“Development of creative and innovative organization – learning in organizational context as starting point: comparison of Estonian and Finnish practices” Stanislav Nemeržitski, MSc, Tallinn University Krista Loogma, PhD, Tallinn University Correspondence address: Department of Applied Creativity Institute of Fine Arts Tallinn University Lai 13 10133 Tallinn Estonia [email protected] Abstract The current study is based on the results of the EU project “CREANOVA: Creative Learning and Networking for European Innovation” (project no: 143725-LLP-2008-ES-KA1SCR; 2008-3596). The aim of the project was to identify factors of transaction between individual and organization, which lead and support learning processes, related to creativity and innovation within organizational context. As a basis for theoretical background of the current study, ecological approach to learning is used. According to this approach, development of individuals within certain environmental(organizational) settings is viewed as a co-constructive process, determined by the complex of relations and connections between the subject and the environment of activity (Kindermann & Valsiner, 1997; Valsiner, 2001). The development is seen as an activity of the subject, transforming the environment, while the environment in turn influences the subject’s development (Bronfenbrenner, 1996; Lyng & Franks, 2002). Based on this approach, theory of expansive learning (Engeström, 2001, 1987) is used to conceptualize learning processes within organizations. Empirical study undertaken was based on 4 theoretical factors of creativity and innovation, identified by Creanova project: need, freedom, and interaction, with environment being as contextual frame, in which processes of learning were taking place. Interaction (both, intra-personal and inter-personal) was seen as part of development and learning process, regardless of cultural differences within organization. These 4 factors were first controlled with quantitative study (n = 507), defining the relations and directions of effect these factors have on innovation and creativity within organizations. Further, set of semi-structured interviews was conducted with representatives of creative and technical field in Estonia and in Finland, in order to identify the perceived meaning that individuals gave to creativity, innovation, their interaction, and the environmental (organizational) factors supporting them. The conducted study was an attempt to compare, how representatives of different organizational cultures perceive learning in terms of creativity and innovation process, how Estonian and Finnish employees carried on innovative activities, and what type of managerial and leadership styles they find most supporting for organizational creativity and innovation. Findings of the current study enable us to better understand how individuals with different cultural background perceive and apply creativity and innovation in the organizational context, and what role leadership and management support play in this. This study provides cross-cultural comparison of meanings people attribute to the factors that can support learning and development within organizational context. Theoretical background Human development within certain environmental (or, in case of this study’s focus, organizational) context can be seen as a co-constructive process, in which complexity of connections between the subject and the environment, determine the nature and the outcomes of these processes (Kindermann & Valsiner, 1995). Within the terms of ecological approach to acquiring new knowledge, learning can be seen as reciprocal, mutual influence process between individual and the environment (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1996; Lyng & Franks, 2002). Through all 4 distinctive levels of human activities (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), individuals affect and transform the environment around them, whereas on every level environment in turn influences individuals’ development: At micro-level, learners and teachers can be seen as actors, whereas learning process can be characterized as interaction process between individuals. Input on this stage is coming directly from surrounding environment (working or learning context), and the outcome of acquired new knowledge is also directed towards the closest surrounding environmental layer (e.g. organizational setting); At meso-level, we look primarily at organizational and regional factors surrounding the learning process (e.g. possibilities within organizations to support learning, acquiring of novel knowledge, expression of one’s original ideas); At exosystem level, the focus is on connections between different organizations, where the individual is a participant, e.g. culture, organizational framework. This echoes with Engeström’s (2001) principle of multi-voicedness of activity systems, i.e. the fact that any activity system of an individual is always a community of multiple points of view, interests and traditions; it is a source of innovation at a crossing point of individual’s roles within different contexts; Finally, macro-level serves as a societal or state level framework, which organizes and influences organizations, in which individuals do learn and obtain novel knowledge. Engeström, Engeström and Kärkkäinen (1995) used term “boundary crossing” to illustrate the complexity and inter-relatedness of different social activity systems, while producing outcome of individual (or collective) development. Konkola (2001, 2003) introduced term “boundary