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CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION THROUGH MUTLIDISCIPLINARY AND MULTISECTORAL COOPERATION

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Creativity and Innovation through


Multidisciplinary and Multisectoral
Cooperation
Jorge Alves, Maria Jos Marques, Irina Saur and
Pedro Marques
This paper explores the relation between creativity, innovation and new product development
in multidisciplinary and multisectoral settings. We claim that the development of innovative
products benets from the generation of a high number of creative ideas. Moreover, we argue
that the idea generation process can be particularly fruitful within collaborative multidisciplinary environments, where rms and Science and Technology institutions coexist and cooperate. Our approach draws on existing literature to investigate the creativity and idea
generation process within the frame of multisectoral and multidisciplinary cooperation initiatives, involving rms and Science and Technology related institutions. We then call upon
our own empirical work to identify conditions favourable to those processes and some issues
that affect the fullment of the creative potential that exists in multidisciplinary groups.

Introduction

odays organizations need a constant ow


of ideas while competing through added
value factors like emergent technologies or fast
new product development (Kao, 1997). Competing in the twenty-rst-century economy
will require constant adaptation to shifting
market demands. Failing to full the varied
requirements of potential customers may lead
to their loss to more agile competitors. The
most successful organizations will create environments that promote systematic creativity
and innovation (Vicenzi, 2000).
This paper argues that multidisciplinary and
multisectoral cooperative environments for
innovation, where rms and science and technology institutions coexist and collaborate, can
promote the efciency of the triad innovationcreativity-new product development and contribute to rms competitiveness.
We start by emphasizing the interdependency between creativity, innovation and new
product development. We then identify and
discuss the main factors that inuence this triad
in business organizations. We next justify the
benets of multidisciplinary and multisectoral
networks for innovation in the pursuit of creativity, innovation and product development.
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Journal compilation 2007 Blackwell Publishing

The paper ends with the authors experience


with one of those networks. We summarize
our involvement in order to enunciate management aspects of the creative process that we
believe may be relevant to practitioners and
academics in similar contexts.

Relationships Between Creativity,


Innovation and New Products
Development
Creativity and Innovation
Creativity has been conceptualized as: (a) the
individual personality traits that facilitate the
generation of new ideas, (b) the process of generating new ideas, (c) outcomes of creative
processes, and (d) environments conducive to
new ideas and behaviour (Rhodes, 1961; Im,
1999).
These perspectives led to multiple denitions of creativity. For Martins and Terblanche
(2003), it is the capacity to generate new and
valuable ideas for products, services, processes
and procedures; for Sternberg (1999), the
ability to produce work that is both novel (i.e.,
original) and appropriate (i.e., useful); for
Amabile (1996), the set of qualities of products
or responses that are judged to be creative by

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doi:10.1111/j.1467-8691.2007.00417.x

CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION MANAGEMENT

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appropriate observers. Creativity is a complex


and diffuse construct, difcult to dene
consensually (Sternberg, 1999; Isaksen et al.,
2001).
Innovation is associated with purposeful
change (Drucker, 1985); an attitude reecting
the capacity to imagine what does not exist or
a process with different stages extending from
an idea to its implementation. Schumpeter
viewed innovation as creative destruction for
growth (Abernathy & Clark, 1985). Hargadon
(2003) and Im (1999) contend that innovation
is the recombination of existing ideas. For
Tidd, Bessant and Pavitt (2001), it is the core
organizational process for renewing and
optimizing the generation and delivery of
outputs. Abernathy and Clark (1985) claim
that innovation is concerned with the initial
market introduction of a new product or
process that either disrupts or entrenches
existing competencies.
Therefore, creativity is identied with ideas
generation, while innovation implies ideas
transformation into new products or services.
In this sense, innovation is the implementation
of creativity results. Thus creativity is part of
the innovation process.

