The Impact of Mental Thinking Systems on Idea Generation: The Athens Olympic Ceremony


International organizations are facing social, political, economic, and environmental challenges that are factors to allow or limit themselves to break out from or maintain their usual management routine. The host of the Olympic Games every four years is no exception. This study therefore shows that unconventional thinking could affect the Olympic ceremony creativity and development. An in-depth interview was conducted with Dimitris Papaioannue, the ceremony director of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. As a result of the examination, the advantages of his visionary idea can be understood through the model of idea prediction through different mental thinking systems from invention to innovation. This model would generally allow policy-makers and practitioners to see which of mental thinking systems is best used for their organizations and society as a whole.

Keywords: CreativityInventionInnovationOlympic Ceremonies

1. Introduction

International organizations are facing social, political, economic, and environmental challenges

(Piketty, 2014) that are factors to allow or limit them to break out from or maintain their usual

management routine. Public and private organizations are advised to integrate “creativity” into their

organizational practices to encourage a more dynamic work environment beyond their usual

management (Shrivastava, In Press). The host city of the modern Olympic Games is no exception since

its officials are charged with producing the most memorable Olympic ceremony. Therefore, creativity

plays a crucial role in idea generation processes for Olympic ceremonies. The novelty of a given

ceremony would be an anticipated result.

Olympic ceremonies are considered the most eye-catching part of Olympic events. Every four years,

for the Summer Olympic Games, each host city has therefore attempted to come up with a great idea to

produce another most memorable Olympic ceremony to compete with previous ones. Regarding the

study of the origins of Olympic ceremonies (Lattipongpun, 2010), Olympic ceremonies were originally

initiated by Pier Baron de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic Games, after he experienced

the American spectator sport in 1889 in the United States. He therefore attempted to generate a festive

atmosphere in the modern Olympic Games, inviting scholars and artists seek possibilities to create a

festive atmosphere for the modern games at the 1906 International Olympic Congress in Paris. The

meeting successfully initiated a guideline for conducting both opening and closing ceremonies.

Furthermore, the ceremonies were initially conducted with a military style and a religious ritual

before being transformed into a popular culture entertainment presentation. Hollywood entertainment

was evident at the Squaw Valley 1960 Winter Olympic Ceremony that the Walt Disney Company was

responsible for producing (see also Alan Tomlinson, 2004). This significant change has made the

Olympic ceremony an eye-catching event among other Olympic sport competitions, so the

conventional boring official ceremony has now been replaced by this infotainment ceremony format—

giving information while enriching the audience’s experience through excitement and entertainment

(Lattipongpun, 2010).

Olympic ceremonies—the world stage of performing arts—are communication tools employed by

the host nation and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC Executive Board is

responsible for overseeing the Olympic Games with regard to the administration and management of

the committee’s affairs in fostering the Olympic movement throughout the world (IOC, 2011) to

communicate with audiences worldwide (MacAloon, 1984). Promoting the Olympic ideology, “peace

or harmony,” in relationship to the mind, body and spirit of individuals is the main purpose of the

modern Olympic Games (IOC, 2011). On the other hand, the ceremonies manifest the host nation’s

achievements in cultural, social and economic affairs with a sense of national pride. To achieve these

expectations, creativity is the key factor.

For more than a decade, Olympic ceremonies have been shaped and developed by the international

host nations (Adair, 2013; Lattipongpun, 2010; MacAloon, 1984; Russell, 2014; Alan Tomlinson,

1989; Alan Tomlinson, 2004; Tovell, 2013) and often have been fashioned by local and international

collaborators (Birch, 1997, 2004) from various fields such as art, the humanities, management,

computer science and engineering. These individuals together originate a magnificent idea and turn it

into an unforgettably spectacular informative entertainment. Ceremony protocols and cultural

performances are the two required focal components in Olympic ceremonies (IOC, 2004, 2008, 2011).