zone” to describe the territory where different activity systems meet, giving thus possibility to transfer novel ideas, original thoughts and innovative solutions from different systems, and resulting in cross-domain development. As Konkola, TuomiGröhn, Lambert, and Ludvigsen (2007) showed, it is possible to construct such “boundary zone” between learning and working environments, promoting thus creativity within both systems. Transfer of learning and knowledge is accompanied with born of innovative, original ideas in the contact points of border zones of different activity systems (Engeström, 1999; Tuomi-Gröhn, 2003). This type of learning can be conceptualized as expansive learning, where all participants are engaged, and new knowledge is expanded from workplace to multiple levels, involving both individual and organizational layers (Engeström, 2001; Kerosuo & Toiviainen, 2011). As theoretical starting point of this study, ideas of expansive learning are used, based on the ecological approach described above. As Engeström (2001) stated, learning and knowledge transfer occur only in interconnected activity systems, whereas conflict (being a part of communicational processes), or inner contradiction, plays crucial part. Finlay (2008) also brought up critical incident as one of cornerstones for expansive learning, bridging educational setting and workplace. In the circumstances of activity systems (i.e. organizational setting for an individual), learning can become expansive transformation (Engeström, 2001). Qualitative transformations take time, and during the cycle of transformation, some participants of the organization may deviate from established norms (ibid). These transformations can take form of reinterpretation or adaptation of obtained knowledge (Eraut, 1994; Finlay, 2008). Expansive transformation takes place, when both motive and object of the activity is re-conceptualized so that it embraces radically wider (broader, more innovative, inclusive) range of possibilities, compared to the previous/ traditional mode of the activity (Engeström, 1987, 2001). In terms of working environment, boundary zones and boundary crossing can occur simultaneously, providing on one hand possibility to learn novel ways of doing things, and on the other hand, giving chance for participants to act as advocates and agents of change (Säljö, 2003). Several authors (e.g. Tuomi-Gröhn & Engeström, 2003; Russell, 1998; Säljö, 2003) stress that in order to effectively produce and stimulate knowledge transfer, resulting in novel ideas and development, a complex activity system (organization) must provide learning opportunities for its members. Therefore learning within workplace context is crucial prerequisite for both individual and organizational creativity and innovation. The context of the present study is within theoretical and empirical findings of CREANOVA project (Creative Learning and Networking for European Innovation, project no: 143725-LLP-2008-ES-KAS1SCR; 2008-3596). In the heart of theoretical background for the project’s empirical studies, is the understanding that so-called creative, or in terms of Engeström’s (1999, 2001) theory expansive learning, is in the heart of every innovation. According to Loogma (2004), large part of such learning includes work-based, i.e. it is workplace-based and includes number of work-related problems to solve. This, in turn, requires and stimulates interaction of individuals with different background, making innovative processes possible (Mumford, 2002; Mumford & Moertl, 2003). Several researches in creativity, both individual and organizational, (e.g. Cropley & Cropley, 2009; Sternberg, 2003/2007; Sahlberg, 2009; Piirto, 2004) emphasize importance of collaboration, intraorganizational communication and interaction. Sahlberg (2009) stresses importance of cooperative learning, which enables creativity in the classroom settings – however, this can be projected to organizational context as well: only in terms of collaboration and cooperative learning can boundary crossing occur, allowing exchange of knowledge between participants of the system. Based on numerous researches in individual and organizational creativity and innovation processes (e.g. Cropley, 2001/2009; Cropley & Cropley, 2009; Sternberg, 2003/2007; Hämäläinen & Heiskala, 2007; Amabile et al., 1996), the following four factors were indicated for promoting creativity and innovation on the organizational level (CREANOVA, 2010): 1. Need for innovation is seen as basis for innovation processes, both for individual and for organization. This can be formulated as genesis of problems, survival strategy, motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic), any kind of shortcoming, personal need or collective need to overcome barrier. 2. Freedom for innovation can be manifested through such indicators as possibility to make mistakes, risk-taking, involvement into decisionmaking processes, elimination of hierarchies, mutual trust, and selfmanagement. 3. Interaction in the innovative process involves both communication inside the organization and outside of it, both formal and informal, constant interaction between different actors and system parts, all forms of feedback, and also communication with outside world (e.g. networks, cooperation etc.). 