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A review of "Managing Creativity and Innovation":

Published by Harvard University Press ISBN 1591391121 (2003)


Managing Creativity and Innovation is an almost perfect primer for the classic view of innovation and the role of the manager to influence innovation in this model. The book is organized into eight chapters and, within the paradigm chosen by the anonymous authors, is clear and easy to read Each chapter includes background information, tips for the manager on how to consider and use the information, and a concluding summary.

The eight chapters of Managing Creativity and Innovation focus on the following:

  1. “Types of Innovation” discusses the differences between radical and incremental innovation as well as process and service innovations;

  2. “The S-Curve” explains the concept of the S-Curve which describes technology change in terms of time - new technologies vs. established technologies - and relative cost;

  3. “Idea Generation” provides tips on sources of ideas for innovation such as customers, markets, and idea factories;

  4. “Recognizing Opportunities” features methods of business evaluation of ideas;

  5. “Moving Innovation to Market” presents material on selecting among ideas based on potential market value;

  6. “Creativity and Creative Groups” moves between ideas about individual and group creativity;

  7. “Enhancing Creativity” reviews commonly accepted means for encouraging groups to come together within physical spaces;

  8. “The Time Value of Money” presents the assumptions to be used in evaluating whether to go to market. This appears to be the only chapter where any ideas associated with complexity and emergence are mentioned in that the authors suggest a “sensitivity analysis” in which the managers question the very assumptions on which the marketing model are based.

The very qualities that might make Managing Creativity and Innovation attractive to a manager looking for the basics of innovation are also its major weaknesses. The classic, reductionist approach - the absence of concepts associated with complexity and emergence - misleads managers. It fixes their attention on what appear to be dualities associated with innovation and, thereby, encourages a false sense of predictability and controllability.

In the first chapter, for example a figure depicts “An Industry Timeline of Radical and Incremental Improvement.” First, an underlying assumption of this chapter and the one that follows is that radical and incremental improvement are discrete entities. As Carlisle and McMillan (2006) have pointed out, the complex adaptive system does not differentiate between radical and incremental or short-term and long-term; it adapts to its changing environment in a way which appears to benefit it most in any current fitness landscape. Second, the “timeline” itself recognizes only two dimensions to be measured in distinguishing between or choosing radical or incremental innovation - the dimensions of time and performance or cost improvements. These variables are far too limited when searching for the patterns or attractors that underlie innovation. There is no attention paid to the power of small changes to bring about emergence. Consider some currently familiar innovations such as the near-mythic story of the invention of “post-its” or the discovery of the currently popular sweetener sucralose, commercially known as Splenda. Splenda emerged from experiments designed to develop a new insecticide to take the place of DDT. When Phadnis, the chemist, was told to test the product, he heard taste instead of test (Bilger, 2006). And he did so despite the potentially toxic nature of the product. Indeed, a small event - a misheard vowel - brought about a change in customer buying habits, people’s eating choices, and the creation of many food products based on the new sweetener. This book ignores the implications of these well known stories of innovation.

The story of Splenda illustrates another problem with the classic view. In Managing Creativity and Innovation, managers are urged to consider the greater expenditure of resources of time or money associated with radical innovation over incremental innovation. This is illustrated in the text with the figure of “The S-Curve: An Established Technology and a New Rival.” In this view, the judgment of whether an innovation is to be considered radical or incremental is made by the organization before the fact, that is an organization decides on its intention: to create an incremental or radical innovation. However, from a complexity perspective, the difference between radical and incremental, if such a distinction is worth making, is actually in the effect of the innovation on the marketplace, indeed on society. One could characterize, for example, all recent additions to cell phone technology as incremental. However, Rheingold ( 2002) and others writing for the popular press have documented the effect of just one innovation, “texting,” on social networks, particularly those of adolescents. Instead of identifying innovations as radical or incremental, it might prove more useful to consider grouping innovations by patterns of self-similarity, that is to see what could be learned by considering them through a process of fractal interpretation.

Managing Creativity and Innovation has some value in its discussions of opening opportunities for creativity to many people in the organization. However, the authors present these ideas as a series of controllable steps rather than an acknowledgement of how innovation can emerge from truly broad-scale engagement (Taylor, 2006) in which the manger or leader is both open to the narrative of innovation and willing to allow the organization to move to the creative edge of chaos.



Bilger, B. (2006). “The search for sweet: Building a better sugar substitute,” The New Yorker, ISSN 0028-792X, May 22, 40-46.


Carlisle, Y. and McMillan, E. (2006). “Innovation in organizations from a complex adaptive systems perspective,” Emergence: Complexity & Organization, ISSN 1521-3250, 8(1): 2-9.


Rheingold, H. (2002). Smart mobs: The next social revolution, Cambridge, MA: Perseus, ISBN 0738206083.


Taylor, W. C. (2006). “Here’s an idea: Let everyone have ideas,” New York Times, ISSN 0362-4331, March 26, Sec. 3, p. 3, Col. 1.

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