Affiliated Organization

Case Western Reserve University, USA


For the most part, models and theories about idea generation and creativity can be divided into three types: theories about individual characteristics conducive to generating ideas, theories about the contexts in which ideas flourish, and theories about the processes by which ideas are developed. The reductionist nature of the contingency theories and their neglect of intertwined causality limits their usefulness in helping us to understand ideation. People do not come up with ideas in complete isolation, nor do contexts alone determine whether or not ideas will emerge. The process theories disregard the possibility of equifinality-different combinations of contextual and personal characteristics may result in different but equally effective processes.Rather than studying idea generation in terms of lists of categories, continua of characteristics, or details about process, we explore its systemic nature and investigate the inter-relatedness of idea generation, problem solving and inquiry. We propose that Churchman's interpretation of the philosophies of Liebniz, Locke, Kant, Hegel and Singer provides insight into idea generation archetypes that reflect managers' dominant approaches. The analysis of interviews with fifty-two executives demonstrates the utility of this approach and supports a model of creativity based on patterns rather than indicators of behaviour.