Innovation - Nothing to be afraid of
Do you know that fear is considered to be the biggest blocker of innovation? I think that is not a surprise… just how many people in your organisation would raise their hands when asked: are you highly creative and innovative? By the way, first no-no is to lump creativity and innovation together, indeed, many still seem to use these terms interchangeably. To me there is an important difference; creativity tends to be the starting point for innovation; the spark that can see an alternative, that can see something new, something different. Innovation is then the process of making it happen, of turning that idea into reality.
This still leaves the challenge that we need to come up with something new or different in the first place, ie we need to be creative. Do you consider yourself highly creative? Do your colleagues? In my experience the answer tends to be ‘no’. Now, if I asked the same question to your children, particularly if they are still quite young, what would the answer be then? I bet all hands would shoot up in the air, with certainty, and with pride.
Don't take my word for it. Take a look at the graph below.
I have come across this lovely piece of research by George Land that suggests that at the age of six 98% of us are creative geniuses - not by our own admission but based on a test. Take the same test at the age of 25 and you will find that only 2% of us are still creative geniuses! What happened between six and 25?
We got educated.
The imagination of children is boundless; anything and everything is possible. Kids can image all kinds of uses for a bucket, a box , have no problems transferring things from one knowledge domain to another; experimentation and exploration are what we do at that age. Then we all found out, many of us the hard way, that there are (supposed to be) ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers. To be more specific, we have learned the hard way that there is generally exactly one right answer. If we don’t get that one, we fail, we are stupid, people laugh - particularly if we have given an unorthodox answer instead. One right answer, the rest, by deduction, is wrong. One answer leads to success, the rest to failure. So there it is no good being creative, coming up with new or different answers! We learn to find the one right answer, the one that works.
So it is not really that we are becoming less creative. We have learned to tame our creativity - to a degree that leads us to believe that we are no longer creative. Combine that with experience we may have had when being highly creative, and being ridiculed as a consequence, and there is no wonder we are not allowing our creativity to shine through.
So my first point is, it is not that we are not creative, most of us have just buried it deep.
However if you feel inspired to rekindle the flow of your creative juices, a couple of tips: 1. Mindfulness is suggested in this recent FastCompany article: “This One Simple Technique Will Stoke Your Creativity Every Day”. 2. Have a look at ‘The Private Eye’, no, it is not the British satiric magazine, this Private Eye is a programme about “the drama and wonder of looking closely at the world, thinking by analogy, changing scale and theorising. Designed to develop critical thinking skills, creativity and scientific literacy - across subjects - it's based on a simple set of tools that produce ‘gifted’ results.”
As an aside, it seems that, at a national level, creativity and innovation can be learned - as the article “Well-researched look at how China is transforming itself into a global innovator” describes.
A second point is on the important distinction between creativity and innovation alluded to already. If I want indeed innovation, creativity alone is not enough! What good are the drawers full of ideas generated in endless brainstorming sessions when there is no one to do something with them, and make them happen? What is a lightbulb without a lamp? So we do not really all need to be highly creative, sprouting ideas all the time. We don't all need to did down to rediscover our creativity. What innovation needs is a wide variety of skill and mindsets, it needs everyone with what they have to offer and contribute, that’s just the biggest beauty of innovation to me. That view also allows us to stop trying to change people and instead allow them to be who and how they are. However, one thing we do need to tackle, and that is finding ways to enable those of different mindsets to collaborate more successfully, and with less misunderstandings and conflict - which may be the topic of another blog.
Realising that most of us have a deep seated belief that there is one right answer helped me to understand why there is so often so much resistance to change! If deep down we have a belief that there is one right way, and if then someone suggests to do it a different way, must that not mean that we have been doing it wrong all along? Of course that makes us defensive, especially if we have been the ones putting in place what currently exists.
In the world of business this belief that there is a right and a wrong way of doing things has a manifestation in the search for ‘best practice’. We are constantly on the hunt to identify what works well for others, then bring it into our own organisation - often to experience that it somehow does not deliver the desired results.
In this thinking of ‘right and wrong’, and the search for best practice one component seems forgotten: time. By the time I have implemented best practice, is it still what leading companies do? Particularly in our fast-paced times? By all means, seek best practice - and then leapfrog! find out what the next best practice might look like; make it your ambition to develop leading practice. This should certainly be the ambition in the context of innovation.
The concept of absolute ‘right and wrong’ also looses much of its validity if the time component is brought in. There is no guarantee that what works well for us today will be working well for us tomorrow. It might, then again it might not! We are required to challenge and think - which, according to the article The Lost Art of Thinking in Large Organisations published earlier this year in Sloan Management Review, is a challenge. What we should do is ask, “is this still appropriate, is there a better way” on a regular basis, proactively.
In addition to time there is a second aspect that affects ‘right and wrong’ and best practice: context. What works beautifully in one context, might be disastrous in another. If transferring things from one context to another were so easy, how can it be that we have so many case studies and so much insight into the workings of innovative organisations yet fail to replicate such cultures?
Hence, I have come to the conclusion that there is only ever a most appropriate solution, given a specific context, and a particular point in time.
PS Connecting to the comments on solar panels in the last mailout, here a link to an interesting article of Google Earth’s initiative to offer a map that helps you establish where solar panels make sense. It seems for now it is restricted to the US