How we could reconcile “creativity” with “rationality” to spur innovation

collective-intelligenceA great read from a recent edition of Creativity and Innovation Management is the article Stimulating Creative Rationality to Stimulate Innovation. It was writtenby two French researchers: Joëlle Forest, PhD in economics, who likes to explore the relationships between design and innovation, and Michel Faucheux, PhD in literature, who focuses his research around the narrative role of technology. Together, they argue that the Western tradition has separated “creativity” from “rationality” for too long, and that innovation requires both! The article is short and easy to read… for those who prefer blog posts: here are some interesting excerpts. And after the post about Harvard’s research in creativity and innovation, you’ll also get a glimpse into a French stream of innovation research.

In the classical age, Mankind saw the world as dominated by the Gods. In the modern age, Mankind saw the world through the lenses of science and progress, because we were increasingly able to understand it. Hence, “the Western world is rules by engineers“, Forest & Faucheux say, in which creative approaches are considered incapable of producing rational knowledge. In other words: Western culture associates rationality with science and technology, denying creative reasoning. In essence, Forest & Faucheux’s article is very close to the concept of design-thinking (a style of thinking based on empathy and creativity), which has found great success in business in the last years.

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Tim Brown's article "Design Thinking" was published in HBR in June 2008. Forest & Faucheux's article cites a lot of common sources, including Herbert Simon's book The Sciences of the Artificial

Wikipedia  describes design-thinking as a form of solution-focused thinking that starts with the goal or instead of starting with a certain problem. I don’t know who wrote this Wikipedia article, but the description depicts a”Western” view of creative thinking: that’s the point made by Forest & Faucheux, who say that the Western point of view favours the successful achievement of a certain result over a multitude of possible  outcomes. According to them, a major difference between problem-solving and design is that “problem-solving merely involves seeking a solution from a set of existing solutions, whereas design involves producing a completely new solution“. In that point of view, it seems logical that consultancies and other service organizations which praise design-thinking seek solutions – that’s what their clients ask them for. But what if innovative service providers could offer a production of completely new solutions?

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Co-creation (especially online co-creation) allows businesses to get very diverse and creative point of views to existing problems

The above picture indicates that co-creation is one powerful tool for this type of innovative thinking approach. Another approach to reconcile creativity and rationality has been developped by French researchers: an innovative design approach called C-K Theory. C-K comes from Concept and Knowledge, two “spaces” that designers and/or engineers can to adress to come up with really new ideas. It’s kind of difficult to explain, that’s why it’s useful to take an example. In a great post called “How to create unknown objects“, Nicolas Bry illustrates this with the example of a chair.

  1. The creative challenge is to design something that is cheaper and lighter than a chair but will have similar function, “a chair that is not a chair”; lighter brings us into “undecidable space” because you can always build a lighter chair…
  2. The concept starts fom knowledge on camping chair where small and light are usual properties; applying expansive partitioning, we branch out the concept according to leg attribute:  a chair can have 1 leg, 2 legs, … or no leg !
  3. Back in K, what does a chair with no leg mean? I need to prototype it, which gives some learnings on sitting equilibrium on the floor!
  4. Back in C: going down the tree structure brings us to assess equilibrium concept: equilibrium can be achieved by man, entity or man + entity. Man performing equilibrium is like Yoga.
  5. I select the combination of man+entity to perform equilibrium and go back to K: it brings me to the knowledge of setting in a swing. The concept becomes feasible, and it actually exists: the chair that is not a chair was designed by Vitra.

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Design-thinking was a major step in pushing creative thinking into businesses, and is probably only a starting point in a wider trend. Forest & Faucheux article does not only highlight the importance of creativity for innovation, but also calls for a rethinking of engineering processes and of engineering students’ education. By adopting a “Pedagogy of Adventure“, they call aspiring engineers to explore new possibilities and think beyond their usual frame… because “large numbers of ideas allow organizations to reach levels of performance that are otherwise unachievable“. This phrase calls upon a rather Western approach of creativity, but it highlights today’s hunger for innovation!


About Yannig

Yannig is PhD student at La Sorbonne (Paris) and Research Fellow at eYeka, responsible for community research and communication. Interested in marketing, innovation and design-related topics, he also loves to free his head by cycling, running, reading or drawing. Yannig tweets under @YannigRoth and blogs at http://www.yannigroth.com
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2 Responses to How we could reconcile “creativity” with “rationality” to spur innovation

  1. Bry says:

    Nice analysis, and thanks for the quote which is an extract from André Le Masson lecture.
    About the interweaving of creativity and rationality, left brain & right brain myth, the following article “How Aha! realyy happens” is awsome: http://www.strategy-business.com/article/10405?pg=0

  2. Pingback: [Re]Think » Challenge what you think you know » The Case Against Rational Creativity

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