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Book Review: When Sparks Fly: Igniting Creativity in Groups

| On 10, Nov 1999

Ellen Domb,

Title: When Sparks Fly: Igniting Creativity in Groups
Author: Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap
Publisher: Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA, USA
ISBN: 0-87584-856-6
Cost: US$24.95 Pages: 242 Cover: hard
Available from: Any bookstore, or the publisher http://www.hbsp.harvard.edu

This is the second time that we have reviewed a book that does not even mention TRIZ. Readers response to the review of The Innovators Dilemma encouraged the editors to look for other books that would help people apply TRIZ, as well as for books on TRIZ itself.

When Sparks Fly: Igniting Creativity in Groups is the “star” business book of the quarter-it was featured in both Fortune Magazine and Business Week as the book of the month that would have great influence on business. The authors start by saying that they had the belief that any group can be more creative, even if the individual members are not creative-that leadership can affect the creativity of a group. They bring together basic research in social psychology with practical experience in management to develop their perspective on group creativity, and use both their own research and that of others, principally Teresa Amabile, to examine how groups generate ideas. Although TRIZ is not included in the mechanisms for idea generation that they examine, I think that their findings about how to develop a group that welcomes innovation and can use innovative thinking are useful concepts for teams that use TRIZ to develop new concepts.

For example, in Chapter 2 they introduce the concept of the “alien”-someone from outside the group who can challenge the group’s prevailing world view. They examine the work that is necessary to get the alien’s participation, to help him/her thrive in an environment that evolved to support the status quo, not the environment that is best for the alien, etc. The alien could be a new employee with different background from the current employees, a customer, a consultant, or an employee of a different geographical or functional area. They discuss in some detail how to help the alien succeed in the beginning, so that the alien, and the process of including aliens, can become self-sustaining.

TRIZ practioners have no problem generating what Leonard and Swap call the “requisite variety” of creative options, but they may benefit from the techniques offered for evaluation of options, merging options, and selection of options for implementation. Many of their techniques, such as the identification of functions and the identification of analogies, are virtually identical to TRIZ techniques.

When Sparks Fly will be a useful handbook for those who facilitate TRIZ workshops and those responsible for creating corporate environments that are hospitable to innovation.