I read a fascinating article the other day that discussed “The Effects of Repeat Collaboration on Creative Abrasion” (Academy of Management Review) — essentially, if the same group of people work together again and again, what sort of negative impact does it have on the creative process? How can those impacts be mitigated? All-in-all, I found it to be a fascinating read.
When a group gets together for the first time to come up with a creative solution to an issues, everyone is getting to know each other, understand the various skill sets, and are essentially setting up their own social norms within the group. This leads to more ideas being generated, and people more likely to discuss radical solutions. However, after a group keeps working together, the creative process suffers — groups are more likely to revert back to older ideas/norms that they understand, and less likely to introduce new ideas into the dialogue because of how they think those ideas will be received (based on the norms that the group has established). I’ve certainly seen this happen, even amongst peers that I have the greatest amount of respect for. Having the same group of people also means that you’re generally leveraging the same network when collecting information.
To me, this leads to an interesting idea that could be run with regard to renewal initiatives. We see pockets around the government, but we often see the same people involved in the initiatives. The same social norms apply, and many times, the same ideas are brought up again and again. In an effort to be inclusive, sometimes these groups become incredibly exclusive to newcomers who may not adapt quickly to the social hierarchy that has been put into place.
So what’s my idea then?
The Clerk’s Challenge
The Clerk comes up with a list of 10 issues related to PS Renewal that require creative and implementable solutions. Anyone interested in a project puts their name into a hat, and teams of 5 are drawn at random, based on particular skill sets (“We need a finance person, a programmer, etc.”). Each team is given 1 day/week to meet and work on their project, as well as access to Clearspace or other tools.
Timeline: 2 months per project. Once you complete the project, the system will not select you to work with the same group of people again for a preordained amount of time.
I see this type of challenge having a few different benefits:
- New People, New Networks — Hopefully this kind of challenge would bring new people into the fold, expand knowledge networks, etc.
- Provide Solutions — I’ve read a number of papers lately that keep talking about the same issues, and yet solutions seem to either not exist, or are not widely implemented. By having central agency backing for these ideas, with the ideas written by those from across Government along with implementation plans, we might see solutions more widely disseminated —
- PS of the Future — Let’s face it: The future will be about horizontal collaboration across government, and working on multidisciplinary teams is increasingly becoming something that we’re seeing on Statement of Merit Criteria. Let’s start showing what was can actually do.
- Timing — I see more and more projects that have 3 years time lines to address an issue that is pertinent right now. We needs to work faster and use our resources more effectively when coming up with creative solutions. 2 months, with people who are dedicated to the issue, is reasonable (in my mind).
- Service to Canadians — The 10 issues should be ones that immediately help public servants better serve the public. Whether it’s through web-based tools, different ways of service delivery, etc. Serving Canadians better is something that all public servants have a vested interest in doing — it’s sort of our job.
Anywho, just one idea of how I think we can start moving PS Renewal Theory into reality, in an inclusive way that gets more and more public servants involved.