Every business talks about being ‘innovative’ or being more ‘creative’ as part of its vision or values. Management will talk about blue sky thinking, or its more robust cousin blue ocean strategy, without doing much else.
Often people will talk about innovation and creativity as the same thing which doesn’t help. You might mean them to be the same but they’re not. Innovation is usually held to be the more exciting original, strategic activity; creativity being more about low level process and operational, incremental improvement.
However, the real meaning of the words actually places their context the other way round. Innovate has its roots in innovâre–to renew. Creative however is, by definition, to bring some brand new into existence.
Whichever way you use the terms they do point to two different activities and thinking processes; one about originality, creating new things, and the other about taking something that exists further and better than anybody else previously has. Both these approaches can be sources of competitive advantage.
The commercial history of attempting to institutionalise innovation/creativity can be shown on a timeline.
What major corporations have recognised over recent times is that a functional focus is no longer effective (above the line). A more networked approach is required that connects the inside of the organisation to outside expertise and customers. The other significant development is the focus on cultural norms rather than rules and responsibilities. With everybody thinking differently, the ideas pipeline is much more effectively stocked.
The Major Innovation/ Creativity Drivers
- Clear alignment with the vision and values
- Linked to strategic objectives
- Encouraged through informal networks
- People trusted and empowered to try new things
- Critical analysis of customers articulated and unarticulated needs
- Leveraging existing intellectual capital
- Early involvement of suppliers/partners
- Toleration of rule breaking
Three Major Innovation/Creativity Considerations
- It doesn’t happen without strong evidence of leadership being present
- It doesn’t happen without good organisational change capabilities
- It doesn’t happen without being measured through a Balanced Score Card type performance framework.
Note: The most common inhibitor to innovation/creativity is management talking about wanting more of it, without taking practical steps to make it happen.
One thing is certain, in this increasingly reductive, commoditised world, without innovative/creative capabilities your organisations’ competitive advantage will be severely limited.