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Organizations NEED a Technology of Foolishness

March (1976) argued that organizations need a “technology of foolishness’’ to counteract the prevailing standard mode of operation that involves an over-reliance on what he called “the technology of rationality.” While appreciating the undeniable benefits of organizational rationality, March identified its limitations and argued that organizations in certain situations need to supplement this rationality with foolishness. A technology of foolishness allows organizations to suspend organizational objectives, exposing themselves to new experiences, and different perspectives which enables organizational members to experiment and discover. However, this sensible foolishness requires the explicit permission to behave less consistently and less goal oriented.

According to March (1976), the technology of rationality is based on the primacy of rationality, that the appropriateness of action is determined by to what extent the action relates to pre-determined organizational objectives. A technology of rationality presupposes purpose for action, that action is directed by preexisting goals. This rational approach maintains that organizational actions should be a result of a preexisting set organizational objectives, and should be derived from a solid understanding and consideration of expected outcomes and future consequences. Acting rationally, organizations do not take action based on intuition, revelation or emotion or with ambiguous goals and unknown outcomes. Rational action begins with clear goals based on existing preferences and values, and a preexisting understanding of the world. These assumed static goals guide data collection and insight, on which actions based on the expected results are then chosen.

In contrast, the technology of foolishness accepts that, rather than being predetermined, purpose can also be of a transitional nature and emerge from action. Sometimes actions need to precede purpose. The technology of foolishness encourages ambiguity and fluidity of action; as opposed to insisting on consistency and prediction. The technology of foolishness also allows organizations to relax the primacy of functional rationality, to temporarily suspend logic, reason, and intentionality, and promote an openness to new actions, objectives and understandings.

March (1976) argued that society heavily rewards consistent rationality. Influential members of society such as organizational leaders therefore have a powerful overlearning of rationality. This emphasis of rationality inhibits development. To overcome this position, organizations need to encourage experimentation and the experience of doing things for which there is no rational reason. Asking how organizations might escape the logic of reason, March proposed playfulness as a feasible alternative. Outlining play as a temporary, but deliberate relaxation of rules, it allows for exploration of behavior and knowledge that does not fit the standard rational mode of operation. Play relaxes the ordinarily strict insistence on purpose and predefined outcomes, and enables organizational members to act irrationally in order to explore alternatives. He argued that playfulness is an instrument of organizational intelligence which is grossly overlooked by organizational leaders.

In a later article building on the previous ideas, March (1991) explained that organizations need to balance exploitation with exploration (which includes organizational play):
Exploration includes things captured by terms such as search, variation, risk taking, experimentation, play, flexibility, discovery, innovation. Exploitation includes such things as refinement, choice, production, efficiency, selection, implementation, execution. Adaptive systems that engage in exploration to the exclusion of exploitation are likely to find that they suffer the costs of experimentation without gaining many of its benefits. They exhibit too many undeveloped new ideas and too little distinctive competence. Conversely, systems that engage in exploitation to the exclusion of exploration are likely to find themselves trapped in suboptimal stable equilibria. As a result, maintaining an appropriate balance between exploration and exploitation is a primary factor in system survival and prosperity. (March, 1991, p 71)

Many, especially large bureaucratic organizations lack the technology of foolishness (and its playfulness) and when it does exist they find it difficult to manage (Sarasvathy & Dew, 2005). The concepts of exploration and technologies of foolishness offer a useful theoretical framework to both understand the importance of organizational play and how it may be assimilated into organizational theory.

Play enhances creativity. A brief overview of the research.

Research in organizational psychology has established play as a powerful enhancer of creativity. Playfulness has been identified as an essential aspect of a creative organizational climate and an encourager of a creative and innovative work environment. (Ekvall, 1996; Starbuck & Webster, 1991; Deal & Key, 1998; Costea, Crump, & Holm, 2005; Mainemelis & Ronson, 2006; Statler, Roos, & Victor, 2009; Chang, 2011). Experimental research suggest that play triggers a shift towards a creative state of mind and directly benefits creative performance. The following are some examples of playful activities that have in peer-reviewed articles been reported to boost creativity:

• Playing silly meeting games. (West, Hoff & Carlsson, 2015)
• Temporarily imagining oneself as a child. (Zabelina & Robinson, 2010).
• Framing work tasks as playful (Glynn, 1994)
• Playing table-top role playing games. (Chung, 2012)
• Playing a physically active video games (Hutton & Sundar, 2010)
• Role play games (Karwowski & Soszynski, 2008)
• Lego blocks in the board room  (Statler, Roos, & Victor, 2009; Statler, Heracleous, & Jacobs, 2011).
• Improvisational theater games (West, 2015)
• Tinkering with art supplies and plastic building blocks (Schulz, Geithner, Woelfel, & Krzywinski, 2015; Nisula, Kallio, Oikarinen, & Kianto 2015).

Research has suggested a number of theoretical mechanisms by which play increases creativity. Playing stimulates mental flexibility by expanding perspectives and practicing the use of imagination. Imagining new information, situations and relationships that are not true in the real world is possible in the imaginary world created by play. (Brown, 2009; Russ, 2011). The frivolousness of play, and the excuse to be spontaneous and silly allows individuals to temporarily let go of prestige and correctness which are obstacles to creativity. (West, 2013). Play allows us to temporarily suspend organizational objectives, encouraging experimentation and exploration. A playful climate also fosters risk-taking mistake-making (Dodgson, Gann & Salter, 2005; West, 2015)

Neuropsychologists have found that play develops novelty and behavioral flexibility in both animals and humans (Bateson & Martin, 2013). Arguing that play is a source of behavioral variety, researchers within organizational psychology have suggested that play promotes creativity by giving employees a legitimate excuse to behave in new ways (March, 1991).

