Just what are creativity and innovation? You know them when you see them, right? But a deeper understanding of what creativity is—and is not—can help you enhance the creativity of any group you lead. Let's start with a couple of definitions, and then move on to correct the most common misconceptions people have about creativity.
Creativity is a process of developing and expressing novel ideas that are likely to be useful.
Innovation is the embodiment, combination, and/or synthesis of knowledge in original, relevant, valued new products, processes, or services.
Embedded in these definitions are three key insights:
1. Creativity is not so much a talent as it is a goal-oriented process. Making your group more innovative is not a matter of importing a few people who have creative character traits, and then relying on these folks for all your breakthrough ideas. Rather, it's a matter of designing a collaborative approach that maximizes everyone's distinctive gifts, experience, and expertise. Moreover, the purpose or goal of the creative process is the solving of a particular problem or the satisfying of a specific need.
2. Creativity involves convergent as well as divergent thinking. The creative process begins with divergent thinking—a breaking away from familiar or established ways of seeing and doing that produces novel ideas. Convergent thinking occurs in the later stages of the process. As the original ideas generated by the divergent thinking are communicated to others, they are evaluated to determine which ideas are genuinely novel and worth pursuing. The group then uses convergent thinking to choose an option with the potential to solve the problem that initiated the creative process.
3. An innovation is the end result of the creative process. Again, creativity is a process you employ to improve your problem solving. So you're not done until your creative efforts have produced a product, service, or process that answers the original need or solves the problem you identified at the outset.
Most successful innovation is the result of a conscious, purposeful search. Some areas represent more fertile ground than others. Inside a company, such opportunities include:
• Unexpected occurrences, such as the loss of an overseas factory because of political upheaval
• Incongruities—for example, the need to rethink corporate strategy in the wake of a merger
• Process needs, such as the need to create separate distribution channels for a new line of products
• Industry and market changes
Opportunities generated outside the company include:
• Demographic changes—for example, a shift in consumer demand for leisure activities in accordance with the aging of the population
• Changes in perception, such as the strengthening of a company's brand equity
• New knowledge—for example, the advent of a new technology that cuts production costs in half
• The need to provide new products or services
Looking for an area in which to concentrate your creative efforts? Use these categories to help you make that assessment. Another approach is to make of list of all the aspects of the company's operations that require special knowledge or expertise, and concentrate your efforts there.