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Strat.

Change 10: 267283 (2001)


DOI: 10.1002/jsc.542

Critical factors for enhancing


creativity
Elspeth McFadzean
Henley Management College, Henley-on-Thames, UK

This article explores five factors that can influence creative thinking: namely Judgement:
Freewheeling: Association: Stimulation and Expression.

These factors are used to develop a framework in order to categorize, compare and
contrast different creative problem-solving techniques.

The three categories developed in the framework are paradigm-preserving techniques,


paradigm-stretching techniques and paradigm-breaking techniques.

A number of practical implications are then presented including training, teambuilding


and the reduction of apprehension and cognitive inertia.
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Introduction
According to Carnall (1995), managers face
complex and challenging pressures and
opportunities. They must ensure the efficient
use of resources and find ways of guaranteeing the long-term effectiveness of the
organizations for which they work. Planning
and implementing change is therefore one of
the main challenges facing managers today
(Dyer, 1997; Goodstein, 1997).
Organizational change can be a demanding and difficult process that requires both
adaptation and effort (McDonald, 2000).
It includes effective planning and implementation as well as imaginative thinking
and creative solutions. In addition, change
management also encompasses the need to
ensure that all those who are affected by
the change are involved in the process (Jick,
1993; Coetsee, 1999).
* Correspondence to: Dr Elspeth McFadzean, Associate
Faculty, Henley Management College, Greenlands,
Henley-on-Thames, Oxon RG9 3AU, UK.
E-mail: elspethm@henleymc.ac.uk

Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Change management
encompasses the need
to ensure that all those
who are affected by
change are involved in
the process

Developing imaginative solutions for both


planning and implementing change can
be undertaken by utilizing individual or
group creative problem-solving techniques
(McFadzean et al., 1998; Couger, 1995).
Consequently, there has been a great deal
written on creativity in the management literature (VanGundy, 1988; De Bono, 1992;
Von Oech, 1983; McFadzean, 1998a; Amabile, 1983a; Evans, 1993; Anderson, 1992).
Numerous techniques have been developed,
which have been used to greater or less
success (McFadzean, 1998b,c; Sutton and
Hargadon, 1996). For example, Alfred Sloan
used the technique of problem reversal to
Strategic Change, August 2001

268

develop ideas that could help him turn the


near-bankrupt General Motors around. At
that time it had always been assumed that
customers had to pay for their cars before
they drove them away. Sloan reversed this
assumption so that the consumer could pay
for the car while driving it, thus paving the
way for the pioneering concept of instalment buying. In addition, Sloan reversed the
assumption that all companies were run by
one powerful individual. He created a multilayered management structure that allowed
for innovative decision making while still
maintaining overall control.
Argus Camera also used a creative problem-solving technique brainstorming
to develop methods of economizing on
purchasing (LeBoeuf, 1980). The managers
undertook three idea-generation sessions
and produced a number of practical
ideas that could yield savings of $46 000
per year. In addition, IDEO, the largest
product design-consulting firm in the
United States, have used creative ideageneration techniques to develop new and
innovative products (Sutton and Hargadon,
1996). In the past, these have included
Crest toothpaste tubes, the original Apple
computer mouse, Nike sunglasses, a motor
scooter and a carbon-fibre bicycle wheel.
It is, however, sometimes difficult to ascertain which techniques should be used and
what output can be generated from a particular technique. For example, McFadzean
(1996) and Garfield et al. (1997) have found
that some creative problem-solving techniques encourage participants to develop
more creative ideas than other ones. The
aim of this paper is to establish the critical success factors that can be utilized for
enhancing creative thinking. Thus, facilitators and/or team members will be able to
choose a technique that will be beneficial and
effective for their particular circumstances.
This paper explores five success factors,
namely Judgement, Freewheeling, Association, Stimulation and Expression. These
factors are then used to develop a framework for creativity, called the creativity
continuum. This framework provides a
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Elspeth McFadzean

structure for facilitators and can help them


to choose appropriate techniques for their
group sessions. Finally, some implications
for facilitators are presented.

