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Dialog with an Uncertain Future / Excerp (Irregular updates)

The 52nd Installment"Creativity and Creative Groups of Ralph Katz"

by Junfu Chen,
Assistant Professor, Master Program of Innovation for Design and Engineering

Creativity and Creative Groups of Ralph Katz

Almost three years have passed since I became involved in project-based learning (PBL) education. As I look back over the past, what strikes me the most was how frustrated we were when the project did not go as planned, in spite of the efforts devoted by the project members. Reasons for the frustration, of course, vary depending on the project team, but confusion in teamwork results from the same reasons, which seem to be the most serious problem. In this column, as a way to facilitate a reduction of such frustration, I would like to introduce a part of "Creativity and Creative Groups" from "Managing Creativity and Innovation (Harvard Business Essentials)" published under the supervision of Ralph Katz (hereinafter abbreviated as "Katz [2003]").1
According to Katz (2003), "creativity is a process of developing and expressing novel ideals for solving problems or satisfying needs. Or, creativity is a goal-oriented process for producing innovations." Individual creativity has three components: expertise, creative-thinking skills and motivation. Expertise is knowledge and knowhow in specific areas and creative-thinking skills are defined as the ways in which people approach problems. Motivation may be extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is induced from the outside through means such as promotions. Intrinsic motivation is motivation fired by an internal interest such as motivation for learning.
On the other hand, as pointed out by Katz (2003), "group creativity is enhanced when both divergent and convergent thinking are at work based on advantages such as conflict due to personal differences and diversity of thinking styles, views and skills." The relationship between divergent and convergent thinking is that divergent thinking requires a broad focus and seeing things from an unfamiliar perspective to make it possible to develop insights and new ideas. For example, "If we continually observe an object from the same vantage point and in the same lighting conditions, we are bound to have the same impression of that object. Change the lighting or the viewing angle, however, and perceptions may change. They will become more complete—more nuanced." In contrast, convergent thinking varies depending on whether the ideas generated from divergent thinking are truly innovative or are worthy of making an appeal. The point is to set some type of constrains to exclude options that are outside of the constraints. Of course, mission, limits, and priorities of the project all contribute to determining the constraints. Thus, in moving from divergent to convergent thinking, a team stops emphasizing what is novel and starts emphasizing what is useful.
Looking at things logically, group creativity is a product of goal-oriented divergent and convergent thinking. However, on a practical level, it is not always true that things can always go logically. There are two obstacles. One is creative conflict in teamwork. One of the examples is divergence in the opinions of members at the time of discussion. To handle this type of creative conflict, it is certainly important not to deny different opinions and create a place where members can freely discuss their true feelings. However, in the conduct of a project, it would be reasonable to reconsider whether it is sufficient or not because there are many project members who forget the goal of the project and become satisfied with methods of creativity, such as making suggestions and ideas. To avoid these risks, Katz (2003) suggests looking for the assumptions and ideas behind opinions instead of denying different opinions. For example, if someone is not providing the necessary leadership, say "If you don't provide us with direction, we can only second guess your idea and it leads not to generating productivity, instead of saying, you don't have any idea about the project."
The other one is paradoxical characteristics of creative groups. According to Katz (2003), it is necessary to blend various thinking styles and expertise in teamwork and there are conflicting characteristics in the diversity. For example, "In order to do the best possible job as a group, it requires a good deal of knowledge and proficient skills about the task and at the same time, it is necessary to have a fresh perspective and think outside common sense and established patterns." Katz (2003) claims such contradictory qualifications to be 1) beginner's mind and experience, 2) freedom and discipline, 3) play and professionalism, and 4) improvisation and planning. This paradoxical combination could cause confusion and concern in a team while a blend of qualifications is important to maximize the creative potential. To overcome the paradoxical characteristics in a creative group, Katz (2003) emphasizes that you can take the first step toward success by accepting these characteristics first.
PBL is a learning method based on teamwork. It is often the case that the team generates a larger innovative outcome than an individual, although frustration resulting from teamwork also arises as a side product. The views given by Katz (2003) on creativity and creative groups are very informative in reducing frustration and make better learning outcomes using the PBL education.
1: Ralph Katz, "Managing Creativity and Innovation (Harvard Business Essentials [6])", Kodansha Publish, pp. 105–125, 2003 (in Japanese, translated by Kaoru Ishihara).

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