about creativity is that it is good to drink wine and it’s bad to drink coffee. Coffee is actually better for doing executional or repetitive tasks - so less useful for creativity. The optimum amount is two glasses, after that your creativity declines again,” warns de Ridder.

It has often been assumed by popular culture, that alcohol provides a benefit to the creative process. Our favorite poets, artists and other creative types often seem to find their muse in a bottle. Recent research done by Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois set out to measure the impact of alcohol on creativity (the actual experiment used vodka and cranberry juice calibrated to the weight of the participants). The cognitive processes that were reviewed related to the use of working memory capacity and ability to control attention versus remote association. Creative problem solving, as opposed to analytical problem solving, does not involve computational algorithms or incremental analytic procedures. Instead, creative problem solving tends to be characterized by more divergent, associational or discontinuous solution process.1

To test the hypothesis, the study examined the effects of moderate alcohol intoxication (.07 BAC) on a creative problem solving task, as well as sober comparison condition. They also asked participants to assess their perception of ‘insightfulness’ – that is, whether they felt the solution came suddenly to mind (an Aha! Moment) or if they felt they reached the solution through step-by-step, analytic process.2 The prediction was that less attentional focus, in this case caused by moderate alcohol consumption, would in fact be beneficial to the creative process. The results supported this prediction, as those participants that had consumed the cranberry-vodka cocktail had higher performance measures on the Remote Associates Tests compared to sober participants. “Additionally, participants in the intoxicated condition perceived their problem solving to be less analytic and more intuitive than the sober controls,” notes the author of the research.

The study also reports though, “that these changes were accompanied by decreased performance on measures of working memory capacity (WMC) as compared to sober controls.” So for tasks that require focus and analysis, alcohol (even in moderate amounts) is not the way to go.

This is where coffee comes in. “Caffeine prevents our focus from becoming too diffuse; it instead hones our attention in a hyper-vigilant fashion” says Maria Konnikova who holds a PhD in Psychology from Columbia University and is author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes.3 Similar findings in terms of enhancing working memory have been found from green tea by research from the University of Basel.4

As far as stimulating innovation in organizations, we do have to keep in mind that a BAC of .07 is very close, and is some cases, exceeds legal limits for driving home after that idea session at the office. And, that new, hip espresso machine in your workplace may actually hinder the kind of mind-wandering ones needs for creative and imaginative insights.

The innovation process involves both the ability to create novel associations and to implement them. What would be helpful is to develop a sense of self-awareness or meta-cognition as well as to learn techniques that could prime our mind and our team mates for these types of activities.

We could all benefit from knowing when and how to let our minds diverge and be less focused, when we need to focus more to get it finished, and when it might be better to work alone or to collaborate with others. These methods are explored further at Intervista’s Innovation Camp, Services Innovation for Public Sector and Future of Work workshops or join us online with the innovationcultures membership program.

Learn more about this our upcoming at Intervista’s courses at  www.intervista-institute.com.

Teresa Di Cairano
Director, Intervista Institute

email comments to: teresa@intervista-institute.com



Ted Talk – The Power of Introverts

1. Uncorking the muse - Journal of Consciousness and Cognition – Elsevier Andrew F. Jarosz, Gregory J.H. Colflesh, Jennifer Wiley Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810012000037
2. Ibid
3. How Caffeine Can Cramp Creativity – by Maria Konnikova http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/06/how-caffeine-short-circuits-creativity.html
4. Green tea extract boosts your brain power, especially the working memory, new research shows http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140407101545.htm


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