When designing creative environments it’s also important to think about the cross-functionality of the individuals involved. Franz Johansson, in his book “The Medici Effect”, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 2006, pointed out the degree to which interdisciplinary insight can create truly unique inventions and innovations. His premise on creativity was that in order for something to be really creative, it must be new and valuable. It also needs to be done in an innovative environment because the creative idea has to become realized. The three elements: new, valuable, and realized, are the foundation for his work. His book gives numerous examples of worthy intersectional ideas.

Franz makes the distinction between two types of ideas. In R&D parlance we normally think of things being either incremental or revolutionary. Franz looks at them as an “idea direction”. One is a directional innovation that improves a product in fairly predictable steps along a well-defined dimension. Intersectional innovations, as Franz defines them, are radical and they change the world in leaps along new directions. They usually pave the way for a new business model or new product. Characteristics of these ideas are that they are surprising, fascinating, represent leaps, open up entirely new fields, generate followers, are a resource or directional innovation that follows them, and affect the world in unprecedented ways. Building project teams with interdisciplinary, trained individuals clearly improve the chance that you’ll end up with a radical or breakthrough idea.

When one joins an organization from college, or when one transfers from one company to another, it isn’t always immediately obvious what the behavioral norm for creativity is within your new organization. Work is done by Battelle Pacific Northwestern Laboratories surveyed in the extent to which companies build project teams and train them in creative endeavors. In this survey, they found an even split between companies that did, and did not, provide team training or teambuilding specifically for cross-functional product development or engineering teams.
Not surprisingly, some inventive environments are negative. An anonymous quote is “the amount a person uses his imagination is inversely proportional to the amount of punishment he will receive for using it”. Teresa Amabile, then at the Department of psychology at Brandeis University, studied the effects of downsizing in the work environment upon creativity and innovation. Not surprisingly downsizing studies found an overall negative impact on the work environment and creativity. A specific finding of interest was that the negative effects may be due more to the instability of a person’s own group and the anticipated downsizing than the actual downsizing event itself. Those organizations wishing to maintain a creative innovation and inventive environment should keep working groups intact and move a downsizing event forward quickly.

The world is clearly moving forward in its understanding and invention and innovation. The tools and techniques for helping an individual or group improve their performance in these areas are becoming well known, but not always practiced. Many companies today still do not employ the best-practices to create and sustain innovative environments.