Laboratory brainstorming studies with university students suggest that interaction with others increases an individual’s access to remote mental associations and stimulates divergent thinking (Paulus and Yang, 2000). While noting that lone employees can, of course, develop innovations, Muthusamy, Wheeler and Simmons (2005) found that teams of employees are more important in influencing the overall ability of an organization to innovate. Reviewing decades of research and experience, Bessant (2003) notes: “Studies of high performing organizations show that they place considerable emphasis on involvement in innovation…moving away from specialists and towards higher levels of participation from others in the workforce.” Madjar (2005) sums it up by citing several other sources and her own research in stating that “…in contemporary organizations, creative ideas are more often the product of social interaction and influence than of periods of thinking in isolation.”
Based on their study of highly successful Japanese firms, Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) describe how the internal diversity of the employees within an organization must match the variety and complexity of the environment in order to deal with the challenges posed. Kickul and Gundry’s (2001) study of innovation in e-commerce firms recognized a key component of innovative actions to be “the richness in breadth of perspective made available to them by functionally diverse team members.” A Cabinet Office study on innovation concluded that “organizations whose staff are diverse in terms of backgrounds and ways of thinking –that bring together strongly contrasting disciplinary and professional perspectives –are more likely to be innovative” (Mulgan and Albury, 2003).
Gruenfeld and colleagues’ (1996) research demonstrated the importance of familiarity and trust for the effective use of the diversity in teams for innovative problem solving. Zhou and George (2001) showed positive and significant relations between employee creativity and measure of co-worker helping and support. Tjosvold and Yu’s (2007) research in Chinese organizations found that “constructive controversy – where group members discuss their opposing views openly for mutual benefit“ tended to promote more risk taking behaviors , in turn encouraging innovation and the ability to recover from mistakes. Reviewing studies of innovative firms in Australia, Matthews (2002) noted that “a differentiating factor of highly innovative firms was their ability to create a sense of community in the workplace with a family feeling, a sense of trust and caring…less innovative units functioned more like traditional bureaucracies”. Clegg and colleagues’ (2002) study in two large aerospace firms found a significant correlation between the degree of trust present in the environment and the number of ideas submitted and implemented. Chen, Chang and Hung (2008) further showed that social interaction and networking ties in a trusting and open climate have a significant and positive impact on the creativity of innovation teams.
NOTE: All of the information on the Elements of a Culture of Innovation, Assessment, and Tips for Leaders were adapted from Maher, Lynne, Paul Plsek, Jenny Price, and Mark Mugglestone, (2010), “Creating the Culture for Innovation: A Practical Guide for Leaders” published by the National Health Service (NHS) Institute for Innovation and Improvement in the United Kingdom