4. And finally, environment as the context, in which processes of creativity and innovation take place. Besides organizational framework, environment includes what Bronfenbrenner (1979) placed into exosystem-level – other organizations, society, culture in larger scale. Initial relations between different theoretical anchors of creativity and innovation are presented on Figure 1. Three individual and collective component – need, freedom, and interaction – are actively supported (or inhibited) by environmental socio-cultural setting, in which organization is active. Learning is considered as crossing point of above-mentioned three factors, enabling thus individuals within particular organization to cross boundaries/ domains and through interaction obtain novel skills and knowledge. Figure 1. Theoretical factors of creativity (Source: CREANOVA, 2010) In order to test and critically overview the proposed model, set of empirical studies was designed and carried out. Given complexity of Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological approach and adopted Engeström’s (2001, 1987) theory of expansive learning, it was crucial to identify possible interconnections between above-mentioned factors, their mutual effect in terms of novelty production and innovation-supportive learning processes – which in current theoretical model were hidden within the generalized four factors. Thus, the aim of the project was to identify factors of transaction between individual and organization that can lead towards and support creative learning processes, and which are related to creativity and innovation within organizational context. As several European countries were involved, one of the research questions was, whether there exist cross-cultural similarities in defining creativity-supportive learning environment in organizational settings. The aim of the current study is however going further in investigating, how representatives of different organizational cultures in different countries (Estonia and Finland) perceive learning in terms of support for their creativity and innovation in their workplace. Estonia, as post-Soviet country with less than 25 years of free-market and democracy experience, is compared to Finland, Scandinavian country with rich traditions of free-market, democracy and independence – the comparison is to reveal, if there are similarities in assessing importance of learning within organizational context. Empirical research Quantitative study As the first stage of empirical studies discussed here, online questionnaire was distributed in 4 countries (UK, Basque Country, Finland, and Estonia), with total returned responses of 506. The main objective of this questionnaire was to verify initial four factors originally identified in Discovering Vision (2010), as well as to understand and define the conditions under which creativity takes place in organizations – and how this leads to innovative practices in the organizational setting. The questionnaire was constructed to mark and measure organizational climate (incl. degrees of autonomy, communication with colleagues, level of decision-making, perceived level of freedom, organizational rules, etc.), perceived experience with creativity and innovation trainings (e.g. different techniques), learning in the workplace (e.g. formal and informal, learning by doing, learning by mistakes), as well as facts about the organization (size, profile etc.). Both quantitative and qualitative sample was divided in two groups – representatives of technical field (i.e. production, telecom, IT, construction, energy firms), and creative field. According to Kimpeler & Georgieff (2009), creative industries are at crossing points of arts, culture, business and technology, their economic activities rest on individual creativity, and they predominantly produce intellectual property. Thus, individuals working in such domains as art, advertising, copyrighting, theatre entrepreneurs etc., were considered as representatives of creative field. The sample and demographics were examined first, so that the nature of respondents can be understood. Factor analysis was then conducted in order to confirm whether originally identified factors would be reproduced through the questionnaire data. Following the factor analysis, demographic differences were examined according to factor in an attempt to gain better understanding of the specific demographic characteristics of the sample. The relationships between identified factors were also examined as well as interactions between them. Finally, two different types of regression analysis were conducted in order to address two questions: • What makes an environment creative and innovative? • What motivates individuals to be creative and innovative in their workplace? Results on factor analysis are illustrated in Figure 2. Figure 2. Factor analysis of questionnaire data (Source: CREANOVA, 2011) There were three significant deviations from the initially proposed theoretical model. First, factor that was initially identified as Environment, during factor analysis was divided into separate factors: Environment 1, describing organizational characteristics (such as size, field etc.), and Environment 2, describing individuals’ perception of how creative and innovative this particular organization was. Second change compared to initial model concerned need as separate factor – during the course of factor analysis, it did not come up as separate factor, rather as integrated part of several other factors (freedom, social interaction). This, however, might be result of constructing questionnaire or perception of this factor by respondents. Finally, experience in creativity and innovation training came up as additional factors, although initial model did not contain them. However, correlation between factor Social Interaction and both