Individual Blocks to Creative Thinking

Introduction

Oman Air is the flagship airline of Oman that and a significant carrier in the Middle East airline industry . It has witnessed a remarkable growth since its inception in 1993 owing to continuous improvement. Innovation enables an organization to improve on continuous basis. In addition, global competition in the airline industry has raised the expectations for the airlines to upgrade their services and processes through innovation. Moreover, individual creativity of the workforces plays a vital role in fostering innovation in the organization (Kotter, 2002). Therefore, Oman Air needs to promote individual creativity for innovation at workplace. This report initially identifies individual blocks to creative thinking that inhibit the creative problem-solving process in Oman Air. It also proposes the framework that is most suitable as a plan to promote individual creativity and innovation in the organization. Furthermore, the analysis of contemporary perspectives leads towards meaningful conclusions and feasible recommendations.

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Although individual creativity is responsible for mobilising innovation in the organization (Higgins, 1996), but creative thinking is not a common trait among individuals. In general, individuals avoid risk and uncertainty with a fear of making mistakes and fear of being rejected by others. They are comfortable with their current thinking patterns and resist change (Davidson and Begley, 2012). Only a few individuals have the tendency to combine existing knowledge with new ideas. However, every individual has the potential to be creative.

Analysis:

Arnold (1962) posited three types of blocks that hinder individual creativity: Perceptual blocks, Cultural blocks and Emotional blocks. Firstly, considering perceptual blocks, the employees of Oman Air have to work in a competitive work environment where they face sensory overload. Sweller (1988) discussed saturation as a major stressor that presents the individuals with more environmental stimuli than they can easily process, which hinders their creative approach of problem solving. In addition, the history of a company’s past successes develops a valuable pool of knowledge that sets a trail for its employees to follow (Smith, 2013). The long history of successes and failures of Oman Air has conditioned its employees to follow the current thinking patterns and restrict them to the existing knowledge to solve problems.  Secondly as cultural blocks, there is a strong emphasis on teamwork in Oman Air. The overemphasis on cooperation can lead towards groupthink and discourage non-conformist attitude which deters individual imagination and creativity (Nijstad and De Dreu, 2002). This problem is not limited to the employees of Oman Air because most of the individuals have a natural inclination to see and understand what they are already taught (Smith, 2013). Such attitude halts creative thinking. Only a few individuals have a natural tendency to combine present ideas with novel perspectives (Ward, 2004).

Thirdly as emotional blocks, employees of Oman Air value statistical approach towards problem solving. Having too much faith in reason and logic can lead individuals towards an emotional state where they fear to take risks and to make mistakes (Slovic et al., 2002). This fear can cause functional fixedness among individuals where they become rigid to think beyond their existing patterns of problem solving (Ibid). In this way, their intuitive thinking gets affected and individuals become less open to varied experiences.

The Osborne-Parnes framework, involving six steps, can be used to intervene in context of Oman Air to overcome individual blocks to creative thinking within the organization (Bailey, 2008). First stage involves mess finding during which employees at Oman Air need to define challenges and opportunities. According to Jonassen (1997), it can be done while doing gap analysis in which the individual should ponder upon what actually is and what should be. It can be done by analysing the inconsistencies in the systems and processes of Oman Air which can help individuals to find a gap. Individuals can also follow the proactive and reactive approach proposed by Kaufmann (2003). In the reactive approach, individuals of Oman Air should observe the changes occurring in the existing working patterns that can help them to identify problem and opportunities. In proactive approach, the individuals of Oman Air should never stop to look for the ways of improvement. This step will clarify the goal, opportunity or challenge upon which the individuals want to work.

In second step of data finding, individuals should gather information about the problem from various sources (Nguyen and Shanks, 2009). The basic purpose of this stage is to collect as much information as possible to get more understanding about the mess in order to prevent premature evaluation of the problem. At this stage, individuals can use a list of questions according to the information requirements for the problem which in turn leads towards a potential list of sources of answers to those questions. They can use Why, What, Who, Where, When, Why and How questions. In this way, they can understand the situation, background and facts associated with the problem, thereby overcoming individual blocks to creative thinking. It also gives them a motivation to move beyond their established cognitive patterns based on Oman Air’s pool of knowledge. Taggar (2002) suggested that at this stage, questions should be open ended it helps individuals to avoid fixation to a specific area and enables them to analyse problem through different angles.

Data gathering leads to third problem-finding stage that involves developing the problem statement of the real problem (Bharadwaj and Menon, 2000). This stage can enable the individuals at Oman Air to understand the symptoms, conditions, reasons and triggering events associated with the problem. It can also help them to avoid errors such as solving a problem that does not actually exist, failing to recognize a problem that exists, and addressing the wrong problem (Awang and Ramly, 2008). After clarifying and restating the problem, individuals can move towards fourth stage of idea finding where they can generate many alternative ideas to solve the problem. It can be done by the brainstorming of ideas (Bailey, 2008). It can also be done in a more structured way by using cause-and-effect diagram to generate possible alternatives. These techniques are particularly helpful to overcome individual blocks to creative thinking. Fifth step involves solution finding where individuals need to evaluate the alternatives to select the best possible solution (Nguyen and Shanks, 2009). For this purpose, they need to set the criteria for evaluation (which may include cost, time, return, practicality etc.) and select the idea that will work best. The final stage of acceptance finding requires social validation for the implementation of the solution (Kavitha and Manonmani, 2014). All the constituents involved in the implementation of the solution need to accept it.