From Ideas to Products


Innovative organizations exploit various
sources of ideas for new products and stimulate employees imagination in order to ll the
pipeline that nourishes new products. Multidisciplinary and multisectoral environments
(discussed later in this paper) supplement this
intra-organizational capacity and play an
important role in ideas generation and new
product conceptualization.
The overall innovation process can be
divided into three stages: (a) fuzzy front
end, (b) new product development and (c)
commercialization.
The fuzzy front end comprises activities
(often chaotic, unpredictable and unstructured) that come before structured development processes (Koen, 2004). This initial idea
creation phase is inexpensive compared to
later stages of the product development
process, thus it makes sense to maximize its
output: the greater the number of ideas at the
start of the new product development process,
the greater the probability of successful products (Flynn et al., 2003).
Selected ideas ow through the funnel of
innovation. During this process, they become
constrained and aligned by different organizational factors such as goals, models of change,
resources: the further an idea progresses, the
more developed and precise it becomes. The
most suitable ideas are approved for imple-

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mentation, while others are reworked, rejected


or merged to re-enter the process (Cagan &
Vogel, 2001). It is important to highlight that
ideas become suitable according to criteria
that often escape rational analysis, being
rooted in intuitive evaluations, internal and
external politic considerations and opportunistic preoccupations.
Once a concept emerges from the fuzzy
front end and evolves towards a business plan
(which includes product specication, nancial analysis and project management), it
becomes subjected to stricter development
methodologies (Cooper, 2001; Kahn, 2004).
We have indicated in this section that
the creative capabilities of organizations are
essential to their ability to innovate and
survive in todays competitive environment
and that creativity, innovation and new
product development are intimately correlated. In the next section we look into the
determinants of creativity and innovation
within organizations.

Factors that Inuence the Creative


Process
We now focus on exogenous and endogenous
factors that inuence creativity, innovation and
new product development in organizations.
Exogenous factors are related mainly to the
intensity and density of relationships that
organizations establish with their surrounding environments. The external environment
for innovation within which organizations
operate includes the institutional support
basis and relevant sets of values and norms
(Freire, 2000; Cooke, 2004; Galanakis et al.,
2000). The external environment for innovation provides the critical mass required for
knowledge spillovers and synergies that
favour creativity, innovation processes and
new product development. Generally, organizations have little capacity to actively inuence the evolution of external factors (Freire,
2000; Alves, 1998).
Endogenous factors are related to the internal characteristics and organizational culture
of rms and, thus, are more easily controlled.
They should be the focus of rms strategic
and operational management in pursuing
innovation objectives.
We have identied in the literature six main
internal factors that impact on rms competitiveness through creativity, innovation and
new product development:
1. Organization strategy and resource availability. The explicit incorporation of innovation in the goals and objectives of an
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CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION THROUGH MUTLIDISCIPLINARY AND MULTISECTORAL COOPERATION

organization is the rst step to create attitudes amenable to creativity and to continuous development of new products.
Martins and Terblanche (2003) state that
creativity and innovation result from
shared visions and missions, centred on
future scenarios. Innovation-oriented organizational strategies inuence the occurrence of long-term innovation perspectives
(encouraging risk-taking and new idea
generation) and of short-term project plans
devoted to innovation initiatives and creative problem solving. The availability of
resources like time, money and people
allocated to new ideas and innovative
projects contribute to the effective application of the strategy (Martins & Terblanche,
2003; Rodriguez, 2002).
2. New technologies. Firms able to develop
new technologies can gain competitive
advantages through innovative product
developments. This requires research and
development (R&D) capacity and willingness to invest in high-risk ventures, two
attributes in short supply amongst rms
(Alves, 1998). Alternatively, rms can integrate joint projects with other rms and
science and technology institutions. The
appropriation of the technology is proportional to the involvement of the rm in the
development process. Through cooperation rms can access otherwise unavailable
resources and competences, gain long-term
innovation perspectives, get support in creative problem solving and idea generation
activities and share costs and risks inherent to innovation (OECD, 2001; Alves, 1998;
Nieminen & Kaukonen, 2001). This is one
of the reasons why multidisciplinary and
multisectoral cooperation environments
are important, as explained later in this
paper.
3. R&D intensity. Research intensity follows
the determination of an organization to
spend resources on idea generation and
product development and increases with its
propensity to cooperate with universities
and other organizations. It requires wellfunctioning communication channels (as
access to knowledge is crucial for these processes) and active stimulation of innovative
organizational cultures (Galanakis et al.,
2000). However, as previously implied,
rms rarely benet from organizational
structures agile enough to face these challenges.
4. Organization culture and communication.
Organizations cultural elements like
routine behaviours, shared values and
beliefs, inuence the level and frequency of
creative occurrences and impact on the free
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29

