Research Recommendations on Supporting and Developing Creative Environments: A review of the article: Creative Knowledge Environments

This is a follow-up to my creativity post of 6-15-2009

Reference: Hemlin, S., Allwood, C.M. & Martin, B.R. Creative Knowledge Environments (2006). Creativity Research Journal, 20, (2), pp. 196-210.  Which is also available online here.

First the results.  In my reading, the recommended conditions should have:

  • clear (and coordinated) objectives;
  • a research culture built over time;
  • a supportive and cooperative group climate that seeks and respects diverse thought in identifying salient problem features (sense-making);
  • strong vision with leadership in stimulating, structuring and promoting ideas;
  • a flat decentralized organizational structure giving appropriate autonomy to individuals linked by collective goals;
  • supportive and clear communication styles in a highly interactive environment (high levels of social capital) able to mediate any potential clash of ideas;
  • adequate resources (time, funding, equipment, library materials . . . etc.);
  • diverse individual characteristics (discipline, institution, cultural, social, geographical, motivational, etc. . .) with strong and varied individual competencies appropriate for the discipline(s) or field(s) involved;
  • appropriate quality control (although not in too excessive or intrusive a form);
  • an institutional base with an established reputation and visibility’
  • strong but flexible links with individuals both inside and outside of the organization
  • respect for breaking routines when necessary and for taking appropriate risks.

The paper notes that innovation tends to cluster geographically and reasons that:

innovative activities involve a significant element of tacit, embedded, and to some extent locally bound, or ‘sticky’ knowledge that is best communicated face-to-face . . . facilitated by small distances (Asheim & Gertler, 2004)

ARTICLE PURPOSE:

Looking primarily at the processes that lead to creative products this paper is attempting to identify what:

. . . types of factors are thought to either enhance and hinder creative output, but we are still in the early stages of finding empirical correlates as well as potential constellations of policies and leadership initiatives.

A definition from the paper (paraphrased):

Creative Knowledge Environments are environments, contexts, and surroundings (teams, companies, regions, nations) that exert a positive influence on human beings engaged in creative work producing innovative products.

A CATEGORIZATION SCHEMA FOR KNOWLEDGE ENVIRONMENTS:

The authors consider 3 levels of environments macro, meso and micro levels.  In addition they also provide the following more detailed classification schema for characterizing details of specific environments:

Components of Knowledge Environments and their Characteristics

Task characteristics: short-term/long-term, simple/complex, routine/novel, modularised/integrated

Discipline/field: natural sciences VS engineering VS social sciences VS humanities, theoretical VS experimental VS modelling, basic/applied, single paradigm VS multiple paradigms VS pre-paradigmatic, reductionist/‘holistic’, discipline-based/inter- or multi-disciplinary, influence of ‘epistemic community’

Individuals: knowledge, skills, abilities, cognitive style (e.g. broad/narrow, focused/eclectic), motivation, interests, career plans, values, beliefs, other personality properties (e.g. introvert/extrovert)

Group characteristics: size, integrated/loosely coupled, inward looking (‘group think’) VS outward- looking, leadership style, degree of group tension/harmony, heterogeneity/homogeneity of group members, ‘chemistry’ of personalities in the group, composition of knowledge, skills and abilities, agreed on or contested beliefs or underlying assumptions

General work situation for individuals: number of different work tasks or projects, features of time available for research (e.g. sparse/abundant, fragmented or concentrated), job ambiguity (total autonomy VS narrowly defined goals), quality of IT available (including the usability)

Physical environment: facilities, buildings, architecture, location, climate, equipment

Organisation: income sources, economic situation, organisational structure and culture, reward profile, leadership and managerial style (e.g. controlling/allowing), degree of organisational tension/harmony

Extra-organisational environment: small/large economy, expanding/decreasing economy, market characteristics (e.g. open/restricted, global/regional, competitive/monopoly), reward profile, information availability (open/closed), job opportunities and mobility, regional, national and cultural characteristics

Each of the above classifications can be divided into the elements of the social domain (“openness to new ideas or innovation, relations between colleagues or organisations, and routines for the upkeep of equipment”) and the cognitive domain (“bodies of knowledge and skills, cognitive work style and thinking style (e.g. adopting an experimental or ‘trial and error’ approach).  The cognitive domain can also be analyzes for spacial distributed aspects.  Environments can also be classified by the Triple Helix of industry, government, and non-profit.  Although these classifications will effect environments, it is likely that creating positive conditions for creativity will share much more across institutional types than they will differ.

