Arjan Dewan, a chartered engineer in the professional member grade of the BCS and a consultant at a major bank, said grown-ups can learn from the "natural creativity" of children.
"Invention in IT has been a major development thrust and agent for change," he said. "It is imperative that companies do not neglect the potential of invention in pursuit of stable engineering discipline," said Dewan.
"In addition, the creative process helps engage people in their work and in group participation, and brings a sense of belonging to the organisation.
"Invention is based in creativity. Children are naturally creative: they are not conditioned to look along fixed paths. We need to relearn from childhood and unlearn adulthood."
Dewan explained how team sessions can be compared to a children's playpen approach, as long as you:
- Ensure diversity: the cultures of those participating, their age, gender, experience and knowledge
- Are open to ideas and feelings
- Tolerate ambiguity: the absurd is quite acceptable in child's play
- Allow time: "it takes adults time to open up the unconscious mind - the child - and allow it to take over and work things through"
- Avoid discussion of implementation and other practicalities: this is a child's and a think world
- Remove fear and responsibility.
"Creativity efforts are often unsuccessful because the immediate valuing of contributions inhibits people, as they do not want to look foolish," he said. "So setting up playpen sessions demands attention to some important issues.
"There should be careful consideration of the framing or context: it is important to set the boundary of play.
"There should be comfort and homeliness to enhance psychological security for regressing.
"Playpen time should be treated as special time in a special area: this is play time, so time of day and freedom from work stress are important," Dewan said.
"The selection of participants is important for success: personality clashes and simmering differences brought in from work will drain energy. Reusing the same group is a good idea, as relationships and trust emerge and these can be built on.
"Breaking into smaller groups helps to enhance interaction and creativity. Participants should be allowed to arrange themselves into the smaller groups: this ensures natural allies work together."
Teams seeking to try this approach face hurdles of budgets, schedules and criticisms that there is no guarantee of an outcome, Dewan admitted.
But he added, "Increasingly, it is the creative organisation that has the best chance to survive in a constantly changing competitive landscape."
This was first published in August 2003