Sparkling Fountains or Stagnant Ponds: An Integrative Model of Creativity and Innovation Implementation in Work Groups


  • Michael A. West

    Corresponding author
    1. Aston Business School, University of Aston, and Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, UK
      * Address for correspondence: Work and Organizational Psychology, Aston Business School, University of Aston, Birmingham B4 7ET, UK. Email:
    Search for more papers by this author

  • I am grateful to the many colleagues with whom I have had conversations that have influenced my thinking about groups, creativity, and innovation implementation. For commenting on an early draft of this article I thank particularly Nigel Nicholson and Carsten De Dreu, and for their constructive and insightful criticisms, I thank the editor and three anonymous reviewers of this journal.

  • I would add another characteristic—task significance (Hackman & Oldham, 1975). This refers to the importance of the task in contributing to organisational goals or to the wider society. A lifeboat team in a rural coastal area with busy shipping lanes and a health and safety team in a high-risk industry are likely to be highly intrinsically motivated by the significance of their tasks.

  • This relationship is likely to be, to some extent, reciprocal. Available skills within the team will limit the task that can be performed. If the breast cancer care team has no oncologist then some discussions about diagnosis and treatment will have to be held by people outside the team.

  • Below, I explore how diversity influences integrating group processes.

  • Below it is suggested that where task characteristics are such that the team members are highly intrinsically motivated then the requirement for external demands to motivate innovation implementation will be weak.

  • At the extreme of course, high levels of threat may reduce group cohesion and safety when group members feel the capacities of the group are inadequate to manage the threats or demands.

  • Sternberg and Lubart (1996) refer to synthetic and practical contextual qualities of creativity, which include the extent to which ideas escape the bounds of conventional thinking and the persuasiveness of the ideas to those affected by their implementation.

* Address for correspondence: Work and Organizational Psychology, Aston Business School, University of Aston, Birmingham B4 7ET, UK. Email:


Cet article présente une synthèse des recherches et théories qui éclairent notre compréhension de la créativité et de la mise en œuvre de l’innovation dans les groupes de travail. Il semble que la créativité apparaisse essentiellement au cours des premières étapes du processus, avant la mise en œuvre. On étudie l’influence des caractéristiques de la tâche, des capacités et de l’éventail des connaissances du groupe, des demandes externes, des mécanismes d’intégration et de cohérence de groupe. La perception d’une menace, l’incertitude ou de fortes exigences entravent la créativité, mais favorisent l’innovation. La diversité des connaissances et des capacités est un bon prédicteur de l’innovation, mais l’intégration du groupe et les compétences sont indispensables pour récolter les fruits de la diversité. On examine aussi les implications théoriques et pratiques de ces considérations.

In this article I synthesise research and theory that advance our understanding of creativity and innovation implementation in groups at work. It is suggested that creativity occurs primarily at the early stages of innovation processes with innovation implementation later. The influences of task characteristics, group knowledge diversity and skill, external demands, integrating group processes and intragroup safety are explored. Creativity, it is proposed, is hindered whereas perceived threat, uncertainty or other high levels of demands aid the implementation of innovation. Diversity of knowledge and skills is a powerful predictor of innovation, but integrating group processes and competencies are needed to enable the fruits of this diversity to be harvested. The implications for theory and practice are also explored.