Enhancing creative thinking


There have been many definitions of creativity. For example, according to Suler (1980,
p. 144),
The creative act can be conceptualized
as a special form of interaction between
primary and secondary process thinking
in which a novel idea or insight is
generated by the loose, illogical and
highly subjective ideation of primary
process and is then molded by secondary
process into a context that is socially
appropriate and meaningful to others.
This is essentially a cognitive explanation of
creativity, which can in part explain the process of creativity (Woodman and Schoenfeldt,
1990). However, some theorists argue that
definitions that focus on the attributes of the
creative product are more useful for both theory building and empirical analysis (Amabile,
1983b; Busse and Mansfield, 1980; Mumford and Gustafson, 1988). Amabile (1988, p.
126), for example, suggests that:
Creativity is the production of novel and
useful ideas by an individual or small
group of individuals working together.
Thus creativity includes both novelty and
value (Ford, 1996).
The use of creativity techniques and the
development of novel ideas have helped
many organizations both to improve the
quality of their products and procedures as
well as to expand their current product or
service portfolios (Kruczek, 1997; Cormier,
1999; Hargadon and Sutton, 2000; Moore
and Garg, 1997; Dennis et al., 1990). For
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269

Critical factors for enhancing creativity

The use of creativity


techniques have
helped many
organizations to
improve the quality of
their products and
procedures
example, Federal Express found that by
introducing an information systems creativity
improvement programme their level of creative output doubled, the companys climate
for creativity was enhanced and their use of
creativity techniques helped generate highly
cost-effective ideas. (Couger et al., 1994).
Creative thinking can be influenced by a
number of factors. McFadzean (1999a) for
example, suggests that the creative productivity of a group can be affected by the following
variables: judgement, freewheeling, association, stimulation and expression.

Judgement
Researchers have found that interactive
groups are less effective than nominal groups
at producing novel ideas (Taylor et al., 1958;
Lamm and Trommsdorff, 1973; Madsen and
Finger, 1978; Fern, 1982; Hill, 1982). A nominal group comprises individuals who generate ideas alone before pooling their results
with the rest of the group (Mongeau and
Morr, 1999). Diehl and Stroebe (1987) and
Nunamaker et al. (1991) suggest that one
reason for this discrepancy is what is termed
process losses. These are actions undertaken by the group participants that impair
the output of the group. They include, for
example, evaluation apprehension, production blocking and participant dominance.
Evaluation apprehension occurs when members withhold suggestions because they are
frightened of negative criticism (Diehl and
Stroebe, 1987). In an effort to reduce evaluation apprehension many idea-generation
techniques suspend evaluation until after
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

the idea-development phase has been concluded (Osborn, 1957). Inappropriate judgement or criticism can severely disrupt the
free flow of ideas, thus reducing the number of unique and novel ideas generated
(VanGundy, 1988). The evaluation of ideas
should always be undertaken later in the
problem-solving process, when idea generation has been completed and the number
of ideas need to be reduced (Johnson, 1955;
Mintzberg et al., 1976; VanGundy, 1992).
Group leaders and facilitators must therefore take steps to reduce evaluation apprehension among the group members. This
can be achieved by enforcing the nocriticism rule (Mongeau and Morr, 1999;
Osborn, 1957), utilizing anonymous creative
problem-solving techniques (Aiken et al.,
1997; McFadzean, 1999a) or using a group
support system (Dennis and Valacich, 1993;
Nunamaker et al., 1991). For instance, Brainwriting is a useful creative problem-solving
technique because individuals can write their
ideas down on a piece of paper, which
preserves a degree of anonymity, thus reducing evaluation apprehension (McFadzean,
1998b). In addition, this technique is beneficial because the participants do not
need to wait to speak if someone else
is already talking and all their ideas are
recorded (Aiken et al., 1997, McFadzean,
1996). Group support systems use the same
principle of anonymity to reduce evaluation
apprehension.

Freewheeling
Freewheeling encourages group members to
develop as many ideas as possible. An idea
that may seem impractical may contain a
germ of a great solution. In addition, Osborn
(1957) suggests that the quantity of ideas
will ultimately yield quality. In other words,
the more ideas generated, the more likely it is
that the group will produce some good ones.
For example, The Royal Dutch/Shell Group
encourages employees to pitch ideas over
e-mail (Stepanek and Weber, 1999). Every
week, six groups of six participants meet at
the Exploration & Production Divisions in
Strategic Change, August 2001

270

Houston and in Rijswijk, the Netherlands,


to contemplate and discuss these ideas. In
1999, these teams, known as GameChangers,
looked at over 320 ideas sent to them by the
companys employees. These ideas ranged
from ways to reduce company paperwork to
using laser sensors to discover oil. The results
of this initiative have been excellent. According to Stepanek and Weber (1999, p. 55):
Of Shells five top business initiatives
in early 1999, four emerged from the
GameChanger teams. Now, those projects
are bringing in millions of dollars.
Shells new Light Touch oil-discovery
method for example, helps explorers by
sensing hydrocarbon emissions released
naturally into the air from underground
reserves. The laser technology helped
locate some 30 million barrels of oil
reserves in Gabon last year.
There are however, some process losses
that can reduce or inhibit freewheeling.
These include production blocking and participant dominance. Production blocking
occurs in an interacting group because only
one member can communicate at any one
time (Diehl and Stroebe, 1987; Briggs and
Nunamaker, 1996). There are a number
of consequences that occur as a result of
production blocking (Dennis and Valacich,
1993). First, group members will be constantly listening to their fellow members
contributions and cannot therefore easily
think about new ideas for fear of missing
other peoples views (attention blocking).
Second, members who are unable to speak
when their ideas occur may forget or suppress them because later on they feel they are
less relevant or original (attenuation blocking). Finally, members may use their time to
remember their ideas rather than thinking
up new ones (concentration blocking).
According to Nunamaker et al. (1991,
p. 46), domination occurs when: Some
group member(s) exercise undue influence
or monopolize the groups time in an
unproductive manner.
To reduce these process losses, the
group can use a technique that allows
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Elspeth McFadzean