INFORMATION ON THE NATURE OF CREATIVE INDIVIDUALS

These are general findings the authors derive from the literature and could be considered general recommendations for looking at the creative potential of individuals:

Internal motivation is generally seen as more important in relation to creativity. . .

Many researchers stress the prior need for quite extensive knowledge of the domain.  . . .

individuals should be given sufficient time and opportunities for practice and learning to occur.  . . .

creative problem-solving might rely more on “weak methods” (general problem solving skills)

In general, creative persons show greater openness to experience(,) higher tolerance for ambiguity (and have) flatter hierarchies of associations’ (i.e. having many associations for a particular stimulus with a fairly equal probability for each association, and with associations being easily affected by internal and external events)

Although the authors discuss other personality aspects of creative people, but the research seems more correlational than causational and sometimes conflicting.  I’m reluctant at this time to place much weight on other recommendations regarding personality.

The Business like University Meme: An Explanation

I think often on the meme of businesses becoming more like universities with universities (researchers too) more like businesses.  It can be disparaged as a crass idea by academia, but I think a deeper understanding can inform potential reforms on either side of the equation.  I came back to this meme by following the thread from Tony Karrer who asks us to weight in on the future of learning as a business.

The future of business itself is knowledge and technology centric.  Managing that future is different when:

  • you’re managing people with more expertise than you and
  • when the knowledge that you have and want to impart is dense and complex and
  • when a major goal is to uncover or develop new knowledge and when
  • a major goal is the ongoing development of a shared knowledge base and communication structure within the organization.

If the goal of your organization is to develop world class service, managing it may share many activities with running a university department and research center, except that there are no diplomas and your always in beta.

On the university side of the equation, I’ll first differ to Ellen Wagner’s post Psst…for researchers only.

This is a tip for those of you who conduct quantitative research . . . you can influence the technology product roadmaps . . . if you have data that shows that particular kinds of features in products can help students retain more, remember better, perform at peak levels of efficiency for longer periods of time then you need to figure out a way to get that information to the education marketing team at your technology company of your choice. Because those are the kinds of facts and figures that help sales teams connect with their educational customers. Education customers don’t just want to hear about features and benefits. They also want to know about best practices for using products to solve real problems.  . . . What (technology companies) can do is to help promote your findings, showcase your success.

I may be jaded, but I believe that academics writing is often intended to be instrumental toward tenure, not to have an impact on society and the peer review journal processes inhibit innovation and risk taking by researchers.  Research should be consequentially valid and disseminated for that purpose, and at its heart, dissemination shares many similarities with marketing.  Academics and journals must also travel beyond their disciplinary boundaries in ways that are in line with new forms of networked knowledge.

Summary: A manager / leader of world class services and a teacher leading students and research projects share potentially similar skill sets and futures.

Building A Creative Infrastructure: The Prime Economic Directive

This post begins a process to consider the importance of, and different methods of creativity.  It is a recognition, a re-thinking if you will, of the need for creativity, what it means, and how it is the foundation of much of my recent reading.  I’ll start with a couple of interesting finds from yesterday’s blog reading.  In subsequent posts I’ll look  at the research literature relevant to building a creative infrastructure.

First Harold Jarche posted about a project he undertook involving the idea of a research center bridging university research and venture interests through: applied research – prototyping – pre-commercial seeding.  As part of my comment I asked; Do you think anyone knows how to do such a thing – examples of methods?  A serendipitous browse of other blog readings that day led me to consider that creativity could be the basis of such a research center.

It was later that I came across a post by John Howkins, a guest on The Creativity at Work Blog. John has a new book, Creative Ecologies.

My new book, ‘Creative Ecologies’, shows that eco-systems is a useful model. A creative ecology is a network of habitats where people change, learn and adapt (or not, in some cases).  . . .Ecological models have a great advantage over the financial models that preoccupy government.  Ecologists speak the same language as do biologists and environmentalists and can share their ideas and theories, whereas economists are tied to rationalist preconceptions and to monetary values.  . . . Running throughout the model is what the Indonesian diplomat Soedjatmoko calls the ‘capacity to learn’.  It is astonishing how closely a country’s capacity to learn as a whole, rather than any individual genius, affects national levels of creativity and innovation. (Emphasis added)

He goes on to talk about bringing institutions of learning together and making their impact felt throughout a culture.

