When I was still in school, I was told to be creative all the time. The way I write, draw and present should have a tint of creativity for me to get that most-coveted teacher’s praise. Since “creativity” is a term used all the time, it becomes the most overrated academic term for students; at the same time, it becomes the most underrated technical term because no one has really defined “creativity” for them. At the very least, context clues and trivial dictionary definitions have provided some meaning to the term but its subjectivity and highly-contextual meaning will let you succumb to its default definition: the skill to produce something new. Moreover, and more importantly, how creativity works, how it is fostered and how it should be lead are not included in the urgent academic agenda. Since school dwells more on the theoretical side of reality, being creative on your own creative definition and process of creativity seems to get the job done–creatively. However, when a student enters the practical world–where creativity is also underrated and overrated at the same time–being creative becomes a challenge.
Recently, I encountered two journal articles from Harvard Business Review: Creativity and the Role of the Leader (Amabile & Khaire) and Five Ways to Make Your Company More Innovative (Emmons, Hanna & Thompson). These articles shed some light on the issue of “creativity” in the workplace in the context of leadership and fostering innovation. Just like in school, creativity has always been at the heart of the business, but until now it hasn’t been at the top of the management agenda (Amabile & Khaire, 2008). By Amabile and Khaire’s definition, creativity is the ability to create something novel and appropriate. “New” is not the sole operative term for creativity; it should be “appropriate” as well. For me, creativity is a skill to generate an idea that comes in a new form that performs in either a new or an old function to improve a specific key performance indicator. Aside from the definition, their article gave an insight on how an idea becomes a brilliant idea and, eventually, a brilliantly executed idea. I will be sharing to you this process through a framework that I made and through the lens of my personal understanding with some relevant information from Emmons, Hanna & Thompson’s article about innovation:
Idea Generation and Idea Commercialization. If executing an idea is a linear process, then it starts from idea generation and ends in idea commercialization. The former can be sourced internally (within the organization), externally (the market or any other external force) or a fusion of both. The latter is executing the idea, or, in the context of businesses, selling the idea or product to the market. Most companies separate the function of generation and commercialization so the management’s job is to have a smooth transition (Amabile & Khaire, 2008).
The Idea. The idea can come from an individual or a group. The challenge is to bring that idea to reality–but before that happens, several forces will either hinder or accelerate the idea towards commercialization. For an idea to be generated, 5 primary discovery skills that underlie innovation are crucial (Christensen as cited in Emmons, Hanna & Thompson, 2012):
- Associating- a skill of making connections between seemingly unrelated problems and ideas and synthesize new ideas
- Observing- a skill of seeing and paying attention to things
- Questioning- a skill of “wondering why”
- Networking- a skill of identifying and developing ideas by spending time with a diverse group of people
- Experimenting- a skill of generating new sets of data
Manager. The role of the manager is to be the “shepherd” of his or her people’s idea. The manager “must protect those doing creative work from hostile environment and clear paths for them around obstacles” (Scott as cited in Amabile & Khaire, 2008). Moreover, the manager, or the management should have filters and controls which comprise organizational systems. They should know if the idea has market potential or none. Filters, like idea generators, should be diverse as well. On the other hand, accelerators can be a part of the organizational system to rush the execution of an idea with high market potential.
Bureaucracy. Gone are the days that only the top management can produce brilliant ideas or has the right to be creative. Ideas should be sourced from all ranks. Case in point is Google’s innovation story: Its founders found out that ideas from the ranks have higher success rates from those initiated by top management alone.
Audience. The audience should be supportive or appreciative of the idea. If possible, enable inquiries and collaboration between the idea generator and other relevant stakeholders of the organization.
Culture. The organization should have an innovation-centric and creative culture. Companies should put innovation at their core strategy, define jobs around innovation and recognize innovation in every part of the company (Kanter as cited in Emmons, Hanna & Thompson, 2012). There should be constant experiments, accepted and early failures and lessons learned throughout the process. Moreover, diversity should be the goal of any organization. Innovation is more likely when different people from different backgrounds come together to solve a problem. Their identities or backgrounds should not be suppressed inside the organization so that they become sources of knowledge.
In this border-less, competitive and information-driven economic world, being creative and innovative is no longer crucial–it becomes a requirement. Creativity is no longer the simple and motherhood term our teachers told us everyday back in school– it becomes a complex skill in a complex process that should be simple to understand if organizations put it at its core strategy. Innovation is no longer the business of inventors and scientists engaged in research and development–it becomes the everyday business of everyday people in every rank of every organization.
Amabile, T., & Khaire, M. (2008). Creativity and the Role of the Leader. Harvard Business Review.
Emmons, G., Hanna, J., & Thompson, R. (2012). Five Ways to Make Your Company More Innovative. Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.