the participants to talk and listen at


the same time. For example, two forms
of brainwriting poolwriting and gallery
writing permit participants to write down
their ideas on paper. When they run out of
ideas they can look at the statements written
by other group members. These techniques
also negate participant domination because
nobody can monopolize the conversation or
influence the proceedings.

Association
A process facilitator must encourage group
members to combine and improve their
ideas. The participants can then build on
previous ideas called piggybacking or free
association and look for ways of combining two or more ideas to generate a third
idea not thought of previously.
Free association encourages the stimulation of ideas but it tends to rely on the
group members past experiences or the
immediate physical or social environment
(VanGundy, 1988). As a result, participants
tend to build on and further develop existing
ideas but do not necessarily change them significantly (McFadzean, 1999a). Forced association, however, can encourage group members to generate more novel and imaginative
ideas by coercing two or more elements
together. These elements may or may not
be related to one another or to the problem (McFadzean, 1999b). VanGundy (1988,
p. 75) states that:
As a general guideline, elements that are
related to each other and to the problem
will be more likely to produce practical
ideas than more unrelated elements.
However, the ideas produced by using
related elements are likely to be more
mundane and less unique than ideas
produced with unrelated elements.
McFadzean (1996), Garfield et al. (1997)
and Bouchard (1972) found that groups
who used unrelated stimuli to inspire creativity produced more unique and novel
ideas than groups who only used related
stimuli. For example, scientists have been
Strategic Change, August 2001

Critical factors for enhancing creativity

inspired by forcing together a fan and a


skirt and envisaging a craft that could run
across water (the hovercraft). Likewise, by
forcing together the telephone and the computer, scientists have developed the Internet
(McFadzean et al., 1998). Amazon.com have
also used association, namely bookselling
and the Internet, to develop their business. In
addition, Fujifilm have developed a camera
by placing three different products together.
The FinePix 40I can produce high-quality digital photographs, it can allow its user to shoot
a mini-movie with sound and it can play MP3
audio files from CDs on the Web.

Stimulation
Creativity also consists of another important
element: perception. Perception helps us to
develop a view of the world. This picture
or paradigm explains the world to us and
helps us predict and anticipate behaviour.
However, when a person views the world
from one paradigm, it can be very difficult to
imagine it from another. According to Barker
(1992, p. 37):
A paradigm in a sense tells you that
there is a game, what the game is, and
how to play it successfully. The idea of a
game is a very appropriate metaphor for
paradigms because it reflects the need for
borders and directions on how to perform
correctly. A paradigm tells you how to
play the game according to the rules.
Perception is necessary, therefore, because
it helps people to develop sequenced patterns, without which it would be difficult

When a person views


the world from one
paradigm, it can be
very difficult to
imagine it from
another
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

271

to survive. For example, a man decided


to ascertain how many ways he could get
dressed in the morning using his standard
eleven items of clothing (de Bono, 1991).
He programmed his computer to make the
calculation. The computer took 45 hours to
show that out of the 39 million possible ways
of putting on 11 items of clothing only about
5000 were possible. This is because shoes,
for example, cannot be put on before socks
and so on. However, although there is this
huge number of possible combinations, we
do not sit down and work out a strategy for
getting dressed. We know how to do this
through experience.
According to Bruce and Young (1998,
p. 47):
Our usual, stable perceptions arise
because assumptions and knowledge
about the world can be used to help
decipher retinal images. . . At any particular instant in time, the retinal image is
ambiguous, since many different scenes
could result in the same image. Artists
such as M. C. Escher and Salvador Dali
have exploited the ambiguous and uncertain nature of seeing by producing images
with multiple interpretations.
In other words, there are some artists that
have drawn pictures that can help us change
our perceptions. In fact, Edwards (1993, p. 3)
believes that drawing ability itself, is in part
due to the ability to make a shift in brain state
to a different way of seeing or perceiving. She
claims:
When you see in the special way in
which experienced artists see, then you
can draw. This is not to say that the
drawings of great artists such as Leonardo
da Vinci or Rembrandt are not still
wondrous because we know something
about the cerebral process that went into
their creation. Indeed, scientific research
makes master drawings seem even more
remarkable because they seem to cause
the viewer to shift to the artists mode of
perceiving. But the basic skill of drawing
is also accessible to everyone who can
Strategic Change, August 2001

