Where does Creativity happen?

Inspiring meetingsThis is a question that often passes our lips. Where does Creativity happen then? One possible answer is ‘everywhere and anywhere’ but really the original question ought to be better framed. For instance are we talking about where creative activities might take place within an organisation? Maybe we are talking about the mechanisms by which individuals might come up with creative ideas or which parts of the human brain are being used?

So I shall try to shine a light on both of these areas.

Traditionally Creativity would have been found in areas such as Marketing or Product Development, or rather that is where you would have been told to find it and where employees would have been given permission to be creative. In fact Creativity can be found (and always could be found) in all parts of an organisation. The big difference is that now we know that all employees can be creative independent of their job function. This means that in order to tap into this creativity the mechanisms that are used to capture and recognise ideas must have a greater reach.

There are also issues of permission and the ability to handle ambiguity for those in management positions. Things are no longer confined to neat boxes.

But where does creativity happen for individuals? The actual ideas are formed in our heads (the easy bit) and then we have to externalise them somehow (often the hard bit). We can be creative anywhere but creative situations fall into a small number of categories. We are often creative when faced with adversity or tight deadlines. However, over do the challenges and we often give up. The right amount of pressure is critical.

Creativity is often found where there is some sort of tension (not necessarily war like tension). People with varying backgrounds and opinions will often create the right atmosphere as long as they can respect the viewpoints of others.

We can be creative individually but often need to dream or daydream. Either that or distract the part of our brains that screams ‘no you can’t do that so that the creative part of your brain can have a party.

These are only my opinions. It does not really matter where creativity happens just as long as it does.

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Innovation – ban the committees

Does your organisation create a plethora of steering committees? Even worse if you work in the public sector you might have been subjected to the dreaded ‘Task and Finish group’.

These groups, and others like them are one of the major reasons that organisations claim that Innovation fails. Here’s why.

Most group members do nothing at all, they are there for political reasons or in some cases to sabotage the process. Committees meet infrequently and are thus ineffective in getting things done. They do however have one significant output – frustration!

Committees tend to be:

Full of lazy control freaks. A bit harsh perhaps but these people don’t want to get their hands dirty. They just want to take the credit for success. Often too, they demand creativity but just want other employees (the project team) to carry out their bidding.

Isolated. If people have not been ‘at the coal face’ for a long while (or maybe not at all) then they may not have any insights to provide at all.

Slow and political. Project teams are expected to be flexible but those steering the process tend to be the opposite. The decision making process is bureaucratic and is governed by the frequency of meetings. Nothing can get signed off without the correct signatories present!

So what can you do to make things a little easier?

It is important to connect senior management and other relevant stakeholders to your project team.  Instead of a steering committee, make these people an extension to your project team. They need not be with you all of the time but could, for example, engage in the following way:

Spend time in the project instead of supervising it. Get them participating in workshops or other brainstorming events. This will demonstrate commitment and remove the appearance of remoteness (aloofness).

Learn to create rather than evaluate. Don’t judge but add insights, views and ideas to the mix.

Make decisions immediately instead of waiting for the next committee meeting, causing delays of many days (or more usually) weeks. Decisions can be made ‘on the spot’ because executives are more closely connected to the process and have all of the information necessary at their fingertips.

This can take a bit more effort to get going but it is often the case that senior managers do actually like to be involved.

So next time someone suggests a steering committee of any sort, say ‘no’ and invite them to spend some time getting their hands dirty.

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Innovation – the hardest steps

Many companies are ill equipped for the trial-and-error process that is part of real innovation. They stumble in the first steps, the first few yards.

These first steps are a critical period when an idea moves from concept to paper and then to market, where it will fly or fail, and maybe take a company with it. It is the most fragile time for a new idea, because every great new idea is partly right and partly wrong. Because of this one of the most critical skills for both individuals and an organisation is the reduction of uncertainty.

When starting out you must be systematic about what you do, if not you are vulnerable on several counts. The first is getting discouraged and quickly giving up, or if you can’t identify the things you are doing wrong, spending a lot of time and money pursuing what ultimately proves to be a fatally flawed strategy.

