Book Review: The Hothouse Effect

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The Hothouse Effect
by Barton Kunstler, Ph.D.

AMACOM ©2004
288 pages

Secrets From History’s Innovative Communities

When creativity is nurtured by its surrounding community, history has shown that it can bloom into a powerful force. In The Hothouse Effect, Barton Kunstler, program director at Lesley University School of Management, explores several creative communities across the centuries that have differentiated themselves as bastions of creative progress. Kunstler digs under the surface of creative “hothouses” from ancient Greece, the European Renaissance, the American jazz scene from the ‘50s,the German Bauhaus, and more contemporary examples of innovative communities from business, art, science and technology.

Hothouses can be used to cultivate the most beautiful and exotic plants ever grown. Extending the hothouse metaphor to include any place or era that fosters great creativity on a massive scale, Kunstler examines a variety of times and places that hosted extraordinary outpourings of creativity.

While digging into these innovative hothouses from the past for patterns of effective behavior that can be used by organizations today, Kunstler develops many lessons and guiding principles about innovation and collective learning that demonstrate the applicability of those patterns. By looking closely at diverse communities where creativity has blossomed, Kunstler develops principles that led to outstanding creative performance then and can be used to enhance the creativity of any organization today.

Acting in Concert

Kunstler’s research into independent states (ancient Athens, Florence in the 15th century), organizations (Bauhaus, the Rowland Institute of Science), and other groups (American jazz musicians, artists in Paris in the early 1900s) uncovers great achievements that occurred precisely because a group of talented individuals acted in concert to elevate the ethical, intellectual, creative and social character of each group member.

While examining the contexts in which numerous practitioners contribute to the construction of the body of knowledge and practice from which great innovations emerge, Kunstler writes that the hothouse effect demonstrates that individual efforts of creativity derive their power and integrity from social dynamics that generate, nourish, and celebrate the practice of innovation and creativity. The Hothouse Effect identifies the factors that make some groups more creative than others, and examines how individual genius and the synergy of exceptional teamwork combine and balance to create breakthroughs.

Kunstler points out that in times of major business changes, creativity is no longer a luxury: It is a necessary instrument in the struggle for survival. Although he recognizes that “managing creativity” might be an oxymoron, he investigates the keys to fostering conditions that favor the cultivation of creativity. He writes that the hothouse effect provides guidelines leaders can use to generate a high-performing group of creative individuals. He describes it in these five ways:

1. The hothouse effect applies to groups or communities that sustain a high level of innovative creativity for a significant period of time.

2. The hothouse effect draws on the knowledge and innovations of the broader culture to which it belongs.

3. The hothouse spawns geniuses whose achievements climax the work of many other practitioners at all levels of achievement, from the brilliant on down to the work-a-day purveyor of common good. Kunstler writes, “Genius gestates within a social cauldron where ideas and techniques are exchanged at a frenzied pace and subjected to exhaustive experimentation.”

4. The hothouse creates a new idiom, a new way of doing things that informs its creative products and establishes new standards and procedures that are accepted and emulated by contemporaries and succeeding generations alike.

5. Hothouses are recognized as exceptional in their own time and establish a lasting legacy to which future generations continually return.

After many examples of innovative communities, Kunstler reveals the “Creative” Hothouse Assessment Instrument Table (CHAI-T) to help organizations assess their own creative communities and strategize around group creativity. Using a survey of 40 statements relating to values, perceptual frameworks, social dynamics, action orientation and hierarchy, he shows organizations how to generate a profile that can help it rethink the role creativity plays in the company. ~

Why We Like ThIs Book

By examining the values, ideas, perceptions and social interactions of the most creative communities to spring up through history, The Hothouse Effect provides firm footing on which businesses can develop their own strategies for nurturing and developing the creativity that will keep them growing.~

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