272

learn to make the shift to the artists


mode and see in the artists way. (Original
authors emphasis)
In the same way, problem solving and
visioning can also be improved by changing
the participants perception or paradigm.
This is illustrated by de Bono (1992, p. 60):
I was teaching a class of 30 students
who were between 10 and 11 years old.
I asked them what they thought of the
idea of being paid, say $5 a week, to
go to school. All 30 students liked the
idea very much and told how they would
buy sweets, chewing gum, comics, and so
on. I then introduced [the technique of
Plus, Minus and Interesting (PMI)] and
asked them systematically to go through
each part in small groups of five students.
At the end of four minutes I asked for
their thinking. The Plus points were as
before. But now there were Minus points.
The bigger boys might attack the younger
boys and take the money. The school
might raise the charge for lunch. Parents
would be less inclined to give presents.
Where would the money come from? There
would be less money for teachers, and
so on. There were also some Interesting
points. Would the payment be withheld
if school performance was poor? Would
older students get more? At the end of
this simple exercise, 29 of the 30 students
had reversed their opinion and decided it
was a bad idea. The important point to
note is that I did not discuss the matter
with the students or argue with them.
I simply presented the students with a
perceptual scanning tool and asked them
to use it. As a result of using the tool
they got a broader perception. As a result
of the broader perception they changed
their judgement.
This method encouraged the children to
view this challenge not just from their own
perspectives but from the perspectives of
others. These included the perspectives of
other children, both older and younger, their
parents and their teachers. In this way the
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Elspeth McFadzean

children were able to make a more balanced


judgement.
One method of encouraging a shift in
perception is to utilize unrelated stimuli.
These are stimuli that are not related to the
problem. VanGundy (1988) and McFadzean
et al. (1998) suggest that techniques that use
unrelated stimuli are more likely to produce
more novel ideas than techniques that utilize
related stimuli. The research undertaken by
McFadzean (1996) and Garfield et al. (1997)
supports this conclusion. Kelly Services, a
global provider of staffing solutions, used
stimulation to improve its own processes
so that the company could meet the needs
of its customers more adequately (Rodier,
2000). The process engineers undertaking
the project believed that best practices
could be found both within the company
in departments with similar processes and
in departments that performed industrial
engineering functions outside the company.
These best practices were then used as
stimuli to develop ideas that can be used
to improve their own processes.
Other companies use toys and games to
stimulate new ideas. For example, Enron
and Peoples Energy, two American gas
companies, have used toys to help them
to generate ideas on future possibilities of
natural gas (Umbrell, 1999). The Liberty Toy
Company has also found that the best way of
encouraging employees to talk freely and to
develop novel ideas is to give them toys to
play with. According to Hemsath and Yerkes
(1997, p. 100):
Liberty Toy has realized that a fun
icebreaker is sometimes the best start to
a productive meeting. They have given
their staff many different toys to play
with but by far the most popular are the
toy guns and darts. These are also useful
in relieving tension and conflict within
the group.

Expression
A metaphor that is often used when discussing creativity is the brains duality. Our
Strategic Change, August 2001

273

Critical factors for enhancing creativity

left hemisphere analyses, marks time, counts,


abstracts, makes rational statements based on
logic, plans step-by-step procedures and verbalizes. Our right hemisphere, on the other
hand, creates new combinations, understands metaphors, dreams and visualizes
images (Edwards, 1993). This metaphor has
been developed from scientific research into
the human brain. Although our brains are
similar, they are not the same. For example, 99% of right-handers and 70% of lefthanders have their speech centre in their
brains left hemisphere. Of the remaining
right-handers, 2% have language located
in their right hemisphere and 8% mediate language in both hemispheres. Whereas,
of the remaining 30% of left-handers, half
have their speech centre located in the
right hemisphere and half mediate language in both hemispheres (Edwards, 1993).
In general, however, speech is located in
the left side of the brain the logical,
step-by-step side whereas imagination,
visualizing and dreaming are generally
located in the right side of the brain. Consequently, more unusual modes of communication or expression can be used to release
creative thinking. These can include drawing,
acting, dreaming, dancing and singing.
For instance, Finke (1990, 1996) found
that participants could develop very creative
inventions by using imagery. He designated
three random shapes, such as a cylinder,
half a sphere and a wavy line, to each of
the participants. They were then asked to
combine these shapes to construct what
Finke called preinventive forms. Next, the
participants were given a designated object
category such as furniture or toys and
games. Using this category, they were asked
to interpret their preinventive forms as
representing some kind of practical device
or object that could belong to this category.
Thus, a number of creative inventions were
developed such as a contact lens remover or
a tension wind vane (Finke, 1990).
Graphic facilitators are also being used
to help organizations enhance their creative thinking (Slater and Dolven, 2000).
For example, Hewlett-Packard and the
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

telecomms company Newbridge Networks


are using visual aids to turn the traditional
logic of business meetings upside-down.

