Individual versus Organizational Innovation

by Jeffrey Baumgartner

Individual versus Organizational InnovationWhen attempting to improve creativity in business, there are two approaches which may be taken, either individually or together: INDIVIDUAL CREATIVITY and ORGANIZATIONAL CREATIVITY.

Individual creativity is, of course, the creativity of the individual. Everyone has what I call a creative comfort level which is based on their natural creativity quotient, their willingness to risk new ideas and their personality. People can be trained to think more creatively and to apply creative thinking strategies to various activities. However, you cannot push someone far beyond her creative comfort level without causing stress. And stress is likely to lead to reduced creativity, unhappiness with the company and other problems.

Likewise, naturally creative people forced to work in an organization that inhibits creativity will also become stressed. Naturally creative people have ideas all the time and like to share those ideas. Moreover, they appreciate the recognition that is showered upon a good idea. Having their ideas ignored, criticized and being told to focus on the tried and tested rather than finding new approaches will only disillusion the creative thinker and cause stress.

Organizational creativity, on the other hand, is the creative capability of an entire organization.

One method of boosting an organization’s creativity, of course, is boosting the creativity of the individuals within the organization. Unfortunately, this is inefficient and will not succeed at all unless aspects of the organization’s creative processes are also managed.

In order to boost organizational creativity, it is critical that the organization create an environment that includes:

  • Trust. Employees must trust management before they will share ideas with management. Employees must not feel their jobs or their future prospects will be threatened should they propose a bad idea. Employees must feel they will be rewarded for sharing ideas with the company rather than have their ideas stolen by the company.
  • An environment that actively encourages the sharing of new ideas.
  • Good communications that ensure everyone’s voice is heard, everyone can find out what is happening throughout the company and everyone can share ideas across the company.
  • An idea management structure that ensures good ideas are shared with the organization, recognized and implemented for the organization.

Likewise, it is important for companies to recognize who their creative thinkers are and to take advantage of them. Creative thinkers can lead – or at least participate in – creative teams that review problematic issues within the organization and propose solutions. (I will look at creative teams in organizations in the future)

Moreover, creative thinkers should participate in creative teams dealing with issues outside their divisions. Unprejudiced by the methodology of those divisions, creative thinkers will often bring very new ideas to and new approaches to the divisions.

It is also important for companies to hire management from other industries than their own. A car company hiring an executive with 20-30 years of experience in the car industry can be assured of hiring someone who knows the car industry. Unfortunately, such a manager will be bringing tried and tested car industry solutions to the company. There is nothing wrong with this. But it is not innovative.

Better to hire some managers from completely different industries. A car company hiring managers from a film production company, fashion company and service company can be assured of hiring managers with different ways of looking at issues; people who might be able to apply operational ideas from other industries to the car industry. People who will bring innovative approaches – at least from the perspective of the car industry.

And it is only by bringing such new approaches that companies can out-innovate the competition.

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Jeffrey BaumgartnerJeffrey Baumgartner is the founder of jpb.com, makers of Jenni innovation process management software. He also edits Report 103, a popular eJournal on business innovation. Contact Jeffrey at jeffreyb@jpb.com or visit http://www.jpb.com/

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  1. One of the reasons I started my own business was because I am more on the creative side and I was not completely happy working for major corporations where most of the time creativity at all levels is not nourished. Now that I run my own shop I try to make sure that I nourish creativity as much as I can.

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