You can also get lost or sidetracked when something that you thought was a great opportunity turns out not to be so. It is also common to put the wrong people in charge of a project, people without the right technical skills or perhaps lacking the managerial skills  to handle the uncertainty and ambiguity that will exist for a while.

You or your business may simply run out of ‘innovation fuel’. We tend to be optimistic about the money and time needed to go from concept to world beating product or service. Innovation costs more and takes longer!

Many businesses often try to run before they can walk. They have a great idea and have produced prototypes or maybe pilot production lines. They have not quite got the recipe or the economics right but cross their fingers and hope that all goes well when they quadruple their output!

These are all things that any individual or business may fall foul of but there is one last thing that lies in wait for large corporations. They all sit on the bottoms, sifting through large piles of paper. They make plans to innovate but never take action. When their endless planning meetings fail to deliver they conclude that innovation has failed them.

Innovation is essentially a trial and error process until you have got that idea into production so without action there is no trial, with no trial there is no error and with no error there is no learning.

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Improving Your Return On Innovation

Return On InnovationWe often get excited about Innovation, especially since most of it is fun. Some people can get carried away and forget that the name of the game is to make money. If we do make money then we should be maximising the amount that we do make, both for stakeholders and to reinvest in future enterprises.

One of the major ways that we can improve the return that we get is to make sure that we have possible patents in mind during our research and prototyping phases. Do not leave this any later as IP that is in the public domain cannot be patented.

Innovation teams are often isolated from a company’s patent ‘machine’. This can mean that innovation processes can move forward with little or no consideration of whether competitors can copy the resulting products. The innovation process itself is fairly well protected since what is kept in the heads of employees is hard to copy. The resulting ‘innovations’ can be somewhat easier to copy. They may not be a direct copy but they will result in customers going elsewhere to buy cheap imitations. If the IP contained is not patented then there are two major issues to consider:

  1. Competitors may simply work out how we have created a product and then copy it, reducing its value to us
  2. For high value items such as pharmaceuticals we lose the ability to licence products and hence generate revenue if we do not wish to take them to market./

Companies may then not attain expected returns because competitors can legally copy the innovation—be it a product, technology or otherwise—without incurring legal penalties.

It is not always necessary to protect innovation outputs with patents e.g if  a product has a short shelf-life or where the company may desire to protect technology by treating it as a trade secret. However, for innovation programmes where business strategy  assumes exclusivity, companies must usually seek  patent protection.

Also, the absence of a function that provides patent expertise may mean that innovations are not properly audited  for risks of potential patent infringement or other IP protection infringement until significant development effort and expense have been expended.

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10 Strategies For Boosting Creativity

Creative strategiesNot just Creativity, Innovation too! Here are my top ten ways to help your business get along in challenging times.

  1. Knowledge is a key Innovation component. Use what you already have and try to learn from as many different sources as you can. Read things you might not normally read or do things that you might not normally do.
  2. Many of the rules of creativity touch on judging. Build up rather than say ‘yes but’ and try to see things through the eyes of others.
  3. Many business people only ‘see’ things that are written in documents. To get different views why not model in some way (play doh, Lego, rich pictures) or perform some sort of visualisation for which many scripts are available.
  4. Allow time for things to grow. When experimenting, keep going around the loop if no final decisions need to be made. Try also to take some time out to reflect on what you are doing or to let your creative ‘right brain’ continue to work.
  5. Use all of the methods at your disposal to see what is going on around you. This means your physical senses as well as any ‘information gatherers’ that you employ.
  6. Doing is better than thinking so do lots! If you are managing an innovation project get your hands dirty. Don’t be afraid to go off a a tangent if you feel like it. Innovation only fails if you do nothing.
  7. Save yourself time. Don’t wander all over your marketplace looking for niches, simply look at your competitors and look in the places that they are not.
  8. If you work in a company that deals with one or more strands of continuous innovation then ignore this suggestion! If you are involved in an innovation programme then beware of creating too many ideas! Once you have got as many as you need, stop generating ideas and get on with evaluating them and put them into action.
  9. Be careful of ‘givens’, the rules that everyone accepts as true for no good reason. Patterns are good though as they help us deal with lots of thoughts at once, stopping our heads from exploding.
  10. If you are stuck, try redefining or reframing your issue in some way. You might like to just look from a different perspective or maybe use metaphor
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