RESEARCH BRIEF: Building Innovative Corporate Cultures Using Action Learning Creativity, Innovation, and Corporate Culture

Melissa Brenes, VT visiting undergraduate student from Costa Rica Tech. Contact Melissa at

Creativity and innovation are linked as concepts but also they show differences. Marsick (2009) defines creativity as “the production of novel, appropriate ideas in any realm of human activity”. This definition features creativity more like an individual capability. Innovation, as Marsick (2009) suggests “involves group and organizational capabilities needed to produce, market, and sell the fruits of creativity”. Despite the differences in their core definitions, both individual creativity and organizational innovations are influenced by corporate culture.

According to Burke & Litwin (1992), creativity and innovation in corporate culture is affected by two kinds of variables that influence organizational change:

  • Transformational: variables that are affected when a company interacts with the external environment (trigger change in mission, strategy, leadership and culture)
  • Transactional: variables at the work climate level (management, practices, structure, systems, skills, motivation, needs
Figure 1.Perception of the inclusion of CI process in the vision and mission by years of experience and type of business

Innovation and action learning

Learning for innovating is typically integrated with work. It is often informal, and directed as much at sense making and meaning marking as it is toward knowledge and skill development. The ideas are sought from outside the company and cultivated among employees within the company (Marsick, 2009).

Action learning (with roots in actions research) can accelerate learning for innovation because it is built on learning by doing and experimentation. Kuhn and Marsick (2005) argue that innovation can be built into the capabilities developed by the action learning program: sense making, strategic thinking, critical thinking, divergent thinking, conceptual capacity and malleable learning orientation.

However, this action learning will be accomplished as long as companies select the right participants, design innovation into projects, and use the projects to push the culture toward innovations by demonstrating immediate applications at work (Kuhn and Marsick, 2005).

Kuhn and Marsick (2005) also made some recommendations about what should be addressed into an innovation learning program. These recommendations are listed below:

  • Framing the projects in ways that invite participant leaders to develop ideas.
  • Modeling by executive sponsors, top team leaders, facilitator and coaches of strategic thinking and innovative behaviors they want participants to develop.
  • Selecting participants who display potential for creativity, divergent thinking and innovation.
  • Learning that supports deep questioning, challenging existing mindsets, crossing boundaries to gather fresh views, critical reflection and dialogue.
  • Developing organizational capacity for strategic innovation in the project.
  • Collaboration within the group work and by extension, out into the organization.
  • Replication of participant experience with those whom they lead and manage in order to build capacity outside if the program for innovation.
  • Funding of qualified innovative ideas develop in the project.

Current Research  

As an effort to understand how to incorporate this creativity and innovation into the DNA of firms, Madrigal and Quesada (2009) identified innovation management practices inside firms from the medical devices, energy generation and wood products business sectors. Among these practices, the authors described the use of continuous improvement to foster creativity and idea generation, however and as stated in the literature the continuous improvement process has shown to be hard to sustain.

Therefore, current research is focusing on analyzing what factors, and how these factors affect the sustainability of the continuous improvement (CI) process.

Preliminary data shows that employees perceive the inclusion of the continuous improvement in the vision and mission of the company to support it. It is also interesting to observe an increasing trend for values on how important this inclusion as years in the company increase. This behavior can lead us to conclude that importance of continuous improvement is getting embedded in associates’ DNA as much as the exposure time to the process. In the case of wood cabinets site, we associated the decreasing trend to the environment of the business sector and how it has decreasing as a strong sector of the economy. This situation might affect how associates perceive continuous improvement in business sector which is constantly struggling to achieve performance indicators. Figure # 1 shows these preliminary results..

When a company enters into a process of continuous improvement, it has committed to transform from the inside to the outside in order to develop a successful implementation of it. Is important that the vision and mission is clear and consistent about what the company is right now and what they want to achieve in the future related to continuous improvement development. A company needs a good vision and mission that provides an understanding of the application of continuous improvement, and how it supports the incremental innovation inside the firm.

More research needs to be accomplished to identify important behaviors and draw more conclusions; however it is important that researchers and industry support ways to release creativity and innovative attitudes inside firms.


  • Burke,W.W & Litman, G.H. (1992). A casual model of organizational performance and change. Journal of Management.
  • Marsick, Victoria J. (2009). Using action learning to build innovative corporate cultures. Mil Institute.