ow of ideas that favour innovation


(Galanakis et al., 2000). Cultural aspects
affect workers knowledge and satisfaction,
and their capacity to communicate and
adapt to changes. Openness and dynamic
contact between individuals, teams and
departments facilitates the acceptance of
new perspectives and is a particularly
relevant trait in organizational cultures able
to stimulate creativity and innovation
(Martins & Terblanche, 2003; Mumford
et al., 2002).
5. Organization structure. The literature on
innovation covers thoroughly the organizational attributes that inuence creativity,
innovation and new product development
(Galanakis et al., 2000; Martins & Terblanche, 2003). Flexibility (e.g., job rotation
programmes) and freedom (manifested
in autonomy, empowerment and decision
making) in organizations are highly regarded values and practices (Martins &
Terblanche, 2003; Galanakis et al., 2000;
Mumford et al., 2002). Working teams
and interacting groups impact on the ability
of organizations to stimulate creativity,
innovation and new product development
(Fong, 2003). They provide conditions for a
dynamic mixture of ideas and ways of work
and make available complementary competencies and disciplines that favour creativity
and innovation.
6. Employee motivation and involvement.
The quantity and quality of human
resources allocated to innovation initiatives
is crucial to the success of creative ideas.
Employees incentives for idea generation
help to focus efforts on product development projects and innovation objectives.
This is inuenced by how risk taking
is managed; ideas evaluated; mistakes
handled; change dealt with; communication supported; ideas identication conducted; reward systems established, etc.
(Martins & Terblanche, 2003).
These factors suggest the relevance of
mature strategic and operational management abilities to induce structural attitudinal
changes that reinforce creativity and innovation. Our relationship with business organizations, including those that support the
empirical work analysed in this paper, reveals
that those mature capacities are in short
supply. We argue that multidisciplinary
and multisectoral cooperation environments
can help rms overcome their strategic and
organizational shortcomings in the pursuit
of innovation objectives. The next section
briey explores the characteristics of those
environments.

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Multidisciplinary and Multisectoral


Cooperation Environments for
Innovation
By multidisciplinary and multisectoral cooperation environments we mean settings,
formal or informal, that bring together organizations from different entrepreneurial sectors
and science and technology institutions,
around common goals (Alves et al., 2004a).
The linked organizations combine multidisciplinary competencies and localized complementary productive activities, integrating
the diverse knowledge sets and skills needed
to create and bring to the market complex
technologies and products. They benet from
the physical proximity of their members, facilitating the exchange of knowledge rooted in
individuals (Rycroft & Kash, 2004; OECD,
2001).
The characteristics of such cooperation environments for innovation can be synthesized
into three dimensions: diversity (of actors
and competencies), coherence (respecting the
integration of complementary activities) and
interactivity (strong cooperation relationships). These characteristics maximize the
benets of cooperation and guarantee that
learning effects and levels of inventiveness are
enhanced, due to higher cultural, technical and
knowledge differences between the actors
involved.
When successful, these multidisciplinary
and multisectoral environments play important roles for rms and organizations. They
offer opportunities for leaders to respond
actively to various challenges such as knowledge creation and competency development;
the promotion of linkages between relevant
actors; the creation and strengthening of
common innovation support structures; the
alteration of organizations cultures and
behaviours towards continuous innovation
and to higher levels of interconnectedness and
the mobilization of resources to execute more
complex research and new product development projects (Marques et al., 2005).
Such collaborative arrangements for innovation stimulate the uency of knowledge
processes and the creation of idiosyncratic
competences relevant for research and joint
product developments. As innovations in one
sector can spill over to other sectors (Dietzenbacher, 2000), the chances of efcient knowledge utilization for innovation increases
(Seufert et al., 1999; Szeto, 2000). The associated creativity is also higher and more radical
ideas may occur (Malerba, 2002). Specialized
support is quickly identied and made available, problem solving is fast and the ef-