Hewlett-Packard are
using visual aids to
turn the traditional
logic of business
meetings upside-down

The participants generate and discuss goals,


obstacles and ideas while the facilitator draws
images on a large piece of paper on the
wall. He or she coaxes out themes, impressions and opinions from the participants that
would not emerge from normal idea generation sessions. One group at Hewlett-Packard
used the metaphor of a garage to symbolize home-grown invention. Using arrows
leading to and from the shed, the participants were able to generate ideas on what
needed to be accomplished within the next
year. A customer-service manager also used
a warlike image as a metaphor for reaching
customers. This image, however, encouraged
the manager to change his perspective away
from cluster-bombing the customer into a
strategy that was much less aggressive (Slater
and Dolven, 2000).
In summary, therefore, creativity can be
encouraged by:

Freewheeling so that participants produce


as many ideas as possible (quantity breeds
quality)
Combining or changing ideas (association)
Suspending judgement
Utilizing unrelated stimuli and
Using unusual modes of expression (see
Figure 1).

These creativity factors can be used to


develop a framework for creativity. This is
discussed in the next section.
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274

Elspeth McFadzean

Expression

Stimulation
Ideas

Freewheeling

Association

Suspend Judgement
Figure 1. A model of creativity.

Developing a framework for


creativity
The above factors can be used to develop a
framework for creative techniques. Two of
these factors, freewheeling and the suspension of judgement, are similar for all creative
problem-solving techniques. The other three
factors, however, differ depending on the
techniques that are utilized.
Paradigm-preserving techniques
Some creative problem-solving techniques
do not actively encourage participants to
view the problem from a different perspective. These are called paradigm-preserving
techniques and include procedures such as
brainstorming and brainwriting. Brainstorming uses free association, verbal expression
and related stimuli to encourage idea generation. Thus, participants produce a free
flow of ideas. For example, the Advertising
Club in Cleveland undertook a brainstorming session to develop effective methods of
publishing Opera Week and to encourage
the public to buy tickets (LeBoeuf, 1980).
The participants generated 124 ideas of
which 29 were implemented. In addition,
LeBoeuf (1980) ran a brainstorming session for a management executive team who
had a problem regarding engineering shortages. In 25 minutes the group generated 110
ideas of which 6 were good enough to be
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

implemented. This free flow of ideas, however, can be likened to railway tracks. A team
member suggests one idea. This idea sparks
off another idea that is similar to the first
and so on. This is comparable to laying one
piece of track, then joining on another and
another and another. Occasionally there will
be spur lines or new, separate tracks created. Streams and rivers flowing down a hill
illustrate the same concept. The ideas tend
to flow in ruts and form relatively linear
patterns. This occurs because each idea acts
as a stimulus for subsequent ideas and each
of these ideas is related to the problem itself
(see Figure 2). Thus, these related stimuli
do not force the user to change his or her
perception of the situation. Likewise, verbal
or written expression does not encourage
the participants to reframe their ideas either.
Consequently, brainstorming and brainwriting do not have the relevant factors to force
group members to view the problem or situation from a different angle. Thus, these
techniques tend to preserve the paradigm.
There are a number of techniques that
do encourage reframing. These are called
paradigm-stretching and paradigm-breaking
techniques.
Paradigm-stretching techniques
There are many different techniques that
can encourage participants to stretch their
Strategic Change, August 2001

275

Critical factors for enhancing creativity

Problem

Paradigm
Preserving
Technique

Related
Stimuli

Free Association
Verbal/Written Expression

Paradigm
Preserving Ideas

Figure 2. Paradigm-preserving techniques (adapted from McFadzean, 1996).

present paradigm. McFadzean (1998b, p. 40),


describes one example called Object
Stimulation:
(1) The problem statement is written on a
flipchart.
(2) The group members are asked to develop
a list of objects that are completely
unrelated to the problem.
(3) Each individual then needs to select one
object and describe it in detail. The
group should use each description as
a stimulus to generate new and novel
ideas.
(4) The facilitator should write each idea
down.
(5) This process should continue until each
group member has described an object
or until each object has been described.
(6) The ideas are then related back to the
problem and developed further.
This technique is similar to brainstorming
and brainwriting in that it utilizes either verbal or written expression. However, the stimulation and the association used are different.
Object stimulation encourages creativity by
using unrelated stimuli and forced association. McFadzean (1998b) gives an example
of how object stimulation can be used. First,
the problem statement is developed: How
can we attract more customers to our car
dealership? Next, an object is chosen that
is completely unrelated to the problem. In
this instance, the board game Monopoly is
chosen. The object is described:

Monopoly is about making money.


