Creativity, and its corporate twin, innovation, are increasingly seen as indicators of business success. By 2020, the UK is expected to have an innovation and ideas economy rather than a purely knowledge economy.

As that takes shape, collaboration will be the means to improve problem solving, increase creativity, and deliver that all-important innovation.

Extensive research - formal and informal - has been conducted into how collaboration can best harness the creativity within organisations. Neurological studies have shown that laughter helps people be more nimble and creative.

Office planners have attempted to boost collaboration by attaching desks to treadmills, building centre-piece staircases, and adding musical instruments to break-out areas.

Collaboration

Essentially, the mainstream view is that only truly collaborative enterprises that can tap into everyone's ideas in an organised way will compete imaginatively enough in the 21st century.

Indeed, much research backs up this view; for example, IDC recently predicted that by 2016, over 70% of CIOs will change their primary role from directly managing IT to becoming an 'innovation partner'.

Also, according to a study of 3,500 employees across the UK, France, Germany, the US and Japan conducted by the Future Foundation on behalf of Google, when given the opportunity to collaborate at work, UK employees are nearly twice as likely to have contributed new ideas.

However, face-to-face brainstorming can be badly timed for participants or even have a negative effect on overall creativity. In "The Brainstorming Myth", Adrian Furnham says that: "Talented and motivated people should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority." Clearly, collaborative processes need to be carefully managed if they are to deliver.

Collaboration technology can facilitate interactions between staff located in separate sites, but the risk is that it replaces rigid, hierarchical silos with more horizontal – but equally rigid – structures.

The Fourth Dimension

A far more flexible, hybrid approach is necessary. A more responsive technological infrastructure that enables collaboration is critical, and evidence suggests that businesses are embracing this idea.

For instance, investment in video conferencing and unified communications is on the rise, with 87% of enterprises planning to add video conferencing to their Unified Communications architecture by summer this year, largely because of new abilities to interact with content.

Whilst this is fantastic, investing in teleconferencing screens and smart phones misses some of the most crucial parts of a true collaborative system, which should cover note taking, minute sharing, idea capture and brainstorming.

This 'fourth dimension' of collaboration, where team members can come together from any location and any device, and are able to interact with data and colleagues in real time, is yet to be reached.

When true collaborative technology is used to facilitate the user experience and channel the outcomes of creative thought, it can transform a business.

Companies that maximise the potential of their employees and foster creativity effectively will be those that adapt most quickly by adopting state of the art technology to enable a variety of working styles, allowing individuals to contribute and flourish.

  • Martin Large – CEO of leading SMART Board distributor Steljes – is an entrepreneurial businessman with over 10 years' experience running his company.