Experience factors suggests that at least part of novel knowledge related to creativity and innovation is linked to communication, both formal and informal, i.e. formal and informal learning strategies: the more individuals interact with colleagues within organization and through networks outside it, the more experience in creativity and innovation techniques, knowledge and training they get. And therefore the more they are capable of crossing boundaries of their usual knowledge/ activities scope, making thus innovation possible. Figure 3 illustrates the final results of regression analysis (initially, both Environment factors were included, however Environment 1 did not have significant correlations with Freedom, and also two Environment factors did correlate among each other very weakly). Figure 3. Influence of 2 independent factors on Environment 2: Perceived Organizational Creativity and Innovation (Source: CREANOVA, 2011) This model shows that social interaction and freedom, in combination with each other, affect Creativity and Innovation of (Organizational) Environment positively. The stronger social interaction is in an environment (the more workers share the same values, the more humor influences the work place, the more influential issues of equality and diversity are in the workplace), and the more freedom there is (the more people are autonomous to make choices, the more influential personal initiative is in the work place etc.), the more creative and innovative environments are – or at least are perceived by people who work in them. Social interaction and perceived freedom stimulate transformation of the organization – individuals perceive more freedom to obtain knowledge and implement it into their everyday working practices. Thus crossing boundaries of their everyday/ usual activities, participants of organization can expand domains of their knowledge, practice and experience, and turn their organization into constantly functioning learning environment. As on quantitative stage the separate samples for Estonia (n=80) and Finland (n=159) were not sufficient enough to run additional, country-specific factor and regression analysis, potential differences and similarities between professional life representatives were investigated during qualitative stage of empirical research. Qualitative study For the qualitative part of the study, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with representatives of creative and technical fields of work. In Estonia, 9 persons were interviewed (5 representatives of creative field, 1 of NGO, and 3 from technical field), in Finland 10 persons were interviewed (5 from creative field, 5 from technical). Interviews were transcribed verbatim, and content analysis was conducted in order to identify the categories supporting creative and innovative environment. Categories were reviewed, and conclusive findings regarding initial four factors are presented in Table 1 (“+” indicates occurrence of the sub-category within the national sample, ““ indicates absence of the sub-category within all national answers pool). For all participating countries (besides Finland and Estonia also Basque Country, UK and Italy) there was set of compulsory/ common question that focused on the following topics: 1. Please describe at least one (important?) innovative practice that took place in your working environment? (alternatively: please describe one success and one failure case of innovation) 2. Please describe the process of this innovative practice? - What made this (these) particular practice(s) innovative, why? - What were the reasons, why the innovation has been undertaken? - Was this case successful? Why? - What were the main obstacles and supportive circumstances/ facilitators for innovation? 3. Thinking of the innovation process/case you described, according to your opinion: What kind of environment is necessary for innovation? 4. Thinking of the innovation process/case you described, according to your opinion: What kind of atmosphere is necessary for innovation? 5. What role did learning play in the process of described innovation? (i.e if there are any connections between learning in this working environment and innovation processes, and what these connections are like?) 6. During the innovation process: What did you learn about the factors and conditions promoting creativity and innovation? In addition, every participating country had possibility to focus on their specific area of interest. In case of Estonia and Finland, role of education, learning and their connection to processes of creativity and innovation were such additional topics. Analysis of initial theoretical factors emerged from interviews indicated several differences between Estonian and Finnish respondents, although overall perception of factors supporting creativity and innovation was rather similar. In general, Estonian respondents (both representatives of creative and technical field) tended to emphasize organizational, leadership-oriented values – e.g. necessity of feedback for one’s work, certain leadership style, supportive hierarchy in the organization. Finnish representatives of professional life, on the other hand, indicated greater importance of individual characteristics, that nevertheless might lead to organizational improvement – e.g. personal development, self-fulfillment, adaptation of novel ideas within workplace, etc. On one hand Estonian and Finnish professionals were both pro-active, seeing entrepreneurship-minded and challenging environment as supportive for creativity and innovation. However, Estonians emphasized courageous leadership style as crucial part of pro-innovative environment, and at the same time valued possibility to switch working environments. This may partially be due to popularity and state support for self-employment, which makes it easy and natural to work from every kind of environment (home, café, any other public place). Comparing responses on factor Freedom, there was the biggest difference between Estonian and Finnish representative of professional working life. Whereas Finns tended to encourage self-control and realize connection between individually perceived freedom and organizational wellbeing, Estonians seemed to value individual freedom in organizational context extremely high. