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Understanding the complex organisational processes that help and hinder creativity and innovation

Sheffield, Rob



Abstract: Understanding the complex organizational processes that help and hinder creativity and innovation. Robert James Sheffield, February 2012.

This study looks at the topics of creativity and innovation and how they are experienced as ordinary, everyday work. In business publications there is much hype and hope around the words “creativity” and “innovation”, but there is also a limited understanding of how creativity and innovation are enacted in organisations. Consequently, academics have stressed the need for ‘opening the black box’ of the firm and understanding how innovation really works (Birdi et al, 2003).
This research uses the Complex Responsive Processes approach to understand the ordinary, everyday experiences of people involved in work which was novel for the organisations concerned. I selected three organisational cases from the health and education sectors. I selected these because, in each case, people were working on complex challenges which had no single, obvious solution and which required the generation and development of new and useful ideas.
The research makes a novel contribution to knowledge in three ways. First, it has been unusual in that it has extended the application of complex responsive processes to understand the processes which impact on creativity and innovation in the health and education sectors. While complex responsive processes thinking has been applied to these sectors before, to my knowledge, this is the first time it has been applied to understand processes impacting on creativity and innovation in these sectors. Second, this research finds a pattern of dynamics between trust and a paradoxical concept of diversity, comprising both sufficient difference and sufficient common-ground between organizational members. In this research, trust was a necessary foundation for the exploration of ideas. However, for risks to be taken and ideas to be implemented, in contexts of high uncertainty and risk, trust alone was insufficient. The quality of conversational life flourished where both trust and diversity were present. Finally, this research makes a methodological contribution through using Stacey’s five areas for focusing attention as a conceptual framework. The use of this framework helps provide a depth of compelling detail and insights which would not have been obtained through traditional lenses from the domains of creativity and innovation. This is the first time this framework for focusing attention has been applied in this way to understanding creativity and innovation in empirical settings.


Sheffield, R. Understanding the complex organisational processes that help and hinder creativity and innovation. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Keywords complex organisational processes, creativity, innovation
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