Creativity and Innovation update

August 28, 2017

A few posts on creativity and innovation you may have missed. On Umbrellas and lost memories

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[Image: Horst Geschka receiving a ‘special’ umbrella award at Darmstad From left: Professor Frido Smulders, Delft, Professor Horst Geschka, Darmstad, Professor Jan Buijs, Delft, Dipl-Kffr. Martina Schwartz-Geschka, Professor Tudor Rickards, Manchester]



John Bessant, a major figure in research into Innovation, has turned his attention to creativity in his latest book. His recent blog triggered memories of a special dinner in Darmstad some years ago.


In his recent blog, John illustrates how one creative idea came to fruition:

Creative inspiration: the foldable umbrella

Vienna. 1926 and Slawa Duldig was looking forward to a pleasant Sunday walk in the gardens of the Kunst Historisches Museum, a favourite haunt. Except that the prospect on this May morning with its ominous looking clouds was not so inviting – and so to prepare for the likely showers she took a heavy umbrella with her. She captured her frustration in her notebook  – ‘Why on earth must I carry this utterly clumsy thing? They should invent a small foldable umbrella that could be easily put in a handbag’. A great idea – but ‘they’ hadn’t yet done it and so Slawa decided to remedy the situation.

She was a sculptress, a successful artist used to working with ideas and giving them form.  She played around with the notion, sketched some designs and realised that to fit in her bag the umbrella would not only have to be small, it would need a folding mechanism.  Where else had she seen something like that?  A flash of insight and she was off peering excitedly into shop windows and talking to the owners of businesses specialising in window blinds.  And she’d need some kind of frame, lightweight, to give shape – so another shopping expedition to stores specialising in lampshades.

Gradually, just like one of her sculptures, the prototypes took physical form and her experiments continued. Having tested them out she finally decided to patent her idea – by now called the ‘Flirt’ – and lodged it in the Austrian Patent Office on September 19th, 1929.  The world’s first folding umbrella was born and these days around 500 million of its descendants are sold each year.


Umbrellas conjure up creative thoughts and memories. From a personal perspective, I recall an evening in Darmstad to celebrate the retirement of creativity guru Horst Geschka when Horst was presented with a special umbrella. I suspect the idea came from Jan Buis, pioneer of design studies at Delft, a dear and much lamented friend. The dinner  morphed into creative chaos around the theme of umbrellas. Unsurprisingly, much is now a blur in my memory. Anyone there with a better recall please contact me.

A better recall

Grateful thanks to Frido Smulders, (see image above of this fine gentleman, scholar, and another good friend) who helped me correct various errors in my original draft of this blog. Frido also provide information about the Festschrift book edited by Martina for her father’s celebrations. (Immer eine Idee Voraus, Harland Media, Lichtenberg, 2010).


Horst Geschka: ‘Mr Creativity’ of Germany

November 5, 2009

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Originally uploaded by t.rickards

Horst Geschka is known as ‘Mr Creativity of Germany’. His fifty years of involvement with technological innovation and creativity were celebrated recently at his home town of Darmstadt

The event took place at the Maritim Hotel, [28th October 2009]. The workshop on creativity and innovation was accompanied by presentation of a 600 page book, a festschrift, acknowledging his lifetime achievements in the field. The event and book shared the title Immer eine Idee voraus (Always one idea ahead).

The first pages of the book list Horst’s achievements including his role as co-founder of significant European networks and as a great supporter and board member of the journal Creativity and Innovation Management, and the associated conferences. The University of Darmstadt pointed out his 50 year association since his student days. This surely is a record likely to remain unbroken for a long time. Another title was conferred on Horst by long-time friend Sid Parnes, who described him as Germany’s Mr Creativity (Herr Kreativität) of Germany.

His technical contributions to the study of creativity applications are numerous. His publications reveal his efforts to classify, apply and evaluate the impact of creativity techniques, particularly in German industrial organizations.

Hot off the press

On my arrival in Darmstadt, the day before the event, co-editor of the book, Martina Schwartz-Geschka (with Peter Harland) explained that it was still with the publishers. However, she assured me the first run would be delivered an hour before the workshop cheduled to start time. This all seemed a bit too ‘just in Time’ for me. But Martina was correct, and the books arrived as promised. They were almost literally hot off the press, and their pages had hardly settled down. (It takes a couple of weeks after binding a new book for its pages to become nicely compacted).

The event, like the book, had its contributions either in English or German. Some speakers reached back to the foundations of systematic studies of creativity and its applications in Europe for economic ends. Other contributors came from younger emerging leaders in the field. Among the former, Professor Jan Buijs spoke amusingly and movingly of the chance incident which put him in contact with Horst in 1974, at the Battelle Institute, Frankfurt. The meeting was to shape Jan’s future career. Jan and his colleague Dr Frido Smulders were making a remarkable trip from Delft to Brussels. Their drive to Darmstadt was quite a diversion (about 1000 km.) This trip was necessary so that they would be able to participate in the event and then make presentations at a creativity conference in Belgium the following day.

A long diversion

There should have been a team of two presenters from the UK. However, my co-presenter Susan Moger had executive education duties to deal with in Manchester. She had entrusted me to convey both our respect to Horst, and to summarize our Festschrift article. Our theme was the relationships between creativity, group leadership and effectiveness. We believe that successful project teams have leaders help team members fulfil their individual potential for contributions. This work in Manchester can be traced to our earlier collaboration with Horst Geschka and his team at Darmstadt going back to an Anglo-German Foundation grant in the 1970s in my case.

A historical perspective into creativity was provided by Professor Dr Heiner Muller-Merbach. He touched on the theories of Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer as well as West Churchman, and other management scientists. He also drew on his own contributions to the Operations Research field.

A rewarding experience

A new generation of researchers into applied creativity was also well-represented. Professor Martin Mohrle outlined his work integrating two important bodies of work for idea generation, namely Morphological Analysis, and TRIZ. As he expressed it, this permits the building of a bridge between Morpholand and Trizland.

Dr Wolfgang Kneijski outlined applied successes in innovation projects in today’s knowledge society. And in an appropriate counterpoint, Dr Karin Eggert outlined approaches for approaching risk management necessary, but often inadequately treated by many innovation researchers, particularly those concerned with the exploratory aspects of innovation.

Overall, the day was an excellent celebration of “50 years of engagement with innovation work” a triumph for the organizing team, and a rewarding experience for the participants.