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is traditions and national experience in business and professional life: Estonia only regained independence from the USSR in 1991, and in order to become part of Western society, the state had to take extremely radical and fast steps. Therefore although proclaimed and pursued values are already in-line with those of e.g. Finland, the actual desire and perceived necessary characteristics of working environment are just in the phase of transformation. International cooperation is also one of the indicators that Finnish working life representatives seemed to emphasize more than Estonians. Short experience in international relations and cooperation is possible explanation for that, and also small number of international big corporations, compared to Finland. Factor Need Categories, based on results of analysis Estonian sample Finnish sample Customer needs and demands + + Cost-efficiency, ease, superiority, comfort + + Cultural cooperation with other countries Ambitions, vanity, self-motivation, trying new ideas Need to respond to failure + + + + - Employment insecurity - + Solving the problem, overcoming problem - + Possibility to try and make mistakes Responsibility for one’s decisions + - + Possibility to take risks + + Control of time in one’s own hands + + Possibility to promote and influence innovation - + Supportive atmosphere (flexibility, tolerance, support) + + Creative leaders, space, room, managers - + Self-fulfillment - + Possibility to travel and adopt new ideas - + Personal development connected with organizational development - + Negative aspect of freedom Informal Too much freedom as hindering creativity and innovation - + Supportive atmosphere (trust, openness, clarity, respect) + + Formal Supportive hierarchy + - Feedback for accomplishments + - Transparency in relations and communication + + Right proportion of different people (level of education, creative potential etc.) + - Networking (joint projects with outsiders, communication outside organization) + + International cooperation - + Courageous leadership style + - Within organization (supporting work, motivating etc.) + + Possibility to switch/ change environments + - Sufficient funding + + Negative effect of over-funding (hindering creativity) + - State support + + Social exchange, environment open for ideas + + Challenging, active, entrepreneurship-minded environment + + Emerging from outside of organization Emerging from individual Freedom Emerging from inside of organization Individual level of freedom Collective level of freedom Intra-organizational level Interaction Extra-organizational level Environment Leadership-related factors Physical environment State/ societal level Sub-categories, based on results of analysis Table 1. Interview analysis results: four theoretical factors (Source: CREANOVA, 2011) Learning and education, along with their possible influence on creativity and innovation in organizational context, were also extracted from the interviews. In Table 2 results of analysis on interconnections between creativity and innovation, and learning are presented. Factor Categories, based on results of analysis Sub-categories, based on results of analysis Estonian sample Finnish sample Learning Informal learning methods Learning by doing + + Peer-learning (learning by observing) + - Field visits during course of education - + Lifelong learning, continuous learning - + Everyday interaction as source of creativity + - Creativity is actually learning (citation from one interview) + - Successful implementation of learnt material as further motivator for learning and practicing + - Teachers’ role in education - + Blocks of creativity and innovation in educational programs - + More real life practice to formal education - + Crossing boundaries of formal education - + Possible negative effect of formal education on creativity + - Essence of learning and relation to creativity-innovation Formal education/ learning Table 2. Interview analysis results: learning and creativity/ innovation (Source: CREANOVA, 2011) The main difference between Estonian and Finnish representatives of working life seemed to be in the understanding and perceiving the concept of formal education. Whereas Estonians tended to take it critically, often seeing even as obstacle to creativity (e.g. university courses support learning “where to check the answer”), Finns saw education as possibility for lifelong learning, implementing new strategies and real life practices. At the same time, Estonians emphasized importance of peer-learning, learning by doing and role of interaction as valuable source of information. Finns, on the other hand, emphasized personal characteristics of teachers as possible motivator and thus supporting factor for creativity and innovation. Crossing boundaries between