Creativity Tools

Group Creativity: Innovation through Collaboration
Most research and writing has focused on individual creativity, yet in recent years, there has been an increasing acknowledgment of the importance of the social and group factors in creative ideas generation. Even with the information explosion and the growing tendency for specialization, the development of innovations still requires group interaction at many stages in the creative process.



Instead of, or even along with, the conference calling feature for brainstorming, you can also use the chat feature in your groups dashboard.


Mistakes That Kill Group Creativity

The primary roadblocks in group creativity are: pressure to conform to group norms, inability or unwillingness to collaborate, a defensive communication climate, differences in group members’ communication styles, and cultural norms.

Conforming to group norms. Without some conformity to group norms, groups would not be able to function. However, a preoccupation with group member conformity stifles creativity and encourages groupthink. When group members are overly concerned with following rules, innovation becomes difficult to achieve. Also, when group members prize unanimity instead of encouraging members to present differing perspectives, new ideas are unlikely to emerge.

Lack of collaboration. Competition among group members seldom leads to creative ideas because group members are more likely to keep information to themselves rather than share it. Competition also encourages group members to focus on themselves and their own agendas rather than the goals of the group. Often, group members lack the skills necessary to foster collaboration. By focusing on cooperation, group members are more likely to bring their ideas together and create something innovative (see also the section on teamwork in the Pragmatics module).

Defensive communication climate. When the characteristics of group communication include evaluation, control, strategizing (hidden agendas), certainty, and superiority, group members are interacting defensively. Such defensive communication leaves little room for new ideas. For example, if group member A says, “Let’s try combining ideas B and C,” and group member D says, “That will never work,” a potentially useful idea will be lost. In addition, such critical evaluation will reduce the likelihood that group members will offer their ideas.

Differences in group members’ communication styles. Some group members are more outspoken, extroverted, and vocal in their opinions, while other group members are more reserved, introverted, and hesitant to state their views. The more vocal group members often dominate group meetings, so only those members’ ideas are heard. More reticent group members’ may have important information to add to the discussion, but can be intimidated by aggressive group members.

Cultural norms. Creativity and innovation arise when people see the world in unique ways. Cultural norms, values, and beliefs are so engrained that we find it difficult to do that. People who can see things from unique angles are typically viewed as non-conformists. Thus, innovators’ ideas are often discredited. To facilitate creativity, we have to balance respect for cultural norms with appreciation for innovation and freedom of expression.


How Can Group Members Encourage Creativity?

Groups become more creative when they develop norms that support creativity and innovative thinking. These are some norms groups can develop that promote creativity:

Embrace diversity. Group members should seek diverse perspectives and welcome the opportunity to listen to different views and approaches to problems. (see also the module on culture and small group communication)

Facilitate a supportive communication climate. Non-judgmentalism, spontaneity, empathy, equality, and listening with an open mind are the hallmarks of a supportive communication climate.

Reward inventive and innovative creativity. Encourage group members who offer unique ideas and alternative viewpoints. Be cautious, however, of “stars” and “stage hogs” who promote themselves rather than address the group’s goals.

Foster collaboration. In times of conflict, group members find it easier to avoid, accommodate, or compromise when their goals seem to be at odds. Groups that are committed to collaboration must be dedicated to discovering conflict solutions that everyone can agree on. Collaboration can be time consuming and frustrating, but generally results in innovative solutions to complex problems.

Practice active listening. We can process what others say much faster then they can speak. Typically, we use that “in-between” time to think about what we want to say. In active listening, we use that time to ponder, interpret, and contemplate what others have said, before formulating our response.