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ciency of the development processes is high


(Alves et al., 2004a; Fong, 2003). Additionally,
multisectoral cooperation processes provide
better conditions to elude the communication
constraints typical of single-sector competitive environments (Szeto, 2000; Shapiro,
2002).
The involvement of scientic and technological institutions brings to these collaborative
environments updated theoretical knowledge
and imaginative perceptions and multidisciplinary human resources that allow vigorous
competency crossing. Knowledge processes
become intense and knowledge creation frequent (Lofsten and Lindelof, 2005; Seufert
et al., 1999; Freel, 2000).
In these circumstances, the quality, variety
and availability of knowledge open recombination opportunities that lead to original products and processes. The increasing complexity
of new product development requires intricate
and multidisciplinary solutions that benet
from interdisciplinary research practices. Such
R&D activities are put into practice by interdisciplinary teams, which are facilitated by
multidisciplinary cooperative environments
(European Commission, 2000; Hargadon,
2003; Romm, 1998; Rinia et al., 2001; Ivanitskaya et al., 2002; Nissani, 1997).
We argue that multidisciplinary and multisectoral cooperative environments reinforce
creative competencies and allow for rich
combinations of otherwise disconnected
pools of ideas. They have been found to contribute to better exploitation of limited
research capacities (Roper & Brookes, 1999;
OECD, 1999) and to the development of valuable and more radical ideas and solutions
adjusted to the increasing complexity of
problems. Therefore, they are more effective
in the pursuit of creativity, innovation and
product development than monodisciplinary
and monosectoral environments (Hargadon,
2003).

Creating and Exploiting New Ideas:


Empirical Aspects
In the previous sections of this paper we
have discussed creativity, innovation and
new product development processes and we
argued that multidisciplinary and multisectoral environments provide interesting frameworks to enhance fuzzy front end productivity
and to generate opportunities for idiosyncratic
innovation.
We next analyse ndings from a research
project based on a multidisciplinary and multisectoral innovation network in the habitat
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meta-sector.1 The basis for our work is a single


case study for which data were collected
between 2003 and 2005. The case deals with a
multidisciplinary/multisectoral network for
innovation involving 11 rms and 10 departments from one university, put together to
conceive a futuristic house. We were particularly interested in the relationships between
creativity, innovation and new product development in this multidisciplinary and multisectoral context, and in the conditions that
maximize the benets to the rms involved in
the network.
This case is still ongoing; results, while
instructive, are as yet preliminary. We used
exploratory research methods, and we
employed essentially qualitative approaches,
e.g. participant observation, interviews, record
analysis, to collect data. We applied triangulation methods to ensure internal validity (Yin,
1994).
Note that the network excludes direct competition (no two companies belong to the same
industrial sector), and that good conduct
(including condentiality reassurances) and
intellectual property codes have been agreed
upon. So, trust and condence allowed for
open and frank discussions among participants and between participants and the
research team. For further details on this case,
please refer to Alves et al. (2004a, 2004b) and
Saur et al. (2005).
Our research indicates that this network is
enhancing creative processes. The combination
of distinct mindsets, working styles and interests is providing fertile grounds for creativity
along the path of development of new products. As described by Saur et al. (2005), the
network set up a specic structure in charge of
applied research and development. Creativity,
new product development and innovation are
central to this learning structure. The strength
of the overall approach followed by the
network we studied was expressed by the fact
that in less than two years it was able to identify and bring to advanced stages of development six complex, radically innovative, highly
multidisciplinary products.
In the next sub-sections we briey look into
the following three phases of the innovation
process: (a) new idea generation, (b) idea
classication/selection, and (c) new (product)
concept generation and development. We do
not focus on idea generation and selection per
se, as the techniques used are well established;
we rather evaluate those techniques in the light
of our multidisciplinary and multisectoral
1

By habitat meta-sector we mean the totality of


industrial sectors involved in the project, construction and tting of houses.

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31

environment. We also suggest some implications for the management of innovative


processes.

