I hope you are enjoying a rewarding summer at work and the chance to take a little vacation time. In the fall of 2011, I had the opportunity to travel to Paris, France with my wife and youngest daughter to participate in a training program that was the first step in the process of certifying as a partner with New and Improved, a global creativity and innovation training firm based in New York State, USA.
Traveling to Paris for the first time was a richly rewarding experience, but even more precious to me was the opportunity to discover the fascinating world of creativity and innovation.
As I worked to learn about creativity and innovation and their application to achieving business goals, I discovered a deep fondness for the work of applying the creative process, creative thinking, and creativity tools to the goal of creating value for the organization.
Examples of value we might create through creativity and innovation efforts are improved efficiency, lower cost, higher quality, and a better experience. People who know me well know that the ultimate goal of these efforts is one I feel truly enthusiastic about: Making life better for the good people I live and work with.
In today’s True Insights I will begin to share with you some concepts I have that produce these results. I hope you find them valuable.
Creativity is the Foundation of Innovation
One of the early questions I answered in my learning process was “What is the difference between innovation and creativity, and how are the two related?”
I confess that until three years ago I lacked awareness of the link between creativity and innovation in a business context. Prior to learning from a variety of experts in books, lectures, discussions, and actual hands-on innovation work, I thought that creativity was something designers, artists, musicians and writers developed and applied to their work and that innovation was something companies did to make more money. In fact, the two are tightly linked in a business context, and successful innovation is reliant on the success of creative thinking and creative efforts.
Perhaps a simple model will help explain the link (and we’ll add “Creative Thinking” to the mix):
A few notes to further clarify:
· Creative Thinking can be either the beginning of a major breakthrough or an incremental improvement on an old idea, product, or process.
· Creativity is a skill. It can be developed.
· People are creative in different ways. We have strengths in different parts of the creative process. That is why creative teams are almost always more successful than lone individuals.
· Innovation relies on creative thinking and creativity. You cannot innovate without first being creative.
· Innovation is a process. It takes know how, but more importantly, it takes courage, humility and perseverance to be successful. If you’ve ever seen a good idea get murdered by your colleagues, you’ll know what I mean.
For an entertaining look into how creative thinking, creativity, and innovation work together, see this story about a curious and humble Shell Oil engineer working in Brunei.
Two Kinds of Thinking
Creativity and innovation are supported by two kinds of thinking that must be performed in the right sequence: Divergent and Convergent thinking.
Divergent thinking is used to generate possible solutions, options, ideas. It asks and attempts to answer questions like “How many ways are there to do this?” and “What are the possibilities?” It is supported by an attitude of openness and non-judgment. It is most successful when people (groups are best) try to think of a large quantity of options, allow wild and crazy ideas, and connect later ideas to earlier ideas.
Most individuals, and especially most teams, do not allow much time and space for divergent thinking. We tend to judge the value of an idea right away because, after all,we’re very busy. So busy that we don’t have time for creativity, but we SURELY want to be innovative! We forget that the value brought by a creative solution is worth slowing down to think of new ideas before we start thinking about action plans.
Convergent thinking follows divergent thinking and is used to evaluate and select the best solutions, options, or ideas that came from the work we did in the divergent thinking stage. Convergent thinking is not about criticizing ideas. The focus is on giving each possible idea a chance and on choosing the ones that are most likely to produce a successful solution. We continue to improve on ideas at this stage, and continue to invite new thinking, just like a musician might do when he/she enters the recording studio and suddenly thinks of a better combination of notes or improved lyrics.
Most individuals and teams diverge and converge at the same time. The brain scientists tell us that the parts of the brain used to think of new ideas and connections are different from the parts of the brain used to evaluate ideas. That means if you aren’t disciplined about diverging before you converge, you are actually just converging, and you and your team will have a hard time coming up any truly new ideas.
Generating Value from Creativity, Part 2
There is much more to share. I’ll stop here to let you digest what I’ve written here before we get into a discussion of the creative process, creativity tools, and some practical tips on how to build a culture of innovation on your team or at the entire organization level.
In the meantime, I’ll share two tools that might help you in your efforts to strengthen the creativity and innovation culture in your organization:
1.My friends and partners at New and Improved have generously provided a free download of their breakthrough research on building organizational innovation culture in the form of the e-book “Demystifying Innovation Culture Efforts.” You can find that resource, and many others.
Note for Chinese speakers: The True Development team is in the process of creating a Chinese version of this paper. We expect to have it completed by early Fall. If you want us to send you a copy once it is done, please reply to me here and I’ll make sure you are on our list.
2. For a comprehensive checklist of activities and factors that support organizational innovation culture, see this useful tool provided by authors Jay Rao and Joseph Weintraub in MIT Sloan Management Review Scroll down about halfway through the article and look for the downloadable pdf titled “The Building Blocks of Innovation Survey.”
I will be in touch again soon with more detail on this topic. In the meantime, I encourage you to think about the interdependence of creativity and innovation, and the importance of allowing time and space to diverge before you start making plans. I can promise you that it is worth doing.
Yours in learning,
True Development Co., Ltd.