The Shift from Creativity to Value

I enjoyed reading The Shift from Creativity to Value, futurethink‘s 2007 annual Innovation Tracker study. As implied by the name of this blog, innovation is a passion of mine, even though I reluctantly have to agree with one of the main findings of the report, that innovation remains elusive.

The study had some interesting findings. For starters:

  • Many organizations set out to become innovative without actually defining what innovation means for their business.
  • Leadership needs to be more committed to innovation if they are to inspire their employees to be innovative.
  • People need a climate that enables them to innovate.
  • People are afraid to fail, feel they don’t have the time or flexibility they need, and believe that their leaders are too averse to risk.
  • Lack of Creativity is an oft-sited hurdle to innovation.

And what do these findings mean?

  • As the study says, organizations need to define what innovation means to them. More importantly, they need to define what it means relative to their current product or service offerings. There are many kinds of innovation, ranging from what would be an apparent solution to a fresh eye to a revolutionary new discovery. But as practitioners of TRIZ know, you’re only going to make a revolutionary advance at most 1% of the time and come up with a new concept at most 5% of the time. However, as any good business guru knows, you don’t need a revolutionary new discovery to be the market leader, just sell a better, more efficient, and more cost-effective product than your competitors. Just look at Toyota. They’re still selling, more-or-less, the same product they sold last year – cars – but they are made better, more efficiently, sell for less than some of their competitors, and offer you more value. And they’re doing great. And it doesn’t take a genius to do what they do, just everyday intelligence, a good education, and perseverance.
  • Leaders set the tone of their corporate culture. If they are not committed to innovation, but are instead committed to “tried-and-true” practices, chances are their employees are also going to be committed to “tried-and-true” processes in their efforts to please management.
  • Innovation requires creativity, creativity requires the right mindset, and the right mindset requires the right environment.
  • Innovation is not a smooth and straight freshly paved highway, but a curvy and jagged pot-holed dirt road that is guaranteed to contain a few bumps along the way. Failure to some degree is inevitable – and that’s not a bad thing. As humans, we can often learn more from our mistakes than our successes. As long as we take the time to learn from these failures, and manage the risks by constraining the impact, there is no reason that we cannot eventually succeed, and sometimes do so beyond our expectations. Thus, it’s important that employees know that it’s okay to fail (as long as you do so within well-defined bounds).
  • The corporate culture is key to creativity, and an organization must adopt a forward-thinking culture from the outset.

The study also points out that innovation is about ideas, and, in a business context, addresses a need and generates value. Furthermore, innovative businesses are those that just do it – not those that just talk about it. Some of the most innovative businesses don’t even talk about innovation as it’s so ingrained into their culture that it’s just natural. And that’s the way innovation should be.