Alongside the international collaborative processes, ceremony directors are responsible for ensuring

that the Olympic value, rule number 38 in the Olympic Charter, explicitly sets forth the fundamental

requirement concerning Olympic ceremonies.

The opening and closing ceremonies shall be held in strict compliance with the IOC protocol

guide. The contents and details of all scenarios, schedules and programs of all ceremonies must

be submitted to the IOC for its prior approval (IOC, 2011).

Any given ceremonies depend upon the ceremony directors’ creativity as well as the policy-makers'

decisions. Csikszentmihalyi (1996b) asserts that each individual who is generally diverse in terms of

genetics, skills, and experience must master the old knowledge to originate a new one. Kilgour (2006)

considers all those elements “domain-specific knowledge.” Moreover, any creative attempt is always

limited by the rules in a specific domain referring to areas and structures of knowledge, memes, and

values as well as a field pointing to communities of practices and gatekeepers (Csikszentmihalyi,

1996b). Therefore, it is challenging for ceremony directors to generate the best possible idea for

Olympic ceremonies while considering the Olympic charter and the ceremony protocol. Also, the IOC

may disagree with ceremony directors’ ideas. To this end, how can mental thinking systems of the IOC

and the ceremony directors impact Olympic ceremony creativity and development? It is thus essential

to discuss the relationship between mental thinking systems and the concepts of invention and


2.Innovation Comes after Invention

Invention is an important step of intellectual progresses toward innovation, resulting in economic

development (Schoen, Mason, Kline, & Bunch, 2005). It is no exception in the field of Olympic

ceremony production. To produce the most desired Olympic ceremony, the variations of invention and

innovation must be verified. Thus, they are relevant to the notion of creativity.

According to Runco and Charles (1992), originality and appropriateness are two elements to weigh

creativity. Likewise, Piffer (2012) states that novelty and usefulness are important elements to judge

creativity. Csikszentmihalyi (1996b) said that when any given idea is considered unconventional, it

only gains originality, not creativity, because creativity needs to be validated by the people in the field

(the gatekeepers). The IOC is therefore considered to be the field of Olympic ceremony production. In

other words, originality is the criteria to judge the uniqueness of the given idea, and therefore, that idea

will be regarded as creativity only if it is accepted by the gatekeepers. Importantly, the uniqueness or

similarity of any given Olympic ceremony to other existing ceremonies is subjectively defined by

ceremony directors, the IOC, and audiences worldwide, often via their domain-specific knowledge.

Anderson and King (1993) regard this adopted process of ideas grounded from individuals’ previous

experience as innovation.

Human inventions are notable examples of the fact that nature is creative as well as

repetitive. Even in the brief and narrow experiment reported . . . we have persons thinking

thoughts that nobody has ever thought before (Thorndike, 1949, p. 199).

Furthermore, researchers have suggested that invention and innovation work in a linear process

through five stages: research, invention, innovation, financing, and acceptance (Maclaurin, 1953).

Recently, researchers have come to believe that innovation arises in a non-linear manner (Schoen et al.,

2005). Importantly, these two perspectives agree that “research” is the initial stage of the process for

originating new knowledge (Godin, 2006). Seelig (2012) notes that the combination of new and (old)

existing knowledge is regarded as “fuel” for imagination relating to creativity. Likewise, Kilgour

(2006) sees the fuel as domain-specific knowledge.

Additionally, invention arguably points to intellectual creativity and artwork. Joseph Schumpater

(1939)—the pioneer of the concept of invention—regards invention as an achievement of intellectual

creativity rather than economic advantages. Runco (2007) believes any creative output that is not

intended to sell is considered “artwork.” Thus, invention—intellectual creativity and artwork—will

become innovation only if any business model is applied to it (Schoen et al., 2005). Notably,

commercial realities are the ultimate goal of innovation to turn an invention into a salable or innovative

product (Enos, 1962; Higgins, 1995; Redwood, 1987).

