Innovation : Creativity and Change equals Innovation

grace2Author of Thunderbolt Thinking(R) and designer of the Thunderbolt Tool Kit, Grace McGartland uses fresh idea sparking techniques to coach organizations by rejuvenating thinking and improving performance. Visit Grace at Thunderbolt ThinkingE-mail:

as seen in Words of Mouth!

In 1975, Jim Collins made mountain climbing history as the first person to ascend Psycho Roof in El Dorado Canyon near Boulder, Colorado. For years, climbers had tried to conquer Psycho Roof. They were unsuccessful because the cliff extended just beyond the reach of their arms.

Collins realized that, while his arms were too short to reach the tip of the cliff, his legs were not. He devised a way to hang upside down, using his legs and toes to hold on to the cliff. Then he was able to reach the tip with his arms. In other words, by turning himself upside down, Collins found a way to scale an "unscaleable" rock--he realigned the relationships involved in the process to come up with a new way of climbing, which yielded an innovative solution.

Lessons for Business

When do you need to turn your thinking upside down ? Collins’s story holds lessons for integrating creativity into the workplace. Each of us has the capacity to scale our business challenges creatively. Creativity is a skill that can be taught and learned.

Think of creativity as a habit. On a daily basis, you look for ways to realign things or ideas into relationships that did not previously exist. Which means that creativity can be leveraged everywhere--from using duct tape and hairpins for purposes other than their intended uses, to finding new ways to approach the product design and customer service processes in your organization.

While creativity is the process of manipulating existing resources into new relationships, innovation is the process of zeroing in on effective ideas and finding ways to put those new relationships into action. In other words, your organization might come up with 15 unexpected and fresh ideas for building a better mousetrap, but true mousetrap innovation will exist only when the creative environment works in unison with change, a break with tradition for the purpose of achieving better results. Think of it as a formula: Change + Creativity = Innovation.

When the Need for Creativity is Greatest

In The Creative Spirit by Daniel Goleman, Paul Kaufman, and Michael Ray, mountain climber Jim Collins said, "In climbing, if you’re bold and just go ahead and do it, when you run out of protection you think of the consequences of a fall. It’s then that you start getting really creative, and working hard to stay on the rock."

In a time of great change, it is highly likely that organizations will "run out of protection." And just as a rock climber must think creatively to stay on the rock, we must meet our change challenges creatively in order to survive. The need for creativity is most crucial when the results of potential loss or failure are most significant. Although 98% of a company’s problems can be solved routinely, it’s the remaining 2% that require creativity that leads to innovation. This 2% represents problem areas that have greatest effect on your organization. In fact, the higher the risk involved in the problem, the greater the need for creativity.

The Myths and Barriers that Keep Us

Grounded Beyond assuring survival, creativity plays a significant role in achieving success. Most business people overuse probability analysis when making decisions. Jim Collins warned, "If you spend your life keeping your options open that’s all you’re ever going to do. You can’t get to the top of the mountain by keeping one foot on the ground."

So what keeps us grounded ? First, there is the myth that creativity is an inborn talent directly correlated with genius. But studies at the Creative Research and Education Foundation find that everyone is capable of creativity. Moreover, medical research shows that when stroke victims undergo rehabilitation therapy, most recover some brain function as new dendrite connections form. Stimulation of the brain causes it to grow.

Yet most people do seem to lose their creative capacities as they age. A UCLA study found that at age five, we engage in creative tasks 98 times a day, laugh 113 times, and ask questions 65 times. By the ripe old age of 44, the numbers shrink to two creative tasks a day, 11 laughs, and six questions. The UCLA study also found a 91% negative response rate among adults exposed to new ideas. 

How to Break Through the Myths to Scale the Barriers

Intellectual stimulation, personal development, and positive motivation are all important for overcoming barriers to creativity. Managers should clearly define challenges and work creatively to help people develop ideas into valuable solutions. But the most crucial way to scale creativity barriers is to create an Effective Thinking Environment. Leaders must inspire the creative process to flourish by tying creativity and analytical thinking together.

Creative thinking and analytical thinking are not mutually exclusive. To be truly innovative, you need to do both. Analytical thinking involves discussing the realities of a situation or problem and determining which course of action will best meet the inherent challenges. Refining and selecting ideas and building plans of action are just as important to innovation as coming up with fresh ideas.

The Lucky Thirteen

If you want to develop an innovative climate in your workplace, try introducing these "Lucky Thirteen" proven ways to foster, nurture, and manage creativity:

  1. Take the mystery out of creativity: Define expected outcomes.
  2. Discover how individuals are most creative: Ask for their input; keep in mind that people have different work styles.
  3. Define challenges specifically: Focus on areas where creative solutions are needed.
  4. Minimize fear of failure: Find ways to absorb risk. Regard mistakes as learning opportunities. 
  5. Embrace play: Give people opportunities to master play skills.
  6. Take personal responsibility for developing an organizational climate for innovation.
  7. Set a tone through your attitude: Show people that you are for them. Give half-baked ideas a chance. 
  8. Remember that innovative behavior does not happen spontaneously: Provide tools and diverse thinking models that people can adopt and experiment with.
  9. Encourage active communications: Set up hot lines among groups for quick, ongoing interactive idea exchanges.
  10. Allow adequate time for ideas to develop and mature.
  11. Provide ready channels through which creative ideas convert to specific action.
  12. Position creativity as a vital, integrated aspect of the organization’s success, not a gimmick. Tie creativity to business goals.
  13. Enhance your own creative skills and behavior. Set an example.

If you’re looking for a place to begin, start with areas where change is needed in your organization--or where you need to respond better to change.
Remember, Change + Creativity = Innovation.

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