Generation of New Ideas


The challenge was to generate new ideas for
futuristic concepts/products for dwellings.
Idea generation sessions, conducted in the university and rms, used a combination of brainstorming (Osborn, 1957; Brown et al., 1998;
Paulus et al., 2002) and brainwriting (VanGundy, 1983; Rosenau, 1996).
In the university, from almost 80 interested
individuals, ve heterogeneous groups of 12 to
15 persons were put together. Participants
were carefully selected, ensuring high heterogeneity in terms of hierarchical levels and
functions/disciplinary areas involved. Five
creativity sessions were held and around 700
ideas were collected.
Similar exercises were conducted in the
rms. Behaviour was similar to the academic
brainstorming/brainwriting sessions in terms
of creativity ow, yet the number of ideas was
smaller and they tended to be less innovative.
This may be due to lower group heterogeneity,
lack of multidisciplinary/multisectoral participants and a more pragmatic, marketorientated focus. We ended with more than
300 ideas. Besides the sheer number, the most
remarkable features of the 1000-plus ideas list
were their diversity and quality (radicality and
feasibility). We believe this was a direct result
of the diversity of the multidisciplinary and
multisectoral network.
It is important to note that close follow-ups
of creativity sessions were essential to improve
the creative process. Participants opinions
were important. Given their heterogeneity,
general rules were difcult to come by. In our
case, I wish next sessions were different [. . .],
rhythm was low, [. . .] we got too abstract ideas
[. . .], we need to change something were
common phrases. Also, the importance of
using various creativity techniques, some compensating for disadvantages of others, seemed
greater in the multidisciplinary and multisectoral context than in more homogeneous ones.

Idea Classication/Selection
After the idea generation exercise, the objective was to exploit the 1000-plus ideas portfolio. Ideas were arranged according to criteria
like function performed, organization that
could use them, innovativeness, feasibility,
thus creating thematic sub-portfolios and
ensuring
multidisciplinary/multisectoral
cross-fertilization. They were then selected
and incorporated into lists tailored to each

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organization. Those lists were sent to rms, to


be used for the identication of new products.
We explored two convergence techniques to
conduct selection processes in those rms:
Evaluation Matrix (Rosenau, 1996) and Stoplight Voting (Chauvel, 2004).
Firms were asked to participate in convergence sessions to decide what products to
develop. However, in spite of apparent faith in
the quality and rationality of those convergence techniques, participants adopted intuitive decision processes, making spontaneous
choices based on their own strategic perspectives. Convergence tools seemed to be too systematic for the job at hand. Participants (top
managers and production and marketing
heads) were familiar and comfortable with
unstructured decision approaches.
It was clear that rms were able to deal with
the diversity generated in the multidisciplinary and multisectoral context without
elaborate decision processes. However, we
believe it was crucial to pre-select and prearrange ideas to ensure multidisciplinary
and multisectoral cross-fertilization. Besides,
sound back-stage pre-selection comforted
decision makers with the conviction that preselected ideas resulted from rigorous, scientic, approaches.

Conception, Generation and Development of


New Products
The rst objective of this phase was the integration into encompassing products of ideas
that survived the selection phase. This
required conceptual proximity amongst those
ideas, which was facilitated by the previous
arrangement of ideas according to specic criteria. For example, ideas related to kitchen,
cooking could provide a basis for a kitchen
of the future product. A kitchen concept
would be prepared and proposed to interested
network members, taking advantage of the
complementarities of their skills and competences. The concept would then be recongured according to their organizational
strategies.
More focused creativity sessions would deal
with the main characteristics of the kitchen of
the future.2 For example, new ideas/solutions
for how to move a kitchen inside a house
would be generated. These sessions followed
the organized brainstorming/brainwriting
model or, more often, took place in informal
2

They were organized by the new product development team, which develops new products with
multisectoral characteristics, surpassing individual
interests and skills of network members (Saur et al.,
2005).