With respect to innovation, many scholars (Bruce & West, 1994; Rank, Pace, & Frese, 2004; Scott

& Bruce, 1994; West & Farr, 1990) insist that innovation refers to the implementation stage of any

given idea (Rank et al., 2004). According to Higgins (1995), innovation can be products, processes,

strategies, and techniques. Importantly, the key to success is the attractiveness of any given innovation

(Swift & Gruben, 2000). Recently, Tom Grasty, an expert in media technology entrepreneurship and

content creation, confirms this.

In its purest sense, “invention” can be defined as the creation of a product or introduction of

a process for the first time. “Innovation,” on the other hand, occurs if someone improves on or

makes a significant contribution to an existing product, process or service (2012).

Thus, invention is the representation of the “new” concentrating on “originality,” while innovation

is the development and implementation processes of the new idea through a business model. With

regard to Olympic ceremony production, both invention and innovation are selectively anticipated by

ceremony directors and gatekeepers. Arguably, de Coubertin’s addition in 1906 of Olympic ceremonies

to the modern Olympic Games brought invention to the field of international sport competition. Later,

this new meme was developed by many different ceremony directors and host nations, which

influenced ideas for the production of Olympic ceremonies. Thus, the majority of past Olympic

ceremonies tended to employ similar components and styles. This therefore becomes the expectation of

how the ceremony should be presented by the policy-makers.

3.Mental Thinking Systems Driving Invention and Innovation

It is widely accepted that experts play an important role in validating a given idea or product

(Csikszentmihalyi, 1996a). Thus, originality and appropriateness are vital aspects to determine the

given idea (Mark A Runco & Charles, 1992). Furthermore, fluency, flexibility, and elaboration of

creative individuals are factors in idea generation processes (Guilford, 1966). With regards to

Amabile’s consensual assessment technique (Amabile, 1982), experts are the most reliable people to

judge creativity of products. “Every new idea or product there is a person” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996b,

p. 45), so that every person possesses mental thinking systems—critical thinking and creative thinking.

Particularly, Olympic ceremony directors’ mental thinking systems are the initial point directly

impacting on their ceremony contributions.

“Creativity is at the heart of invention” (Seelig, 2012, p. 2); therefore, this right brain power brings

forth originality and unconventional ideas (Mark A Runco & Charles, 1992). De Bono (1992) suggests

that to think creatively, it is essential to switch off our usual perception, which often relies on the

critical thinking mode. The creative thinking mode likely brings forth invention rather than attempting

to improve things or ideas.

Furthermore, De Bono (1992) asserts that using too much critical thinking would not encourage a

big change in ideas, products, processes, strategies, and techniques because this left brain power

operates to identify faults and mistakes before attempting to resolve the discovered faults and mistakes

via borrowing, adopting, duplicating, and assembling. Therefore, De Bono sees this process as a

problem-solving method or “an innovative approach” that just creates a small jump from one idea to

another. Senge (1990) states that the greatest benefit of critical thinking helps us distinguish what is

important and worth focusing on. Researchers agree that originality and appropriateness are the two

primary components for identifying the best idea out of multiple ideas based on rational thought

(Kilgour, 2006; Mark A Runco & Charles, 1992; Mark A Runco & Pritzker, 1999; Sawyer, 2007). This

means that thinking creatively would result in ideas containing high originality, while thinking

critically would give rise to ideas incorporating appropriateness. Therefore, any given idea could be

measured through this concept.

Measurement is, therefore, fundamental to evaluation, where evaluation implies comparing

different phenomena with claims to creativity (Candy & Bilda, 2009, p. 10).

Ideas are generally abstract and immeasurable. However, Sydenham (2003, p. 3) refers to Galileo’s

saying (1610) that “count what is countable, measure the measurable and what is not measurable, make

measurable.” Through the concepts of invention to innovation and the mental thinking systems, they

can now be facilitated as a model of idea prediction (see Figure 1 ).