A playful work climate encourages employees to be open for the unexpected by generating a surplus of possibilities and allowing them to operate with indeterminate expectations (Roos, Victor & Statler, 2004). Play also exercises non-judgement and openness to others. In the safe boundaries of play, habitual beliefs can be questioned which facilitates a shift of perspectives (Barry & Meisiek, 2010). Research has also shown the introducing play in workplace meetings enhances the  the experienced creative climate in organizational meetings (West, 2014).

Although not yet well-researched, one interesting theory suggests that the element of playful surprise in workplace meetings may partially explain the how play benefits organizational creativity  (Filipowicz, 2006). Also on an different note, unconventional leader behavior (such as standing on furniture, hanging ideas on clotheslines) has been shown to lead to increased creativity among subordinates (Jaussi, & Dionne, 2003).

Forskning om improvisationsteater (improv) och kreativitet i arbetslivet


” Improvisationsteater är kanske det mest effektiva sättet för att få snurr på idéerna och samarbetet i ett arbetslag eller ett chefsteam. Det visar en ny studie som inom kort publiceras vid Lunds universitet. Enligt resultaten ökar nämligen kreativiteten i gruppen med nästan en tredjedel, när medarbetarna spelar improvisationsteater tillsammans.

– Improvisationsteater går ut på att testa gränser och att våga slänga ur sig obearbetade idéer… ”


Kvalitetsmagasin, Svenska Möten, IKEA och NCC

samuel_west_kvalitetsmagasinBranschtidningen KvalitetsMagasinet uppmärksammade nyligen min forskning om kreativitet och innovation. Och tidningen Svenska Möten skrev också om forskningen kring det ultimata konferensrummet.  NCC Property Management och IKEAs personaltidning Readme (som ges ut på 20 språk!!) skriver båda om min forskning och vikten av lekfullhet på jobbet. KUL!!!!

Inte varit så aktiv att underhålla bloggen den senaste tiden. Mest på grund av att jag håller på avsluta min avhandling, och undervisar på Institutionens för psykologi kursen i Kreativitet. samt har startat företaget SUPERLAB tillsammans med en industri designer och en IT-utvecklare. Och alla föreläsningar och workshops…  Men jag ska skärpa mig!

Marknadsföreningen Helsingborg

Den 6 september föreläste jag på marknadsföreningens frukostmöte. Fantastiskt energisk publik av 300 personer som vaknat extra tidigt för att ‘networka’, mingla och gå på föreläsning. Temat var om hur leken främjar kreativitet, och så gjorde jag förstås lite reklam för Superlab eftersom jag är alltid på jakt efter försökspersoner för mina experiment.

Hur främjas kreativtet på jobbet? stimuleras genom ökad frihet, lagom utmaningar, frekvent feedback och genom att matcha arbetsuppgifter och medarbetarens egna intressen och styrkor så bra som möjligt. En stark inre motivation uppstår när man utvecklar/jobbar med något man är intresserad av. Inre motivation är jätte viktigt för kreativiteten. När vi är intresserad av det vi gör och upplever framsteg minskar behovet av externa belöningar (yttre motivation). Theresa Amabiles (en av de största namnen  inom kreativitetsforskning) forskning visar att stressande deadlines och ekonomiska bonusar har en negativ effekt på kreativitet. Istället rekommenderas en bra men framförallt rättvis lön samt stora möjligheter att använda och utveckla sina färdigheter. Också viktigt är att den individuella medarbetaren upplever framsteg. Hon sammanfattar sina 30 år av kreativitetsforskning med att konstatera: när människor arbetar med något som de bryr sig om och tillåts att engagera sig samtidigt som de får uppskattning så flödar kreativiteten – även i kristider.

Kreativa människor behöver inte ha halsduk inomhus

Många tror att det bara är kreativa människor som är kreativa; konstnärstyper och designers och andra som har halsduk inomhus. Detta är nonsens. Alla normalbegåvade människor kan vara kreativa. Vissa människor är mer kreativa än andra men för arbetsgivare är det inte alltid de mest kreativa som är de bästa medarbetarna. Istället för att satsa alltför mycket på att rekrytera kreativa individer så kan organisationer främja existerande medarbetarnas kreativitet. Enligt expertisen behöver organisationer inte göra så värst mycket för att stimulera kreativitet mer än att eliminera eller minimera hinder. Exempel på kreativitets-barriärer kan vara långvarig stress eller överarbete, rädsla för att misslyckas, byråkrati samt en ”men så har vi alltid gjort” mentalitet som så brutalt saboterar nytänkandet. När människor har förutsättningarna och är engagerade i vad de gör så föder det kreativitet och innovation. Det behövs ingen magi eller konstiga kurser för att öka kreativiteten – det ligger i vår natur att vara kreativa och skapa. Arbetsgivaren behöver “bara” se till att riva barriärer till kreativitet och då kommer kreativiteten igång av sig själv. Ok. Detta stämmer inte riktigt. Har det länge funnits ett icke-kreativt klimat på arbetsplatsen så räcker det inte bara att eliminera hindren. Då behöver arbetsgivaren aktivt främja kreativitet. Hur främjas kreativitet?