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When Sparks Fly: Igniting Creativity in Groups Hardcover – August 30, 1999

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 242 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (August 30, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0875848656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0875848655
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #890,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Want to fire up creativity in your company? When Sparks Fly just might be the fuel you're looking for. Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap describe a method that can help people become more innovative and better at teamwork. "Whether you lead a group of three in a nonprofit foundation or 300,000 in a Fortune 500 business, the basic process of creativity is the same," write Leonard, a Harvard Business School professor, and Swap, a Tufts University dean. The process involves five steps: selecting the right mix of people to spark creativity; identifying the problem needing novel ideas; developing alternatives; taking time to consider choices; and selecting one option.

Leonard and Swap bolster their ideas with real-life examples of corporate creativity and analysis of dozens of psychological studies about human innovation. The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), for instance, generates breakthrough ideas by teaming up such diverse people as artists, anthropologists, and computer scientists. And to support diversity's role in creativity, they cite a 1992 study of 199 bank CEOs. The research found that top management teams are more innovative if they include people with varying expertise. Each of the book's chapters begins with a fictional management scenario and concludes with a summary of key points. It also includes chapters on designing the best physical and psychological environments for igniting new ideas. When Sparks Fly is a good tool for managers and others interested in fanning the flames of creativity. --Dan Ring


"Managers who want to make a difference in their work environment should put When Sparks Fly on their must-read list." -- National Productivity Review, Winter 1999

"The insights in this lively book could turbo-charge your team (and maybe even your career)." -- Fortune, September 27, 1999

"Will ignite sparks for management teams looking to light the creative fire." -- ForeWord, September 1999

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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See all 8 customer reviews
It is a rare business book: accessible, fresh and realistic.
Allegra Young
Overall, this book seeks to leave you with the idea that creativity, while an inherit ability to some, can also be thought of as a process.
Nancy Kerper
Chapter 1 draws out some principles, defines creativity and innovation for the purpose of the book and outlines the creative process.
Bill Godfrey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
There are many books now available on the general subject of "creativity" but relatively few on the subject of "group creativity." Leonard and Swap have selected an appropriate title for theirs. As they explain, if you create the appropriate physical and psychological environments for a group, creative "sparks" can "fly"...perhaps igniting a department, a division or even an entire organization. For whatever reasons, others do not share my high regard for this book. So be it. What I expected -- and what it delivers -- is a solid conceptual framework within which to generate and then sustain collegial creativity. If you've read Robert Fritz's The Path of Least Resistance for Managers, you are already aware of his assertion that an organizational structure can be designed for success. Leonard and Swap agree with Fritz, not only that such a design is possible but also that it is imperative. Their book consists of six chapters:
What Is Group Creativity?
Creative Abrasion
Generating Creative Options
Converging on the Best Options
Designing the Physical Environment
Designing the Psychological Environment
These chapters are followed by several pages of Notes and a superb Bibliography. Their concluding thoughts reiterate that "creativity is a process -- and can be encouraged and influenced....Thinking of creativity as a process removes, we hope, some of the mystery -- and the temptation to step back from the challenge....Creativity, like learning, is not only a process but an attitude. An attitude that promotes creativity is a kind of alertness to innovation opportunities -- a constant mental challenge to routine and openness to change....
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Allegra Young on June 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Innovation in the workplace is difficult to achieve for all organizations. Most businesses do not have a resident genius, but rely on the creativity of many people over multiple disciplines. Managing these different perspectives and expectations can be a nightmare. Risks of alienation, creating winners and losers and outright failure inhibit even the most self-assured manager. Within the first 15 pages of the book the authors, Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap, introduce Ken Iverson, the chairman of Nucor Steel who reported that, "when his company took on a new, extremely high-risk creative project, he slept like a baby -- he woke up every two hours crying!"
According to the authors, group creativity requires thoughtful preparation, cultivation of different options, time to reflect and careful culling of the "right" ideas. Each step in the process will either energize the team to work harder or become part of a demoralizing and fractious process. As Leonard and Swap write, "Two (or more) heads are better than one, however, only if (1) there is useful knowledge inside the heads; (2) all that useful knowledge can be accessed; and (3) all that accesssed, useful knowledge can be shared, processed, and synthesized by the group."
While reading the first section, I "borrowed" a legal pad from my spouse to pilfer the numerous creative ideas suggested. By the time I was done, I had filled the entire pad and was writing on the cardboard back, with designs for programs to reward creativity and groundrules for initiating appropriate creative sessions. Just about everything is covered -- from why preppy Tommy Hilfiger can design for urban youth to how Weyerhaeuser created new, cost effective particleboard.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I wanted to like this book, but found it too academic in style, and with not many new ideas. One redeeeming point was an excellent bibliography.
I found it a bit self-serving to have testimonials from other Harvard Business School faculty on the back cover of the book. Could these persons really offer an impartial assessment of a book written by a colleague they see almost every day?
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Kerper on December 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In Leonard and Swap's book, "When Sparks Fly: Igniting creativity in groups," the authors acknowledge that with the right physical and psychological group environment, creativity can easily emerge from all members of a group. This creativity can be brought forth in groups ranging from five to five-thousand. The authors present their views and information in a congenial way, which gives the book a lighter sense. Their overall intention was not to create a guide which would be viewed as mentally cumbersome to absorb, but rather to write a book which bestows fresh ideas upon the reader in a non-technical way.
The book begins by challenging the typical myths associated with creativity, and subsequently proving them to be incorrect. The authors assert that by using certain motivational and managerial techniques, greater overall creativity can be achieved, even by those who would not typically be referred to as the "creative" type.
The chapters cover all of the basics of group formation and management, beginning with basic creative group problems, addressing techniques with which to harness creativity and keep it focused in the right direction, and leaving the reader with the knowledge and motivation to foster the proper environment for the foundation and formation of a creative group. This is achieved through a five-step process defined by the authors as: 1) preparation, 2) innovation opportunity, 3) generation of options, 4) incubation, 5) the convergence on one option. These steps are intuitively arranged and thoroughly explained throughout the course of the book.
Overall, this book seeks to leave you with the idea that creativity, while an inherit ability to some, can also be thought of as a process.
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