Figure 1: The Model of Idea Prediction from Invention and Innovation (Original).
The Model of Idea Prediction from Invention and Innovation (Original).
See Full Size >

Figure 1 shows that the steeper the arrows, the more likely the given idea contains highly originality

(Idea B). The calmer the arrows, the more likely the given idea (Idea C) has many similar elements to

others. These two ideas are considered innovation. When the arrows point to minus zones, this implies

that the given ideas (Idea D and E) are neither improved nor workable. On the other hand, using

creative thinking would likely generate a totally new idea (Idea A) considered to be invention.

Moreover, both mental thinking systems are essential to idea generation processes. In particular,

using creative thinking generates a big jump of ideas to the practice in a particular field. High

originality is therefore the characteristic that leads to invention. However, using creative thinking could

potentially produce bizarre ideas lacking appropriateness. Regarding critical thinking, appropriateness

is the key of this logical thinking system: discovering faults and mistakes before attempting to resolve

the discovered faults and mistakes via borrowing, adopting, duplicating, and assembling. Therefore,

using critical thinking likely facilitates a given idea that similar to other existing ideas and/or products,

so this rational thought would not create a significant change in a particular field. Arguably, these two

different mental modes—creative thinking and critical thinking—are therefore the predictors of idea

generation processes in which one leads to invention and another to innovation.

With respect to the proposed new model for idea measurement, it will now be demonstrated through

an examination of the idea for the production of the Athens 2004 Olympic Ceremony proposed by the

artistic director, Mr. Dimitris Papaioannou. Interview data were collected during a 2010 interview by

the researcher in Athens, Greece.

4.Papaioannou’s Unconventional Idea for the Production of the Athens 2004 Olympic Opening Ceremony

Dimitris Papaioannou was invited to produce the Athens 2004 Olympic ceremony by his friend,

Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalakim who was the president of the National Olympic Organizing

Committee. Papaioannou came up with a new idea for the opening ceremony that proved to be so

visionary that it precipitated a major dispute between him and the IOC.

I was trying to create a big scale show with a minimum sense . . . [I] filled the stadium with

the water. [I] . . . brought out six floors high Cycladic [It was the first representation of human

form] head from the center of the stadium and broke it into a few pieces . . . [I intentionally

floated them in the air] in different directions.

Papaioannou's creative processes began with three research questions: “Can something really

interesting happen within the frame of the large scale show?”; “What was the best possible way to

create a ritual that allowed people to dream through knowing of the portrait of the civilization?”; and,

“Can I make a ritual that can be liberating for people’s souls?” Throughout his research, he found that

Greek civilization had been noteworthy for the western world and indeed had dominated ways of life

internationally. This is considered his domain-specific knowledge for staging the opening ceremony.

Papaioaanou endeavored to produce the ceremony according to his aesthetic taste, which was a new

approach to the field. He anticipated making a significant change to the way in which Olympic

ceremonies used to be presented by Hollywood-style entertainment often designed in cooperation with

TV commercial breaks. He insisted that “I would create a show that was coherent, condensed, and

strong”. He believed the ceremony was better seen and understood as a single performance without TV

commercial breaks. Papaioannou noted people in many countries were watching the show without TV

commercials. Furthermore, he attempted to signify the relationship between the ancient Greek—

aesthetic and religious belief—and the modern Olympic Games through artistic vision. He asserted


Basic human movements . . . and ordinary people [nobody was as a star or a celebrity] . . .

were the key elements . . . [my intention was to point out] the ancient Greek history [which]

was about beauty. We tried to be humble and simple, young kids, boys and girls . . . it has to be

allowed [audiences] to conceive in the place of the mind and the soul that [he or she] . . .

cannot fully understand[sic].

In addition, Papaioannou attempted to generate enthusiasm in the TV audience by employing as

minimal elements as possible. Using simple human moments by single actors—a drummer, a lonely

boy, and a pregnant woman walking in the Olympic arena filled with the water in synchronize with

music background and lighting—was his artistic communication strategy.

