Innovation needs all 3 levels of support, so what happens if you miss one?

by Yoram Solomon

Innovation needs all 3 levels of support, so what happens if you miss one? - Innovation ExcellenceThe words creativity and innovation are often used interchangeably. For my doctoral dissertation, I had to spend time defining them and reached the following definition of (and relationship between) the two words.

Creativity is an individual function. It is the cognitive ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, and create meaningful and original ideas.

Innovation is an organizational function. It is the generation, production, and marketing of new and useful products, services, processes, or business models.

The transformation between individual creativity and organizational innovation is the organizational function of implementation, which is the application of resources to turn an idea into a company output.

In a previous article (Who is Responsible for Innovation in my Company?) I discussed the need for three levels of support in the organization to assure the individual generation of creative ideas, and the organizational implementation of those ideas such that they are released successfully into the marketplace. Those three levels are the organizational climate, team dynamics, and individual efforts. I discussed those in several different articles (The Dynamics of a Creative Team, Four Steps to Generate More and Better Ideas, Trust, Motivation, Creativity, Innovation, and Results, and more).

Many creativity and innovation practitioners focus on one of them, or even two. Personal coaches tend to focus on individual creativity, and sometimes on team dynamics. Organizational development professionals may focus on the organizational factors. Very few focus on all three.

However, the results of any effort to increase the level of innovation and creativity in a company will yield less than best results if not all three get full attention. In fact, even missing only one of the three will significantly hurt creativity (and thus innovation) results. Here is how:

Ignoring the Organizational Climate would hamper creative idea generation when employees don’t feel empowered to do so. Employees will be afraid to try new things, fearing for the consequences of failure. Those who never try, will never fail. But they will never succeed, either. Employees will have to “fight” management to get things done, as management will not allocate resources to new initiatives. Implementation will suffer, and so will creativity.

Ignoring team dynamics will support only individual ideas. Only ideas that were fully conceived within one person’s brain will be presented to management. The company will not benefit from the diverse experience and knowledge of its employees, as poor team dynamics will prevent effective team brainstorming, and will never reach 1+1=3. “Every man for himself” will be the order of the day. Internal competition and strife will prevail. Creativity will get a lower priority.

Ignoring individual creativity will be characterized by a low quality and quantity of ideas. A lot of effort will be placed on innovation. The company will likely give employees time and space to create, and will celebrate every little success, but employees will just be sitting there. There can be a lot of pressure to create, and the company might implement ideas that are less (or even far less) than good enough.

All three areas must be supported to get a high flow of high-quality ideas, and have those implemented. People need to be trained on how to be creative, and take the appropriate steps to generate ideas of high fluency, flexibility, elaboration, and originality (see how to measure those in this article). Team dynamics must be such that have low internal competition, high levels of trust, open and passionate debate, where team members build on each other’s ideas and 1+1=3. Finally, the organization must create an environment that allows creativity, allows employees to fail without severe consequences, and applies adequate (yet not excessive!) resources to implement those ideas.

image credit: http://businessradio.co.uk


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Four Rules to Snap Judge a New VentureDr. Yoram Solomon is an inventor, a creativity researcher, coach, consultant, and trainer to large companies and their employees. For his Ph.D. he studied why people are more creative in startup companies than in mature ones. He also holds an MBA and LLB. Yoram was a professor of Technology and Industry Forecasting at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UT Dallas School of Management; is active in regional innovation and technology commercialization; and is also a speaker and author on predicting the technology future and identifying opportunities for market disruption.

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