. . . bring think-tanks, research bodies and NGOs into the education process; protect learning-for-the-sake-of-learning from being squeezed out by learning-for-a-job vocational courses.  We must re-think ‘knowledge transfer’. . . .

In this perspective, your productivity and your sense of well being may well depend on the ecology you’re in. As Howkins says;

It helps if you are in the right place at the right time.  The old question, Where do you want to live?, is now, Where do you want to think? (Emphasis added)

Howkins, I believe, is talking about the importance of building an infrastructure of creativity, something that he indicate is substantially different from industrial era infrastructures.  It potentially could involve diversity, culture, communication, community resources and many other factors.

Which begins us to a post by Diego Rodriguez at the Metacool Blog on the The four ways of creative cultivators.  Interestingly, Diego begins with the same idea that I left off with in my last post (in my review of Management Rewired), collapsing the distinction between managing and leading.  He also uses a garden metaphor (something to which I’m partial), but I also believe that  he is really talking about 4 ideas for building an infrastructure for creativity:

1. Being at the bottom of things  (T)he leader-as-cultivator makes it their job to live simultaneously at the bottom and in the middle and on the edges, dealing with things that might seem like plain manure to outsiders. The bottom can be a messy place, but it is the wellspring of success . . ..

What is the foundation of creativity?  One aspect is to prepare your ground and the nutrients needed from growth.

2. Trusting what is there  Creative cultivators trust what is there. A wise cultivator resists the temptation to “dig up the seed”, as it were, to check if people are being creative enough. Many breakthrough innovation initiatives are stifled by linear project timetables . . ..

I don’t think this means don’t manage.  Think instead of the ways that Charles Jacobs (In my review of Management Rewired) operates in a Socratic mode collapsing the manager and leader distinction.

3. Seeing the ecosystem:  By their nature, gardens are part of larger ecosystems.

Two things.  Reflecting Howkins, the surrounding intellectual / learning community is an important source for creativity, as we already know in Silicon Valley, the North Carolina research triangle or Boston’s 128 Corridor.  But, it is also important the companies cultivate open environments and their infrastructures and policy frameworks recognize and encourage open boundaries.  Open models are becoming very successful.

4. Taking a bird’s eye view:  Finally, creative cultivators do all of the above while simultaneously curating the garden from a bird’s eye view. Managing a portfolio of creative endeavors requires knowing how many plants a certain piece of land can support and then pruning or as culling appropriate.  . . . guiding growth to be something unique and wonderful – that is the essence of strategy, and of gardening as well.

Diego also emphasizes that we can’t manage creativity, it can only be led:

(Creative Companies) see the leadership of creativity, in all its facets and complexity, as something akin to the act of cultivating a garden. Particularly when it comes to harnessing the power of emergent behavior, where creativity morphs into world-changing innovations, leaders must all — in fact, can only — tend to their gardens.  They must learn to become cultivators of creativity.

Echoing Howkins ideas of the importance of a culture of creativity, Diego says:

. . . it is incumbent upon leaders to unleash the creativity of the many, not the few.  . . . Modern organizations . . . must be able to tap in to the creativity, intelligence, and initiative of everyone affiliated with the brand, not just the talent of a select creative few.

In my next post I’ll review a Hemlin, Allword & Martin article “Creative Knowledge Environments (2008, Creativity Research Journal, 20, 2 196-210.).

Follow-up on Ramo: Potential Principles of an Agile Learning / Research Method

Following up on my last post about The Age of the Unthinkable, what might be the response of educators to Ramo’s critique.  Given the similarities of his suggestions to the Agile Management Method, I will begin looking at the principles of the Agile Manifesto and how that document could be adapted to learning, research and organizational learning.

My Personal Learning Manifesto: Adapted from the Manifesto for Agile Software Development

I will uncovering better ways of learning by doing it and by helping others to do it.

Agile learning values the following:

  • Individuals and interactions over Courses, processes and tools
  • Functioning project teams over Documents, LMSs or other knowledge platforms
  • Learner collaboration over Expert mind sets
  • Responding to changing requirements over Following a plan

Echoing the original Agile Team I state that: while there is value in the items on
the right, preference is given to the items on the left.

