It all be­gins with great ideas

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Over the last few years, cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion have emerged as crit­i­cal suc­cess fac­tors for busi­ness. In 2001, for­mer US Fed­eral Re­serve chair­man Alan Greenspan de­clared that ‘‘We are en­ter­ing the era of Idea­nomics’’. The late man­age­ment strate­gist Peter Drucker once said: ‘‘[A]n es­tab­lished com­pany, which in an age de­mand­ing in­no­va­tion, is not ca­pa­ble of in­no­va­tion, is doomed to de­cline and ex­tinc­tion.’’

In­creas­ingly, the new core com­pe­tence is cre­ativ­ity — the right-brain stuff that smart com­pa­nies are now har­ness­ing to gen­er­ate top-line growth. The game is chang­ing. It’s about cre­ativ­ity, imag­i­na­tion, and, above all, in­no­va­tion.

This new col­umn, ‘‘Cre­ativ­ity Un-Ltd’’, aims to give read­ers deeper in­sights into the world of busi­ness cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion.

Let’s get started by first tak­ing a look at the key con­cepts un­der con­sid­er­a­tion. What does it mean — Busi­ness Cre­ativ­ity and In­no­va­tion? Based on a work­ing def­i­ni­tion of 3M, one of the world’s most in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies, I pre­fer to ex­press the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two con­cepts in a sim­ple equa­tion: cre­ativ­ity + im­ple­men­ta­tion = in­no­va­tion. Let’s take a close-up look on the dif­fer­ent com­po­nents of the equa­tion.

I have noted to my big sur­prise that in their ef­forts to cre­ate more value, most com­pa­nies start with ‘‘hard-wiring’’ their or­gan­i­sa­tions for in­no­va­tion. They hire an in­no­va­tion man­ager, set up an in­no­va­tion man­age­ment sys­tem, de­fine key per­for­mance indicators to mea­sure in­no­va­tion, and so on. Af­ter some time, se­nior man­age­ment won­ders why the in­no­va­tive re­sults of their in­vest­ments are rather mea­gre. The rea­son is that they wrongly started at the right side of the equa­tion.

In­no­va­tion al­ways starts with cre­ativ­ity, which can be de­fined as com­ing up with a novel, rel­e­vant and mean­ing­ful idea. All ideas come out of the brain of an in­di­vid­ual. Hence, a com­pany that wants to see more in­no­va­tion needs to en­cour­age and sup­port its em­ploy­ees to come up with ideas.

But hav­ing an idea alone is not good enough for ar­riv­ing at the right side of our equa­tion. There are many dream­ers in the world who have come up with tons of great ideas in their lives but have never brought a sin­gle one to life.

In a cor­po­rate set­ting, there is an ad­di­tional hur­dle for an em­ployee with a great idea to over­come: cor­po­rate in­er­tia.

Lee Ia­cooca, the for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Chrysler, says it well: ‘‘It is very dif­fi­cult for ideas to sur­vive in the mod­ern cor­po­ra­tion. They have to sur­vive pol­i­tics, lack of un­der­stand­ing, envy, theft, lack of fund­ing and other re­sources, as well as just plain cor­po­rate in­er­tia. The more we can make our com­pa­nies a fer­tile breed­ing ground for new ideas the bet­ter.’’

This means that in many firms, a creative em­ployee with a great idea needs to have a lot of courage and be will­ing to take the risk to sug­gest an idea for im­ple­men­ta­tion. As such, the cor­po­rate cul­ture needs to en­cour­age em­ploy­ees to come up with ideas and take the nec­es­sary ac­tion steps to win sup­port for im­ple­men­ta­tion.

Now it be­comes clear that the soft­ware (ideas and cor­po­rate cul­ture) is more im­por­tant than the hard­ware (the in­no­va­tion man­age­ment sys­tem), that a com­pany needs to fo­cus on the left side of the equa­tion first in or­der to ar­rive at the right side.

I am sure that many com­pa­nies could have saved a lot of money if they had un­der­stood the dy­nam­ics be­tween the con­cepts of cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion. So how can you avoid the same mis­take and set your com­pany on the right in­no­va­tion track?

My sim­ple ad­vice here is: Use our equa­tion and buy the soft­ware first be­fore in­vest­ing into the hard­ware. A great first step is to in­vest in a prime cre­ativ­ity train­ing to mo­ti­vate your em­ploy­ees to gen­er­ate ideas (cre­ativ­ity).

Next, add the im­ple­men­ta­tion com­po­nent by gain­ing deeper in­sights into the in­no­va­tion-friend­li­ness or hos­til­ity of your cor­po­rate cul­ture via a ca­pac­ity au­dit. Only af­ter the re­sults of your ini­tial in­vest­ments prom­ise to bear fruit, in­vest in the dif­fer­ent com­po­nents of a in­no­va­tion man­age­ment sys­tem on the right side of the equa­tion (in­no­va­tion) and har­vest your re­sults.

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