“Creativity” the word that inspired Dr Louzanne Bam from an early age

Over the years, creativity played a big role in Dr Louzanne Bam’s life. The word was one of the triggers that stimulated her interest to study engineering. It was also the main impetus in her choice of a topic for her PhD degree which she will receive at the December 2019 graduation ceremony.

“When I was in high school I had no clear idea what to study after Matric. One day my attention was drawn to an advertisement in a newspaper which stated that if you are creative and you like Maths, you should consider studying engineering. This sparked my interest and, after attending the Stellenbosch Engineering Winter Week in my Matric year, I was hooked on Industrial Engineering. The main reason was that I enjoyed the combination of more traditional engineering topics with elements that are generally associated with management as well as the fact that industrial engineers frequently work with people.”

After obtaining a BEng (Industrial Engineering) in 2006, she did consulting work at LTS in Cape Town and London where she mostly worked in the healthcare sector. “I enjoyed the five years I worked in industry locally and abroad and I think it was quite beneficial for my development,” she says. She joined the Department of Industrial Engineering’s academic corps in 2013. In 2015 she obtained an MEng cum laude.

“A few years ago, I attended a talk on creativity at the SU Business School and this stimulated my interest in the subject even further. I reflected a lot on the importance of creativity in the work of engineers. Engineers solve problems, and creativity surely plays an important role in the problem solving process. For my PhD research project, I decided on a creativity-related topic, namely Foundational elements of a managerial framework to support team creativity in engineering organisations: Organising and expanding the body of knowledge.

“I wondered to what extent we take the importance of creativity into account in the way we run our engineering businesses. One of the aspects that was quite clear from the offset was that creativity is a complex phenomenon, and we therefore cannot take for granted that the environment in an engineering organisation is conducive to creativity.

“An earlier observation, based on literature studies regarding the central topic of team creativity in organisations, is that there has been limited research on what the outcomes of team creativity are. We therefore appear to either assume that team creativity in itself is a worthy outcome to pursue, or we discount the possibility that team creativity can lead to negative rather than positive outcomes.

“I pursued it further in my research and the most noteworthy finding from my study was that team creativity can lead to collective unethical behaviour when team members experience increased levels of stress. When stress levels were low, however, the relationship between team creativity and joint unethical behaviour was not statistically significant. In light of collective ethical failings in organisations that continue to make headlines, this finding on the interaction between team creativity and the level of stress experienced by team members, is salient.”

There will be a double celebration on 9 December when Dr Bam receives her PhD. Her husband, Wouter, will also receive his PhD in Industrial Engineering. This is probably the first time in the history of the Faculty that a married couple will receive their PhD degrees in Engineering at the same graduation ceremony.

Title: Foundational elements of a managerial framework to support team creativity in engineering organisations: Organising and expanding the body of knowledge.

Summary: The perspective adopted in this research is that creativity is not, in itself, an outcome that organisations should pursue. Instead, the point is to be aware of boundary conditions that stimulate team creativity towards positive rather than negative results; that would constitute a truly significant outcome. Limited empirical research has been done on the outcomes of team creativity. The research presented here finds that the likelihood of collective unethical behaviour associated with team creativity increases when the members experience increased stress levels. Secondly, this research contributes to the literature by means of a comprehensive meta-analysis of antecedents of team creativity.

Photograph: Dr Louzanne Bam.

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