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ambience where spontaneous comments and


suggestions moulded the shape of the product.
One such creativity session led to 170 ideas, 37
of which survived preliminary evaluations.
Product development was then initiated,
using a modied stage-gate approach (Cooper,
2001), and episodically, the TRIZ problem
solving methodology (Terninko et al., 1998).
The network was invaluable in this phase. The
variety of problems to be solved, and of technologies, skills, knowledge, know-how, equipments to be called upon, fell outside the scope
of a single rm or department. The multidisciplinary and multisectoral environment
provided the diverse mindsets, attitudes,
materials and utensils that the development of
complex, multisectoral products required.
It is relevant to highlight that the integration
of ideas from prior, abstract creativity sessions, into multidisciplinary products allowed
for designs that exceeded single organizations
capacities, through cross-fertilization processes made possible by the multidisciplinary
and multisectoral network. Besides, to a
greater degree than in homogeneous environments, the new product development process
could accommodate new suggestions and
changes in any of its phases.

Conclusions
This paper has looked at the path leading from
idea generation to product development. It
reports on work in progress, and so some conclusions are still preliminary.
Our empirical research shows that multidisciplinary and multisectoral networks can play
important roles in members competitiveness,
provided they exhibit diversity, coherence and
complementarity. We have noticed excellent
results in terms of quantity, quality and diversity of ideas in the early idea generation phase.
In the ideas selection phase, we perceived the
need to let rational methods coexist with intuitive decision processes. And in the product
development phase, we noticed that the
diverse mindsets, attitudes and skills in the
network contribute greatly to its exible
problem solving capacities.
In general, we have realized that the multidisciplinary and multisectoral network is
helping rms overcome managerial shortcomings that inhibit the control over endogenous
factors that inuence creativity, innovation and
new product development. We thus contend
that multidisciplinary and multisectoral cooperation networks provide a good framework
for creativity and innovation. They are particularly relevant when rms decide to build
competitiveness upon products that cross
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CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION THROUGH MUTLIDISCIPLINARY AND MULTISECTORAL COOPERATION

traditional sectors boundaries. However, they


also raise management challenges, both at
network level and within each participating
organization. To face those challenges, rms
will have to accept human and nancial overheads that will be justied only if the returns
are convincing.
We believe that when dealing with creativity, innovation and new product development
there are no clear-cut solutions or ideal
approaches. The effective process requires
continuous re-tuning to get the balance right.
This means to add or remove structure, to
advance or retreat in the funnel of innovation,
to eliminate and recuperate ideas. Organizations need to be creative and innovative in the
management of creativity and innovation.

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Jorge C. Alves (jalves@egi.ua.pt) is Full Professor of Innovation Studies at the Department of Economics, Management and
Industrial Engineering of the University of
Aveiro, Portugal. His present academic and
scientic interests lie at the intersection of
organizational innovation, creativity, technology, competitivity, product development and information and communication
technologies.
Maria
Jos
Marques
(haneman@
dao.ua.pt) is a PhD candidate in Industrial
Management at the University of Aveiro,
Portugal. Her research is focused on innovative and competitive performance of
rms and regions. She is MSc in Innovation
and Policy Development and BSc in Urban
and Regional Planning. Since 1997, she has
been working as a research assistant at the
University of Aveiro. She has been involved
in several European and national projects in
the elds of regional development policies,
industrial clusters, information society,
innovation networks, innovation management and new product development.
Irina Saur-Amaral (isaur@egi.ua.pt) is a
Doctoral Researcher in Industrial Management at the University of Aveiro, Portugal,
working on internationalization of industrial R&D in the pharmaceutical industry.
She teaches Knowledge Management at the
University of Aveiro. Her current research
interests are management of R&D/
innovation in pharmaceuticals, knowledge
management in global settings, rm internationalization, and Chinese socio-political
affairs. She has various scientic publications in proceedings, scientic journals and
book chapters on innovation/R&D, diversity management, innovation networks and
knowledge management.
Pedro Terras Marques (ptmarques@
netcabo.pt) recently nished his MSc in
Innovation and Knowledge at the University of Aveiro, Portugal. He has a BSc
degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering. His interests are focused on creativity, especially on the effectiveness of
creative methodologies to stimulate organizational creativity. He has worked in EDP
(Electricidade de Portugal) since 1995.

2007 The Authors


Journal compilation 2007 Blackwell Publishing