Although his unconventional idea was unique, it was criticized and discouraged by members of the

IOC, who commented that the proposed idea was too abstract and not festive enough. They suggested

he produce the ceremony following in the footsteps of past Olympic ceremonies, which had been

highly influenced by popular culture. Papaioannou explained that:

Everybody [the IOC] was saying there was not enough dance, there was not enough music. It

is too slow, nothing is happening, nobody would be able to follow the story[sic].

The IOC could not see the potential of this new proposed idea, which would therefore not encourage

a significant development in the field of Olympic ceremony production. However, Papaioannou stated

that “I had to trust my instinct that this was not true and it was only that they were afraid to change the

style of a large scale show” [sic]. He explained further that the IOC’s decision relied too much on the

conservative structure of past successful Olympic ceremonies. He therefore insisted that the old

approach would not encourage the significant development in the field but rather would create the

same style of ceremony that already had been done. It would neither introduce any new practice to the

field nor bring any new experience to audiences worldwide.

They create an average scene for ordinary people because they research so much what

people like and they want everybody to like it. They bring it down to everybody’s tastes . . .

instead of trying to bring the audience to the higher point[sic].

Papaioannou admitted that his artistic ideas were quite abstract and not easily understood by

audiences worldwide, but he believed it was a good opportunity to introduce something new to the

audience as well as the field. Therefore, he attempted to magnify massive energy from the live

audience in the Olympic arena and hoped the TV camera could capture that energy and transmit it to

TV viewers at home.

I consider them [the live audience] as a mass of energy . . . They were performers in the

way, but they are unpredictable. You have to win them and if you win them they take the show

and then they elevate . . . Because the ultimate goal is the TV unfortunately[sic].

Notably, he stated that “I did not allow non-artists, politicians, and the IOC to intervene the creation

of the ceremony” [sic]. Instead, he was seeking new fresh ideas and diversity from ordinary people,

especially someone who had never been involved in this world stage event. His ultimate goal was to

introduce a unique new style of a large scale international sport ceremony through his artistic lens.

In regard to the proposed model of idea prediction from invention to innovation, it can be concluded

that Papaioannou utilized creative thinking to make a significant change and present the Olympic

ceremony in an unconventional way; he also used critical thinking to consider the appropriateness of

the ceremony to get the message across to the worldwide audiences. The result was an inventive

ceremony that introduced great originality and groundbreaking ideas into the field of Olympic

ceremony production. In contrast, the IOC expected the ceremony to be presented in the fashion of

Hollywood entertainment style. This is considered an innovative approach that relied on the rational

thought or critical thinking, anticipating the Olympic ceremony would be developed from the

traditional structure. It therefore adds too little improvement into the field. Both mental thinking

systems are crucial to the outcomes of idea generation processes, resulting invention and innovation.


This study attempts to clarify that mental thinking systems are crucial to idea prediction. Therefore,

mental thinking systems are crucial to the production of ideas in Olympic ceremony production from

invention to innovation. Creative thinking assists thinkers achieve a more original idea, likely called

invention. On the other hand, an idea that has similar elements to existing ideas or products is likely

facilitated through critical thinking. The advantages of Papaioannue's visionary idea can be understood

through the model of idea prediction through different mental thinking systems from invention to


Importantly, this does not mean that there will only be one thinking mode used in idea generation

processes. In fact, both thinking modes are beneficial in different ways. To that end, any given idea can

be predicted based on mental thinking systems and can result in either invention or innovation.

Moreover, the likelihood is that any given idea would be defined as invention only if the idea leads to

the first introduction. On the other hand, any given idea would be categorized as innovation only if the

idea includes similar elements to existing ideas. In summary, it is worthwhile for policy-makers and

practitioners to see which of mental thinking system is best used for their organizations and society as a



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