Personal Agile Learning Principles: Adapted from the Twelve Principles of Agile Software

  1. The highest priority is to satisfy the customer (learner) through early and continuous delivery of valuable knowledge and insight.
  2. I will welcome changing requirements (even late in development) with Agile processes that harness change for the customer’s (learner’s) competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working solutions and knowledge frequently, from a with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people, project team members and learning leaders must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build learning projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to find the right solution.
  6. The most efficient and effective educational methods involve face-to-face interaction.
  7. Successful project milestones is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile learning promotes sustainable development.
  9. The sponsors, leaders, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  10. Continuous attention to technical research excellence and good knowledge design enhances agility.
  11. Simplicity is essential, whether in ideas or in design
  12. The best learning architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams not from ADDIE implementation.
  13. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its learning behavior accordingly.
  14. Encourage synthesis, creativity and the continuous integration of new and prior understanding.
  15. A commitment to open source method.

My thought processes are in an early phase on this subject.  It may be more meaningful to talk of agile research methods than learning.  To some extent organizational learning may be more like research then traditional pedagogy.  However, it does seems like a promising area for research and further reflection.

Book Review: JC Ramo, The Age of the Unthinkable

This is my take on JC Ramo’s new book, The Age of the Unthinkable.

Communication technologies, globalization and the thick interconnections of both people and institutions have increased the systemic complexity of the world, reduced stability and bombards us with near constant change.  Traditional bureaucratic and hierarchal management structural do not have sufficient flexible to response to what is a crisis of predictability.  All complex systems (and that is the world we now face) contain internal dynamics that resist prediction when viewed from a single external perspective.  The old ways explain little, their managing hierarchies are often corrupted by “power position and prestige” and they increasingly are leading us only to failure.

To respond successfully to this increasingly complex world Ramo suggests a revolutionary (although evolutionary may be a better term) approach that looks very much to me like current Agile management methods.  Use small cross-functional teams who can evolve in response to changing contexts with creativity as they respond to changing requirements.  Build systems that anticipate change; dynamic systems that can be resilient and responsive in the face of change.  Analyze the world with imagination as a holistic interconnected network.  In short, see, prepare and build in ways that can help make the unthinkable thinkable.

A horizon summary

I think It boils it down to 2 areas where I am knowledgeable, have an interest, where there is opportunity to apply that interest, and where the technology exists to allow reasonable implementation: (1) measurement and (2) lifelong / just-in-time learning.

Measurement – It has one purpose, to generate data, but when combined with appropriate theory, data can provide invaluable supports to decision-making, communications and experimental practice improvement efforts.  People act either because they believe their actions will lead to desired outcomes or because they are following a tradition.  All action should be backed-up and validated by data, but it is often not because managers cannot articulate a theory linking action to outcome, because they don’t understand how to design relevant and efficient measures, because they don’t understand the knowledge that measures can generate, or because they don’t understand how important data is to communication / reporting.  Education is needed to help managers articulate operational theories, designing appropriate measures and integrate them into everyday activities.  I recommend integrating measures into existing reporting / communicating structures for efficiency and aligning these structures with processes and with organizational strategy.

Learning – Existing learning structures are not sufficient to facilitate individual lifelong learning, organizational learning or in learning that is directly related to contextual needsAs I have written before, we need social innovations in how organizations learning.  What is also needed is pedagogy, technology and institutional structures designed for diverse interdisciplinary on-demand knowledge networks.  Social networks are growing (Linkedin is one example.).  Missing from learning opportunities in these networks are the mission structures and technical capabilities of dedicated learning organizations to participate in ad-hoc networks with the pedagogy and monetization strategies to make these networks efficient and effective as learning nodes in the day to day activities of individuals and project teams

Scanning Horizon: What Institutional and Pedagogical Forms are Needed for Lifelong Learning

I would make it mandatory for executives to keep on learning throughout their careers . . ..  Dan Ariely (2009) in Technology Review

Lifelong learning has been a nebulous concept.  There are many different institutions and pedagogical forms for traditional k-12 and university education, but what exactly are the institutions and pedagogical forms for continuous lifelong learning beyond this tradition.  By what institutional move would Professor Ariely use to make learning mandatory for executives.

