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Innovation Management – specialisation or generalisation?

One of the topics often debated is the benefit of specialisation over generalisation. To consistently generate a large number of good ideas, is it better to specialise within a field or to vary knowledge amongst a variety of fields?

Creativity can be defined as problem identification and idea generation whilst innovation can be defined as idea selection, development and commercialisation.

There are other useful definitions in this field, for example, creativity can be defined as consisting of a number of ideas, a number of diverse ideas and a number of novel ideas.

There are distinct processes that enhance problem identification and idea generation and, similarly, distinct processes that enhance idea selection, development and commercialisation. Whilst there is no sure fire route to commercial success, these processes improve the probability that good ideas will be generated and selected and that investment in developing and commercialising those ideas will not be wasted.

Specialisation versus Generalisation

One of the topics often debated is the benefit of specialisation over generalisation. To consistently generate a large number of good ideas, is it better to specialise within a field or to vary knowledge amongst a variety of fields?

Sternberg (1999), along with other theorists, argues that in-depth knowledge of a domain does not always lead to good ideas but such knowledge does seem to be a necessary condition for them. Glover (1989) identified only three notably works produced before year ten of a composer’s career, indicating that substantial practice or establishment in the field was initially required. West (1995) points out that the vast majority of gains are made with the further application of what is already known.

However, Einstein said that the hardest thing he had to do was unlearn what he had learned.

Others counter that specialisation leads to path dependency and parochialism.

Still others point out that what is important is a range of tacit knowledge – experience in multiple fields that allows intellectual cross pollination, that is the raw material for good idea generation.

These topics are covered in depth in the MBA dissertation on Managing Creativity & Innovation, which can be purchased (along with a Creativity and Innovation DIY Audit, Good Idea Generator Software and Power Point Presentation) from http://www.managing-creativity.com.

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Kal BishopFree Reprint Articles, MBA

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Kal Bishop is a management consultant based in London, UK. He has consulted in the visual media and software industries and for clients such as Toshiba and Transport for London. He has led Improv, creativity and innovation workshops, exhibited artwork in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London and written a number of screenplays. He is a passionate traveller. He can be reached on http://www.managing-creativity.com.



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