The contemplation of inspiration has been a popular topic for many thousands of years. During this time public perception of the creative process has shifted.
Originally creativity was seen as a precious gift given to few people. Now, it is generally accepted that everyone is creative, but that most people block their connection to this capacity.
Given that creativity is a universal talent, writing a book about it which is specifically focused on information systems professionals may seem rather counterintuitive. However, as is often the case in creative thinking, opposing the current paradigm can produce valuable results.
Professor Couger's interest in creativity was sparked by the results of a Delphi study which he conducted with a group of company chief information officers. One of the key issues the group identified was the lack of creativity among information systems personnel.
A subsequent literature review showed that in the entire history of IS research, only five significant articles had been published on the subject. This contrasts with over 4,000 articles in five other disciplines.
This book represents an attempt to introduce the concepts and techniques of creativity to undergraduate IS students, and to provide a solid rationale for its use in systems development. Overall the book meets both objectives.
There are almost as many creativity techniques as there are practitioners. This complicates matters for new students and makes the subject area appear far more complex than it is.
However, more than 40 years ago Alex Osborne and Sid Parnes developed an approach to creativity which has come to be known as Creative Problem Solving. CPS has been adopted in many different types of organisations.
Professor Couger has chosen to use this model and adapt it to meet the needs of the IS community. The book includes dozens of examples where CPS has been successfully used in an IS environment. For those people who are sceptical of its value, concrete successes provide considerable reassurance.
CPS consists of five key stages which move from becoming aware of a problem, through to implementing an action plan. The book explains the process in general terms and then devotes a chapter to each of the stages. Considerable space has been devoted to detailing the techniques available to the students, and each chapter finishes with a self test on the key concepts.
In many ways the structure of the book reflects the structured development methodologies beloved by IS professionals. I suspect the similarity is far from accidental.
Couger devotes a chapter to the subject of "improving the environment for creativity". This includes a number of examples illustrating how sceptical IS managers are of creative thinking. By presenting the information in a structured manner, the book enables advocates to introduce these ideas as "just another method". The reported research included in the book suggests that organisations would gain a substantial return on investment by adopting CPS in their systems development.
Unfortunately, the very structured nature of the book leads to my one criticism. Because CPS is presented as a methodology, students are likely to perceive creativity as something which fits into tightly defined segments of a project's life cycle. If this happens the individual and the organisation will be the poorer for it.
The pace of change in many organisations is now so fast that the traditional model of "thaw, change, freeze" is becoming an increasing liability. All members of a team need to perceive discontinuities and anomalies as potential sources of new ideas, whenever they occur. This requires an attitude of continuous curiosity which fuels continuous creativity. By presenting CPS in such a structured way, Couger conveys the subject as more rigid than I believe is appropriate. Having said that, IS students - the main audience for this book - will be very familiar with a systems approach. Adopting the same style to explain creativity may therefore serve to open a channel of communication.
I have no hesitation in recommending this book to the IS community and to the business world at large. It is an excellent guide to creativity in general and CPS in particular. However, lecturers who are considering using this text in their classes may like to add some additional works to broaden their students understanding. For example, Roger von Oech has written several amusing and informative books which focus more on developing one's personal creativity. John Kao's recent book Jamming provides a more inspirational - although less detailed - guide to developing the creative company. Kao's book also includes information about the use of technology to support creativity. Given that Couger's book is aimed at the IS community it is perhaps surprising that his work did not cover this important new area.
Andy Burnett is co-director of the Centre for Creativity, Cranfield School of Management.
Creativity and Innovation
Author - J. Daniel Couger
ISBN - 0 7895 0109 0
Publisher - International Thomson Publishing
Price - £11.50
Pages - 304