It is fun to play.

Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Anybody can play it. It is for all ages.


It is colourful and fun to look at.
You make your own decisions about what
to buy.
You can develop your own range of
property.

These ideas are then related back to the


problem (forced association):

We can make our dealership a much more


fun experience by selling other products.
We can encourage families by offering a
cr`
eche service or a nursery room.
We can make the forecourt more interesting and inviting. For example, we could
run computer car races for potential customers.
We can reduce high-pressure sales techniques and allow customers to make up
their own minds.
We could allow customers to build their
own car on a computer i.e. develop their
own custom-made car complete with all
the extras that they want.

Thus, object stimulation encourages participants to stretch their existing paradigm


by developing ideas that are unrelated to
the problem. These are then related back
to the problem and developed further (see
Figure 3).
There are a number of different paradigm
stretching techniques including metaphors,
rolestorming, heuristic ideation technique
and assumption reversals (McFadzean,
1998b). Couger (1995) used metaphors as
a tool for developing novel ideas in a
Strategic Change, August 2001

276

Elspeth McFadzean

Problem

Paradigm
Stretching
Technique

Unrelated
Free Association
Stimuli Verbal/Written Expression

Ideas

Relate Ideas Back to Problem: Forced Association

Paradigm Stretching Ideas

Figure 3. Paradigm-stretching techniques (adapted from McFadzean, 1998c). Reproduced by permission of


Blackwell Publishers.

petroleum company. An information systems


department in a petroleum company needed
to motivate employees to adopt computer
aided software engineering (CASE) tools that
simplify the development of new software
applications. Members of the technologyassessment group were given the responsibility for solving this problem. The facilitator
decided to use metaphors to help participants generate useful and novel ideas. The
metaphor the group used was: Dislike of
canned spinach. The participants identified
factors relating to the dislike of spinach that
included:

Taste for example, the taste is subdued


compared to beans;
Appearance for example, spinach is
dull compared to carrots;
Contribution to health for example,
there is more iron provided by breakfast
cereal than in spinach, and so on.

The group then used these items to generate


ideas pertaining to the problem statement.
For instance:

Taste some of the activities of CASE


tools are subdued and less enjoyable than
those of the existing methodology;

Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Appearance the thought of using CASE


tools is not as attractive as using their
favourite approach;
Health converting to using CASE tools
is not necessarily seen as improving their
health, that is, their security within the
department.

The group explored each of the resulting


issues and developed solutions to counteract them, for example to emphasize other
pleasurable activities by pointing out that
using CASE tools will speed up the process, giving users more time for other activities, such as designing the system. Members of the group were impressed with
this technique, stating that it gave them
an approach to identifying and resolving
the problem that was both complete and
comprehensive.
Paradigm-breaking techniques
Another method of reframing a situation
is to use a form of expression other than
verbal or written language. This may include
role playing, drawing or dreaming. One such
method is called rich pictures (McFadzean,
1998b):
Strategic Change, August 2001

Critical factors for enhancing creativity

(1) The group members are asked to write a


brief statement of the problem.
(2) The facilitator then asks each individual
to draw two pictures. The pictures
may be a metaphor of the situation,
e.g. a vehicle or an animal. The first
drawing would be a picture of how
each participant would like to see the
situation in the future. The second
picture would be a drawing of how the
participants see the present situation.
(3) Each participant is asked to describe the
picture of the present first. Not only
should he or she describe the picture
but a description should also be given
of the properties of the objects drawn
and why they have been drawn that
way. Next, a description of the picture
of the future should be given. Again, the
properties and the relationships of the
objects should be described.
(4) From the descriptions given by the
participants new ideas can then be
generated.
McFadzean et al. (1998) described the
results that one financial company obtained
by utilizing this technique. For the purposes
of this paper, the company will be called
Company A. A group of fifteen participants
met to explore the companys strategy on
marketing and promotions. The company
had found that their customers tended to
receive large amounts of marketing literature, much of which is ignored. The group
was asked to explore this issue and to
develop some ideas that could help them
to solve the problem. The group was divided
into two. The facilitator asked the first group
to draw a picture pertaining to future marketing services. The second group was asked
to draw a pictorial representation of how
it saw the present marketing services. Both
groups were given 30 minutes to complete
their task. The second group drew a picture
of a circuit board. This represented the conflicting messages that existed between the
business units and the policy makers at head
office. These conflicting messages resulted in
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

