Individual versus organisational innovation
When attempting to improve creativity in business, there are two approaches which may be taken, either individually or together: INDIVIDUAL CREATIVITY and ORGANISATIONAL 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 organisation 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, criticised and being told to focus on the tried and tested rather than finding new approaches will only disillusion the creative thinker and cause stress.
Organisational creativity, on the other hand, is the creative capability of an entire organisation.
One method of boosting an organisation's creativity, of course, is boosting the creativity of the individuals within the organisation. Unfortunately, this is inefficient and will not succeed at all unless aspects of the organisation's creative processes are also managed.
In order to boost organisational creativity, it is critical that the organisation 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 organisation, recognised and implemented for the organisation.
Likewise, it is important for companies to recognise 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 organisation and propose solutions. (I will look at creative teams in organisations in a future issue of Report 103)
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.
© 2004 Jeffrey Baumgartner
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