educational settings and workplace also was present in Finnish responses, whereas Estonian responses did not stress this factor. Results of the interview analysis, serving as illustrative material and supportive data set for quantitative research, show that expansive learning model proposed by Engeström (1987, 2001) can be applied on every level of ecological model of learning within organizational context. On the micro-level, according to Bronfenbrenner (1979), one’s thoughts, ideas and contacts with immediate surrounding environment take shape. Bi-directional influences shape individual’s learning, acquiring of novel knowledge, and at the same time process of innovation and creativity, during which these novel ideas are returned back to the organization. Individual expansion, crossing the boundaries gives possibility to implement ideas from one field to another, still within organizational context. On the meso-level, ideas that an individual participants of the activity system have spread and implemented, shape and develop the organization as such. Expansive learning promotes transfer from different aspects of individual’s life to his/her professional experience and development. Everyday interaction seen as source of novelty and potential innovation enables participants to test and further implement knowledge they have obtained elsewhere. At the same time, organization itself becomes a learning environment, where all participants share their so-called private experiences, thus shaping and developing organization. Finally, at exo- and macro-levels, organizational changes, initiated down below by a single participant, transform into global innovations, at the same time influencing individual participants through different aspects of organizational life, but mostly through learning. Conclusions The aim of this paper was three-fold: (1) to investigate factors that influence creativity and innovation supportive factors within organizational context; (2) to emphasize role of learning within organization to promote creativity and innovation; and (3) to investigate potential differences between perception of Finnish and Estonian organizational environments by their participants in terms of supporting creativity and innovation. Ecological approach (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) was taken as a basis, which in turn Engeström’s (1987, 2001) expansive learning concept was coupled with. Expansive learning occurs when knowledge is generated in the cross-section of at least two domains, in organizational settings workplace and learning environments (Engeström, 2001). With current study the attempt was made to illustrate, how culture and macro-level environment (history, traditions, past) shape and transform knowledge expansion from one domain to another. It is no surprise that Finnish representatives of creative and technical field demonstrated high eagerness and ability for crossing boundaries with learning in organizations; whereas Estonians showed this tendency at much smaller scale. Cultural, historical and traditional background plays crucial role in understanding the implications of such findings – Estonia has regained its independence only 21 years ago, therefore business experience and entrepreneurship tradition are only beginning to reshape themselves. However, on the global scale, Estonia has to compete and be part of world with centuries-long tradition of free-market and democracy. Hence the difference in perceiving several aspects of organizational settings, be it role of leader, links with (formal) education, or perceived importance of individual freedom within organization. Clear understanding of differences in professional/ organizational perception, aspirations and starting points would make it easier to understand also mentality of participants in different activity systems (i.e. organizations). Cooperation with international partners, a category that Finnish respondents emphasized, cannot be possible without knowing and accepting partner’s background. Studies like the present might just help to pin the differences, while at the same time working on similarities to make globalizing world even more tolerant, open, transparent, and thus supportive for novel ideas. The present study has its limitations, which should be pointed out. First, the sample of empirical studies conducted was not extensive enough to make farstretching conclusions. Both in quantitative and qualitative study number of respondents is rather small, therefore all results and generalizations should be made very carefully. Second, the method might also impose limitations on the results presented in the paper. The questionnaire used in the quantitative research phase might have set it’s boundaries on the themes emerged, e.g. need for innovation, which in literature of creativity and innovation is named among the most important factors (also came out in the interviews), did not occur during analysis of quantitative data. Finally, choice of theoretical background for the study might also have its effect on the interpretive power of this paper. Nevertheless, cultural differences in learning within organizational settings can be approached from different angles. This paper presented one possibility to bridge, or expand knowledge from one domain (i.e. creativity and innovation in organizations) to another (differences between nations/ cultures in assessing organizational settings). Expansive learning should offer lot of opportunities for that. References: Amabile, T. 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