277

poor information dissemination, which consequently resulted in the banks customers


getting inundated with inappropriate marketing material from different departments in
the bank. The first group developed an interesting pictorial representation of the future.
McFadzean et al. (1998, p. 43) describe the
results as follows:
The Future group had much more fun
in developing their picture. In fact, the
picture represented a rosy future, with
a ship (called Company A) sailing in
calm waters. Above its head were a
smiling, bright yellow sun and a satellite.
On the shore were happy sunbathers
eating ice cream and enjoying themselves.
Further out to sea, however, the water
was not so calm. There in the choppy
sea were other boats (representing their
competitors) flailing around uncertainly.
The sunbathers, representing Company
As customers, were happy and content.
The satellite scanned the beach to see
who was out of ice cream and, when
appropriate, the Good Ship Company A
would offer their customers the service
they desired when they desired it. At the
presentation, one group member likened
Company A to Microsoft Windows click
on it when you need it and it will be
there, but when the customer does not
need it, it will remain firmly in the
background.
In order to develop as much information
about the situation as possible, the facilitator must be skilful at teasing out information from the participants. For instance,
in the above example, the sun was bright
yellow and smiling. One question the facilitator could have asked was: Why was the
sun smiling? This could have represented
a change of culture in the company or a
need for staff motivation. However, even if
the participant had only made the sun smile
for no other reason than creative licence,
by asking the question, the facilitator forces
the participants to think about the situation
and to develop new ideas. Paradigm-breaking
techniques therefore, encourage the group
Strategic Change, August 2001

278

Elspeth McFadzean

Paradigm
Breaking
Technique

Problem

Unrelated
Stimuli

Free Association
Multiple Expression

Ideas

Relate Ideas Back to Problem: Forced Association

Paradigm Breaking Ideas

Figure 4. Paradigm-breaking techniques (adapted from McFadzean, 1998c). Reproduced by permission of


Blackwell Publishers.

members by using unusual forms of expression and unrelated stimuli. New ideas are
developed, which can then be linked back
to the problem. These can then be developed further in order to construct potential
solutions (see Figure 4).

Practical implications
There are therefore three different categories
of creative problem solving techniques.
The first, which includes, brainstorming
and brainwriting, utilizes verbal or written
expression, free association and related stimuli. Consequently, there is no provocation
or stimulation that forces the participants
to view the problem or situation from a
different perspective. In other words, these
techniques tend to preserve the participants
existing paradigm. Object stimulation, on
the other hand, utilizes forced association
and unrelated stimuli as well as written
or verbal expression. Thus, by using different objects, participants are encouraged
to look at the problem from a number
of different perspectives. Object stimulation therefore, assists participants to stretch
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

their current paradigms. Finally, rich pictures utilizes forced association, unrelated
stimuli and a more unusual method of
expression, that of drawing. This helps participants to completely smash their present
paradigms. Consequently, creative problem
solving techniques can be placed on a continuum ranging from paradigm preserving
techniques to paradigm breaking techniques
(see Figure 5).
Thus, the creativity continuum presents a
number of implications for facilitators and
managers. These are:
(1) Creative
stimulation McFadzean
(1996) and Garfield et al. (1997) found
that techniques such as object stimulation encouraged participants to generate many more novel, as well as
good quality, ideas than techniques such
as brainstorming and brainwriting. In
other words, paradigm-stretching and
paradigm-breaking techniques encourage group members to produce more
creative ideas because they force them
to view the problem or situation from
different perspectives.
Strategic Change, August 2001

279

Critical factors for enhancing creativity


PARADIGM
PRESERVING

Problem Boundaries

PARADIGM
STRETCHING

PARADIGM
BREAKING

Unchanged

Stretched

Broken

Suspend until appropriate


time

Suspend until
appropriate time

Suspend until appropriate


time

Freewheeling

Encourage

Encourage

Encourage

Association of
Information

Free Association

Free and Forced


Association

Free and Forced


Association

Stimuli

Related Stimuli

Unrelated Stimuli

Fantasy and Unrelated Stimuli

Expression

Verbal/Written

Verbal/Written

Verbal/Written/Role-Playing/
Drawing/Visioning

Use of Imagination

Not necessary

Necessary

Necessary

Potential Apprehension

Low

Medium

High

Reduction in
Cognitive Inertia

Low

Medium

High

Group Experience

Can be used by experienced


and inexperienced groups

Groups require some


experience

Should only be used by


experienced groups

Low

Medium

High

Judgement

Creative Stimulation

Figure 5. The creativity continuum. Reprinted by permission, Elspeth McFadzean, Creativity in MS/OR:
Choosing the Appropriate Technique, Interfaces, Vol. 29 No. 5, SeptemberOctober 1999, Copyright (1999).
The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, 901 Elkridge Landing Road, Suite 400,
Linthicum, MD21090, USA.