I believe that career / personal professional development should mean the integration of many forms of learning into a personal network of learning environments.  College courses, professional publications (oriented to practitioners), communities of practice, social media networks, coaching, mentoring, performance support,  etc. . .. All of these forms can be potentially important!  While most of these forms of learning currently exist, we lack the institutional structures to integrate them into a coherent whole.

Another aspect that is missing from lifelong learning is learning that is strongly contextualized.  I have previously written about the contextual requirements of practice-based learning.  There is very little of this type of learning / instruction available.  What might it look like.  One possibility is to imagine learning goals that are an integrated part of strategic planning.  Another is to imagine learning objectives and resources that are integrated and integral to project planning and project milestones.

Strong robust networks of peers, mentor and every type of learning relationship are also need as a part of lifelong learning.  I have also previously written on this topic.

An update on my view of Connectivism (CCK08)

During my last post I realized that I needed to update my view on this theory.  Constructivism is a sound theory on human learning except for one thing, it really didn’t change practice all that much.  Its central insight (especially in the Vygotskian version) is that learning and knowledge are social, but that insight changed very little in educational practice where it should have turned practice on its head.  I have come to believe that this is because there was no adequate model of social learning.  Even Vygotskian ideas like the ZPD (zone of proximal development) limits the social model to teacher to student or peer to peer interactions.  Connectivism provides an adequate social model as a wide network.  This is a true social model that shows how learning is expanded by expanding one’s network.

Learning Needs Social Innovation, not just Technical Innovation

Reading about e-learning and social media, I get the feeling that people are trying to solve learning issues with technical applications.  While I believe that technology is a key enabler, learning is social at its core.  That means social innovation should come first.  Social media can be a great enabler, if its application is designed to facilitate interaction where social change has already taken place or at least where the ground is fertile for social change.

Here’s an example:

An individualistic idea of schooling led to a university model where people went to school to get knowledge into their heads and then went out into the world to practice and use that knowledge.  But not only is learning not anywhere near finished when you leave school, to be successful in practice many people need to learn everyday.  In short, the learning is never done!

Yes, we need knowledge from schools, but even more important we need a learning network.  This was my take-away from last falls connectivism course (CCK08).  Providing students with a network of knowers is more important than providing them with knowledge.  While many professors may maintain contact with graduates, what is needed is more.  It’s the expectation that graduates will leave school with a strong learning and practice network that includes strong bond to ties graduates back to their original contexts of learning and to ties schools to rich fields of practice and practitioners.  It’s a two way street.  Now in this type of context, social media can be a real enabler because it is focused on facilitating dynamic social innovation.

How to Think: Developing a Personal Learning Infrastructure

Ed Boyden from MIT’s Media Lab had an interesting post way back in 2007 titled How to Think: Managing brain resources in an age of complexity.  He lists 9 great insights that relates to structuring a personal self-managed learning environment.  The following is my edited personal version:

  1. Synthesize new ideas constantly. Never read passively. Annotate, model, think, and synthesize while you read (or receive input).
  2. Learn how to learn and prototype ideas (rapidly). ?
  3. Work backward from your goal. Make contingency maps. Find out which things depend on other things. Identify things that are not dependent on anything but have the most dependents, and finish them first.
  4. Always have a long-term plan, even if you change it every day.  Use logarithmic time planning; events that are close at hand are scheduled with finer resolution than events that are far off.
  5. Collaborate.
  6. Make mistakes quickly, then move on. As Shakespeare put it, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”
  7. Develop personal best-practices protocols and make them routine.
  8. Document everything obsessively and watch carefully for surprise and insight.  (Ed’s e.g. Compose conversation summaries on a notepad. At the end of the conversation, digitally photograph the paper and uploaded to a computer for keyword tagging and archiving.)
  9. Keep or make it simple, even if that is hard work.

It’s #2 where I have the most questions concerning how.  But really, everything else relates to #2.  I see 3 main thrusts in this list:

  • #1 and #5 are about expansive thinking, opening up the possibility of new ideas.
  • #3, 4 and 6 – 9 are about achieving focus.  Thought is focused by imposing constraints.
  • Also important is linking thinking and acting.  This is done through #3, 4, 5 and 6.

#7 is also a core thought. Work routines (along with a collaboration platform) are an important part of a personal learning environment infrastructure. It’s some of the ways we can create our own resources.