Breakthrough Thinking

I’ve been fascinated with how organisations foster creativity for many years and recently came across a book on the subject by two people I knew well when we were all starting out as consultants back in the 1980s. ‘Breakthrough Thinking for Nonprofit Organizations’ by Bernard Ross and Clare Segal is an inspiring book with lots of practical examples of organizations and individuals who have been willing to go way outside their comfort zones in pursuit of “extraordinary results”. The authors make an enlightening and practical distinction between creativity (the ability to discover new relationships, to look at subjects from new perspectives, and to form new combinations from old concepts) and innovation (the process of coming up with practical applications for new ideas) which I found very helpful. The challenge for managers is to encourage each whilst maintaining a balance between both. John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid in their fascinating book ‘The Social Life of Information’ characterise this highwire act as balancing process with practice. Practice involves fostering invention whilst process requires furthering it. The solution – they say – is to avoid creating two workforces – one that generates new ideas and the other that implements them. This compartmentalized approach to invention may foster creativity among the elite knowledge workers but at the expense of killing it among those who are expected to simply put other people’s ideas into practice.¬† I’m planning to explore some of these ideas in a workshop on developing organisational learning capacities that I’m facilitating for two development NGOs – one Southern and one Northern – working in partnership.

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