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Book Review -- Managing Creativity: THE Critical Activity for Design Managers

Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity
By John Kao. HarperCollins Publishing (New York) 1996. Price: $23.00.

By Dr. Cynthia Ingols

Run, do not walk, to your nearest bookstore. Buy John Kao's Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity. In fact, buy a dozen copies of Jamming and give them to your boss, colleagues and team members. Why should you invest in copies of Jamming?

I can imagine at least three ways design managers might use Jamming.

JammingFirst, they might use the book to affirm their ideas about the importance of creativity in today's business environment. In simple, straightforward language, Kao argues that creativity is essential for businesses today and tomorrow. Many examples in the book come from the studios of corporate design departments or design consultancies, and these examples illustrate the competitive edge which creative products and services provide for companies.

The second way design managers might use Jamming is to assess their knowledge and style of managing creativity. I suspect portions of the book will not be news to design managers, particularly the early chapters in which Kao outlines steps to stimulate creativeness in ourselves and others. Design managers will likely know how to clear their minds and develop spaces to call forth the Creative Muses.

But about one-third into the book, Kao shifts gears. He describes in concrete ways how to manage creativity -- the central role, as I see it, for design managers. Kao notes how creativity requires holding two contradictory ideas in our minds at once and then applies this notion to managing and sustaining a creative environment. Chapter seven, "Crafting the Challenge" I found particularly interesting. In it, Kao discusses the art and science of setting and reaching challenges. He argues, for example, that leaders want "to deliver challenges in full costume, rhetorically and visually," much in the language and high style of President John F. Kennedy. "There must be consonance," Kao further claims, "between the status of the challenger and the seriousness of the challenge." After each such statement, Kao discusses his points and gives examples to clarify his meaning. He ends chapter seven, as he does with all the other chapters, with RIFFS, summary statements of the contents of the chapter and a list of ideas about managing creativity. Design managers may use these end-of-chapter statements and lists to appraise their managerial capabilities.

A third manner for using Jamming is as a tool to promote dialogue about creativity within corporate environments. Hence my suggestion for buying multiple copies of the book.

Kao begins with The Audit, a list of basic, yet essential questions. For example he asks: " What is the asset value of your creative capabilities (special equipment, people, architecture)? What proportion of your revenue comes from products less than one year old? Less than five years old?" I suspect that if design managers were to sit down with a team of cross-functional managers and systematically answer these Audit questions, then a deep understanding of the creative capacity of a business would follow. In a similar manner, reading and discussing the other chapters would also help managers examine their creative potential and productivity, and decide if their present capacity is equal to the demands of the marketplace.

Regardless of how design managers may use Jamming, I expect each copy of the book will become dog-eared and worn.

Cynthia Ingols consults with corporate design managers and design consultancies to develop organizational structures and processes which nurture innovation.

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This document was last updated December 4, 1996.

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