Creative innovation: individual leadership and collective intelligence, by Thomas Paris, HEC Professor of Management

Thomas Paris is Professor of Management at HEC Business School (Managing creation, talents and networks classe) and researcher at GREGHEC. Graduate from Ecole Polytechnique in 1991, he completed a doctorate in 1999. 

Thomas is more specifically focused on innovation management and creation framework: he recently edited “Managing creativity” book,  studying the organisational and institutional dimensions in the processes of creation, and the management of knowledge in organizations.

He kindly accepted to answer a few questions linked to individual leadership and collective intelligence in the creation flow.

1) What has your professional career involved, and what activities do you carry out in relation to innovation management?

As a researcher, I have been working on these issues for about ten years, in partnership with major companies and start-ups.

At the same time, I have developed a research project on the creative industries, based on two intriguing observations: that these sectors, like fashion, video games, architecture or perfumes, which, on the face of it, are different, have a great deal in common; and that there is a surprising ambiguity in these sectors between an extremely collective dimension to these activities, and a primacy of individuality – the designer.

Based on this observation, I came up with the hypothesis that design, as an activity, provided a great deal of structure in terms of the functioning of the organisations in which it had a major role.

And, as part of a comparative approach, I started becoming interested in the functioning of enterprises in these sectors; firms like Pixar, Hermès, Ducasse, etc.

As part of this approach, what is involved is both identifying the issues that these enterprises face, and the responses made, in order to highlight the particularities of creative activity. One of the vehicles for this research is the “Creation” seminar I organised within the context of the École de Paris du Management, and where creative actors spoke, both about their practices and the issues they face.

2) As part of your analyses of design management, you stress the role of the leader: can you specify his or her profile and linkage with the team in charge of the innovation project?

This is the central point of this research: whenever you admit that design also relies on organisations and processes, what is the role of the individual in relation to the collective and the organisation?

When an enterprise like Bernard Loiseau loses its designer and leader, what remains? Therein lies an intriguing paradox: at the time of his death, the teams were convinced that they both knew how to run the firm and that they were lost without him.

The answer that I provide to this paradox is twofold. Firstly, these sectors rely on a subjective dimension that cannot be broken down: they emphasise a personal point of view, and it is the part that the person who is considered to be the designer refuses to delegate. More often than not, this personal point of view is based on an intimate form of expertise that cannot really be formalised.

Secondly, the designer is the one who has a vision, and is personally committed to it. The designer is the one who sets the direction.

In the case of Bernard Loiseau, the firm had lost this direction: it knew how to maintain the same level of quality, but as part of its innovative approach, who was going to provide it with a new (and consequently risky) dimension? While the teams followed Bernard Loiseau because he led them successfully, no one imposed himself naturally in order to inspire this confidence in new directions at the time of his death.

In these enterprises, the leader is both the guarantor of a project’s consistency, and the one who imposes his vision and draws his teams into the risky dynamics involved in innovation.

3) Innovation raises the question of identity: how do you renew your portfolio of innovations without losing your identity? How do you remain creative without denying the past?

The question of identity frequently plays a part in these issues of innovation, and particularly for creative enterprises confronted with the stakes involved in change.

And yet the concept of identity is paradoxical in relation to the concept of innovation: identity is something that does not change. We thereby understand how much the concept can lead to rigor mortis whenever you attempt to formalise it.

I am now convinced that identity must not form the subject of this formalisation work based on a rereading of the history of the enterprise’s products. Identity forms part of the enterprise’s know-how, and may therefore serve various “editorial lines”. It imposes itself naturally, provided that you are well aware of the specific nature of its know-how.

For an enterprise like Bernard Loiseau, identity does not entail having three products lined up, but rather in the know-how held and passed on by teams regarding the “magnification” (development) of tastes.

On this basis, which forms part of the routines and the teams, different styles may be asserted. As part of design, an approach which might consist of providing a “stylistic” framework to a designer would entail a denial of this dimension of the “personal point of view” which I referred to. The right approach consists of saying to the designer – “here is your working tool; design!”

In the same view, Renzo Piano develops a creation tool rather than a stylistic guide: management methods differentiate strongly; thus sharing between architects is a common practice, junior architects are deeplys involved, and in contact with the customer, opennness to a diversity of views prevails.


4) Could you provide us with a presentation of your work entitled “Manager la créativité” (Managing creativity)?

The “Creation Management” book develops the considerations that I have just raised. It endeavours to highlight the particularities of creative activity, the specific stakes that it involves, and the responses provided by enterprises in these sectors.

Going beyond tools, it highlights a real paradigm for innovation management that is very different from the dominant managerial paradigm that is the outcome of Fordism, which we are having a great deal of difficulty getting away from.

8 responses to “Creative innovation: individual leadership and collective intelligence, by Thomas Paris, HEC Professor of Management

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