(2) Cognitive inertia this occurs when


the discussion moves along one train
of thought without deviating because
group members refrain from contributing comments that are not directly
related to the current theme. By utilizing
techniques that use unrelated stimuli,
facilitators can encourage participants to
develop a variety of different and novel
ideas. In other words, group members
are forced out of their usual modes of
thinking.
(3) Apprehension group members who
are apprehensive about generating what
they see as absurd or ridiculous ideas
can be encouraged by using methods
that are anonymous such as brainwriting
or electronic brainstorming. In addition,
participants must be taught the benefits
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

of using paradigm transforming techniques. Many may see them as foolish or a


waste of time. Consequently, facilitators
must be able to demonstrate the value of
these methods.
(4) Team building team members who
are aware of the behavioural and emotional aspects of group work tend to
be more supportive of one another. On
the other hand, group members who
are only attentive to the task will work
towards their goal(s) diligently but will
take very little notice of the intricacies
of behaviour (McFadzean, 1998d). This
has a number of implications for the use
of creative problem solving techniques.
According to McFadzean (1999a, p. 121),
for example:
Strategic Change, August 2001

280

Elspeth McFadzean

Asking participants to use imagination and unfamiliar forms of expression can make them feel uncomfortable, and therefore such techniques
can be ineffective and may cause
animosity within the group. It is
therefore vital that only cohesive,
experienced groups, whose members
have high levels of trust and commitment to each other, should use these
techniques.
Thus, less experienced groups are happy
to use paradigm preserving techniques
because these techniques are familiar
and comfortable. Groups which have
been working together for longer periods, or which are more open and honest
and like to work with more diverse and
unusual techniques may find paradigmstretching and paradigm-breaking techniques more beneficial.
(5) Process congruence according to
McFadzean et al. (1999), process congruence is very important especially if
the facilitator wishes to use paradigmstretching and paradigm-breaking techniques. If, for example, the facilitator
asks a group to undertake a technique
that the participants feel uncomfortable
with then at best, the procedure will tend
to be less effective and at worst, some
group members will refuse to participate
(McFadzean, 1996). This will therefore
result in a dysfunctional group and an
unproductive process.
(6) Ground rules it is very important to
develop ground rules with the group
and to display them at all times. For
example, Hicks (1991, p. 50) presents
a number of ground rules for creative
thinking. These are:

Welcome every idea no matter how


wild it is it has some merit. If nothing
else it will fire our imagination or
someone elses imagination.
Hold back on criticizing an idea remember that it is difficult enough
to get an idea past our self-censor,

Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

so dont be too quick to criticize


somebody elses idea. And make sure
you understand another persons idea
before you evaluate it.
Remember that we always have some
knowledge or experiences that can
help us solve a given problem.
Dont be afraid to indulge in some
childlike behaviour as in wishing,
imagining, mental playfulness etc.
Never forget that other people perceive problem situations in ways
different from you treat this as
an advantage, a way of helping
you establish which is the most
appropriate one to work with.
Always think of a mistake or failure as
an opportunity to learn, not as a thing
we did wrong. If we just forget about
it we could do it again!

(7) Training in creative problem solving this can not only help to show the
value of the different types of creative
problem solving techniques but training can also help participants to develop
appropriate and positive behaviours
while using these techniques.

Summary
This paper has discussed three different categories of creative problem-solving
techniques, namely paradigm preserving,
paradigm stretching and paradigm breaking. In order to encourage participants to
generate more creative ideas, the facilitator can choose to utilize techniques that
use unrelated stimuli, forced association and
more unusual modes of expression. However, care must be taken with the planning
and support of these techniques. Although
paradigm-stretching and paradigm-breaking
techniques can enhance creative stimulation
and reduce cognitive inertia, they can also
increase participant apprehension. Thus,
facilitators must ensure that process congruence has been gained and that he or she
will support the group members and ensure
that positive behaviour is displayed. This can
Strategic Change, August 2001

Critical factors for enhancing creativity

be aided by the development of appropriate ground rules and training in creative


problem-solving techniques.

Biographical note
Dr Elspeth McFadzean is an associate member of faculty at Henley Management College.
Her research focuses on creative problem
solving, teambuilding, facilitation and group
support systems. She has published numerous papers and is the author of the book The
Creativity Tool Box: A Practical Guide for
Facilitating Problem Solving Sessions.

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