wisdom or oxymoron?
Kazem Chaharbaghi and Sandy Cripps
University of East London, London, UK
Purpose – The purpose of the paper is to demonstrate ways in which collective creativity and
individual creativity exist in an “and/both” rather than in an “either/or” relationship.
Design/methodology/approach – This study uses and interrelates a number of dualities using
“metalectics”, the principal task of which is to balance seemingly conﬂicting opposites by revealing
them and locating them on their strengths.
Findings – Collective creativity, as a bridging metaphor, renders itself as an oxymoron, both literally
and as an outcome: where individual and collective creativity are dichotomised, diversity is treated as
a constraint, and collaboration is confused with coordination.
Research limitations/implications – An essential of creativity is deviancy, and that this has to be
valued to bring about change.
Practical implications – Heterogeneous communities of practice should not be confused with
homogenous communities of practice because this causes artiﬁcial dialogues that destroy the very
creativity they claim to ignite.
Originality/value – The paper offers an alternative way of thinking, arguing for a move away from
simpliﬁed, unbalanced perspectives of creativity that focus on one-dimensionality and asymmetry.
Keywords Collectivism, Communities, Imagination
Paper type Research paper
Although the history of humankind holds many examples of individual creativity that
are conﬁned to the mental labour of a lone genius working in isolation, in an oppressive
social setting that disapproves of deviance, many human achievements, including that
of walking on the moon, have involved the collaboration between many creative
individuals, each with unique experiences, varying interests and different perspectives.
Such heterogeneous communities of interest form naturally in order to meet a
multi-faceted challenge of common concern that cannot be met individually. These
communities differ markedly from and must not be confused with homogenous
communities of practice, whose members specialise and focus on a certain domain
undertaking similar work. Although organisations that ﬁnd themselves in a
performance crisis elevate collective creativity and its control to the top of their
survival agenda, this seemingly easy prize has proved to be illusive. This is strange,
because history in relation to creativity shows that the human race has been able to
imagine the inconceivable and the apparently impossible. The key question is therefore
why collective creativity can be problematic in organisations.
In addressing this question it is important to recognise that creative actions begin
with imagination, which is the driver of change and as a mode of thinking is often
beyond existing knowledge. Imagination in its creative mental state cannot be touched,
tasted, or measured. It has an emotional form before it has a concrete form. Imagination
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Received 2 October 2006
Revised 18 January 2007
Journal of European Industrial
Vol. 31 No. 8, 2007
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited