Collective Creativity by Design: Learning from an Italian Fashion Design Company

Article excerpt


Developing collective creativity is viewed as a critical capability needed to sustain competitiveness within a variety of industries. The fashion design industry, with its seasonal cyclic demand, requires intense creativity over a short time cycle that repeats every three months. Such intensity in today's global economy relies on strong leadership to direct the creative designers, backed by precise management processes. These processes entail promoting extensive learning spread across a series of complex fields that go well beyond any single person and involve exchanging and integrating knowledge among individuals and groups. Drawing on literature in creativity and learning, this paper advances the proposal of a framework of collective creativity by design. The framework identifies the learning processes critical to developing collective creativity, the contextual features that regulate the process and the kinds of learning mechanisms that can be intentionally designed to foster collective creativity. The case study of an Italian fashion design company is used to illustrate and discuss the proposed framework. Implications for research and practice are then reviewed.

Key Words: Collective creativity; learning mechanisms; organisational change


Organisations cannot survive, sustain their market position or increase their market share without developing new capabilities (Grant, 1996; Mohrman et al., 2006). Studies across industries and nations have identified the importance of continuously developing new capabilities (Dosi et al., 2000; Henry and Johnston, 2007). Despite the increased focus on this challenge, relatively little is known about how to design and develop such an organisational mechanism.

For example, the fashion industry is a knowledge intensive industry that is dependent on the continuous development of new capabilities, such as creativity. The nature of this industry and its customers forces companies to create new materials and products in rapid cycles four times a year - the seasonally driven cycle - and for different age groups. Companies tend to address this level of customer pressure by developing design and management processes that support continuous creativity.

The focus of this paper is on collective creativity by design. 'Collective creativity' is viewed as creativity that occurs in a micro social system, such as a project team or a crossfunctional team. 'Collective creativity by design' refers to the intentional decision to focus on learning and implementing learning mechanisms that can prompt and sustain collective creativity.

In this paper, our aim is to illustrate the complexity of developing collective creativity and to explore the various organisational learning mechanisms that can help collective creativity to become established. In the first section of the paper, we present a theoretical analysis of literature on collective creativity and learning. In the second section, we advance the proposal of a design-based framework of collective creativity by design, drawing on the theoretical principles of creativity and learning. The framework identifies the learning processes critical to developing collective creativity, the contextual features that regulate the process, and the kinds of learning mechanisms that can be designed with the express purpose of fostering collective creativity. In the third section, we use the case study of an Italian fashion design company to illustrate the proposed framework and highlight both the role of collective creativity and its complexity. In the final section, we present the discussion and analyse the implications for research and practice.


The framework proposed in this paper is founded on theory and research; that is, it is based on two scientific aspects of knowledge, namely creativity and learning. In the following subsections, we will review the literature on collective-level creativity and learning. …