When Sparks Fly: Harnessing the Power of Group Creativity

By Dorothy Leonard-Barton, Walter C. Swap

Want to fire up creativity in your company? When Sparks Fly just might be the fuel you're looking for. Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap describe a method that can help people become more innovative and better at teamwork. "Whether you lead a group of three in a nonprofit foundation or 300,000 in a Fortune 500 business, the basic process of creativity is the same," write Leonard, a Harvard Business School professor, and Swap, a Tufts University dean. The process involves five steps: selecting the right mix of people to spark creativity; identifying the problem needing novel ideas; developing alternatives; taking time to consider choices; and selecting one option.

Leonard and Swap bolster their ideas with real-life examples of corporate creativity and analysis of dozens of psychological studies about human innovation. The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), for instance, generates breakthrough ideas by teaming up such diverse people as artists, anthropologists, and computer scientists. And to support diversity's role in creativity, they cite a 1992 study of 199 bank CEOs.

The research found that top management teams are more innovative if they include people with varying expertise. Each of the book's chapters begins with a fictional management scenario and concludes with a summary of key points. It also includes chapters on designing the best physical and psychological environments for igniting new ideas. When Sparks Fly is a good tool for managers and others interested in fanning the flames of creativity. --Dan Ring

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