Figure 1: Osborne-Parnes Framework

Source: (Bailey, 2008)

Recommendations:

  • Suspend Judgment: Brainstorming is the core of creative problem-solving (CPS) process. Judging ideas too early deteriorates the effectiveness of idea generation. During brainstorming of alternative ideas, it is necessary to defer judgment and there is an appropriate time during convergence to bring in judgment (Isaksen et al., 2010).
  • Encourage Each other: The individuals involved in the brainstorming should encourage each other to share their personal ideas and refrain from stark criticism (Bailey, 2008). In this way, they can beat the cultural block where people have fear to voice their ideas and feel compelled to conform to the group. Group support is also effective to increase the number of ideas as researchers claim that quantity brings the quality (Brabham, 2008).   
  • Balance Divergent and Convergent Thinking: Researchers claim that the key to CPS is about learning to balance divergent and convergent thinking (Nguyen and Shanks, 2009). Divergent thinking involves proposing a wide array of possible solutions in order to find the best solution (Michaelides, 2016). It includes drawing unconventional connections to study the potential solutions. When this stage is complete, the ideas are then structured and organized by convergent thinking (Razumnikova, 2013).

Individuals of Oman Air need to balance both divergent and convergent thinking during CPS process. In design thinking, the importance of both intuitive and analytical thinking cannot be overlooked. The Osborne-Parnes framework proposed in this report is a balance of both types of thinking that tends to balance intuitive and analytical thinking (Hélie and Sun, 2010).
blocks-to-creativity-innovation

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Conclusion:

The aim of the report was to analyse various individual blocks to creative thinking and the frameworks to boost creativity among individuals of Oman Air. Oman Air needs to focus on managing a creative workforce to enhance its competitiveness. It needs to identify blocks that inhibit their individual creative abilities. As perceptual blocks, sensory overload of a highly dynamic and competitive environment of the airline industry deters creativity of individuals in Oman Air. In addition, the pool of knowledge built on the past successes and failures of Oman Air has conditioned its employees to rely on existing knowledge. As cultural blocks, overemphasis on cooperation leads to a conformist attitude where individuals fear to voice novel ideas. As emotional blocks, overreliance on reason and logic deters their creative thinking.

Osborne-Parnes framework is a structured way to combine divergent and convergent thinking to stimulate creative problem solving. In the framework, divergent thinking is involved in mess finding (to search for issues regarding Oman Air), data finding (to list the possible questions and sources of answers concerning the problem), and idea generation (brainstorming of alternative solutions). On the other hand, convergent thinking is involved in problem finding (restating or narrowing down the problem), solution finding (evaluating the ideas according to their feasibility and attractiveness to find the best solution), and acceptance finding (persuading all stakeholders of Oman Air to implement the best solution).

The analysis led towards some feasible recommendations that Oman Air needs to make its brainstorming process effective by avoiding early judgment, refraining criticism and encouraging each other to voice ideas. In this way individuals are motivated to put their ideas forward instead of fearing risk, judgment and rejection, which are some of the prominent individual blocks to creative thinking. Moreover, the CPS process should be a balance of divergent and convergent thinking to combine intuition and logic in problem solving.

References:  

Arnold, J.E., 1962. Useful creative techniques. Source Book for Creative Thinking, pp.251-268.

Awang, H. and Ramly, I., 2008. Creative thinking skill approach through problem-based learning: Pedagogy and practice in the engineering classroom. International journal of human and social sciences3(1), pp.18-23.

Bailey, J., 2008. The Osborne-Parnes Creative Problem-Solving Process: For When the Other Kind Just Doesn’t Work.

Brabham, D.C., 2008. Crowdsourcing as a model for problem solving: An introduction and cases. Convergence14(1), pp.75-90.

Bharadwaj, S. and Menon, A., 2000. Making innovation happen in organizations: individual creativity mechanisms, organizational creativity mechanisms or both?. Journal of Product Innovation Management: AN INTERNATIONAL PUBLICATION OF THE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT & MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION17(6), pp.424-434.

Davidson, R.J. and Begley, S., 2012. The emotional life of your brain: How its unique patterns affect the way you think, feel, and live–and how you can change them. Penguin.

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Kavitha, V. and Manonmani, G., 2014. Fostering Creativity.International Journal of Interdisciplinary Research. ISSN, pp.2348-6775.

Kaufmann, G., 2003. What to measure? A new look at the concept of creativity. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research47(3), pp.235-251.

Kotter, J.P., 2007. Leading change. Harvard business review,85(1), pp.96-103.

Michaelides, D., 2016. Creative Problem-Solving Model. In The Innovation Tools Handbook, Volume 2 (pp. 83-92). Productivity Press.

Nguyen, L. and Shanks, G., 2009. A framework for understanding creativity in requirements engineering.Information and software technology51(3), pp.655-662.

Nijstad, B.A. and De Dreu, C.K., 2002. Creativity and group innovation. Applied Psychology51(3), pp.400-406.

Razumnikova, O.M., 2013. Divergent versus convergent thinking. In Encyclopedia of creativity, invention, innovation and entrepreneurship (pp. 546-552). Springer, New York, NY.

Slovic, P., Finucane, M.L., Peters, E. and MacGregor, D.G., 2004. Risk as analysis and risk as feelings: Some thoughts about affect, reason, risk, and rationality. Risk analysis24(2), pp.311-322.

Smith, S.M., 2013. Creative cognition: Demystifying creativity. In Thinking and Literacy (pp. 45-60). Routledge.

Sweller, J., 1988. Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive science12(2), pp.257-285.

Taggar, S., 2002. Individual creativity and group ability to utilize individual creative resources: A multilevel model.Academy of management Journal45(2), pp.315-330.

Ward, T.B., 2004. Cognition, creativity, and entrepreneurship.Journal of business venturing19(2), pp.173-188.

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