Do You Have What It Takes to Innovate?

edisonofficeRecently, I read the Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Innovation. Although my initial intention was to take a look at the latest articles on innovation, I came across this package of articles that said: “To innovate profitably, you need more than just creativity (emphasis added). Do you have what it takes? If you read nothing else on inspiring and executing innovation, read these 10 articles…” So, I did.

At first, the phrase “you need more than creativity” bothered me. After scrutinizing all the articles, I concluded that, in this context, creativity means new and novel ideas that spark innovation. Clearly, great product ideas are not enough for successful innovation. As I’ve mentioned in prior blogs, personal creativity is a prerequisite for innovation and the impetus for transforming ideas to value. Innovation occurs at the intersection of personal creativity and organizational discipline, and creativity is needed on the discipline side as well.

Ideas come from People; the ideas are analyzed and transformed through Processes into valuable Products/Technology, in an Environment where both ongoing operations and innovation occur, and produce value by Business Results that keep the company viable or make it great. The organizational system includes these five domains: People, Products/Technology, Processes, Environment, and Business Results. Personal creativity and disciplined integration of these five domains determine the success of a company. Creativity in the Product/Technology domain is not enough; it is needed in all five domains.

Books and articles tend to focus on Product innovation to drive Business Results. What is clear in this set of innovation articles is the importance of creativity in the People, Environment, and Business Results domains as well.

I scrutinized each of the ten articles and extracted directly from them 166 key points that are relevant to successful innovation. Then I organized the 166 key points into the five organizational domains. Innovation touches every domain, listed in order of the number of key points identified. Clearly, the big leverage is in the People and Process domains.

65 (39%) People domain
46 (28%) Process domain
20 (12%) Environment domain
20 (12%) Products/Technology domain
15 (9%) Business Results domain

The ten articles were written between 2002 and 2014 by authors affiliated with prestigious university business schools, some independent consultants, and one CEO. There were anecdotes about twenty-seven industries and sixty companies in nine countries. The content is very comprehensive and useful, even more so when organized into the five organizational domains! Below are some topics discussed in each domain.

People topics addressed in the ten Harvard Business Review (HBR) articles:
Sources of innovation; what effective innovators do; personality of innovators; importance of perceptions; role of the brain; where talents lie; requirements for successful innovation; mistakes people continually make despite what is known about successful innovation; the impact of feelings and emotions; problems with performance plans; leadership mistakes; problem of limited participation; trust; communication; relationship building.

Products/Technology topics addressed in the ten HBR articles:
What good innovation is; various sources of innovation; Big Innovation vs. little innovation; product strategy mistakes; technology bias; criticality of market knowledge; dangers of feature over customer focus.

Process topics addressed in the ten HBR articles:
The nature of the innovation process; the need for innovation process innovation; the difficulties around knowledge-based innovation; innovation process mistakes; using inappropriate metrics; process strategy mistakes; how innovation gets strangled; the “innovation pyramid;” the innovation funnel; the difference between high and low innovation companies; ways to find innovation opportunities; analytic methods that make it difficult to justify innovation opportunities; drawbacks of the Stage Gate process for innovation; the advantages of the Discovery-Driven process; the Glocalization (distributing worldwide the products of multinationals in developed countries) vs. reverse innovation (the process of developing innovative new products in emerging markets and taking them global) processes; division of tasks between current business team and innovation team; and processes for innovation team integration; utilization of resources; conflicts between innovation initiatives and ongoing operations initiatives; how surprises and failures are handled; timing; utilization of resources.

Environment topics addressed in the ten HBR articles:
Opportunities from the industry, outside the industry, market changes, unexpected occurrences, competition, demographics, changes in economic conditions, geopolitical events; culture clashes; conflicting agendas; differing priorities of developed and developing countries; the need for in-depth understanding of the total customer experience.

Business Results topics addressed in the ten HBR articles:
Shortcomings of corporate reporting systems; lapses in attention to innovation; tension between protecting existing revenue and supporting new concepts; pricing challenges; strategy challenges; “innovation funds;” dominance of minor innovations; pitfalls of discounted cash flow analysis; failure rates; the unreliability of financial forecasts; opportunity costs; the focus on short-term Earnings Per Share (EPS) vs. long-term innovation; threat to innovation from developing countries.

If the barriers, obstacles, and challenges of innovation are addressed across the five organizational domains, nothing should fall between the cracks, and innovation should be successful.

If you wish to know more about my analysis, please contact me. I’m happy to share about CLUE’s framework, methods, and offerings.

CLUE Institute shows people how to ignite their individual creativity so they can increase personal and team effectiveness across five domains, and fuel organizational innovation. CLUE is affiliated with hellofuture which helps you capture creative ideas from the minds of your employees, then moves those ideas right through to product development and launch, with minimal to zero impact to your current business.

What is Creativity? Why Is it Relevant to Innovation?

creativityaltered2When I hand someone my business card, they often comment on my title – Creativity Warrior (or Creativity Architect, Agent, or Actuator, tried at different times during the evolution of my business). A common reaction is “Oh, do you try to bring art to corporate?” And I say: “no,” and remind them that creativity does not apply just to art, that it applies to every discipline. And usually I sense the wheels turning in their heads, and then they nod knowingly.

Creativity is not only relevant to any discipline, it is the most significant gift of human intelligence, says Sir Ken Robinson, internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation, and human resources. Unfortunately, it is being squandered if it is not honored and expressed in all domains in both personal and professional life. It is a shame that it is so common for creativity to be compartmentalized. I’ve known people who are like robots at work and just look forward to expressing themselves creatively outside of work. In two consecutive IBM Global CEO studies, 70% percent said creativity was the key attribute to be developed in leaders and the most important attribute for employees to develop for future success. In the Adobe State of Create Study, however, 80% of respondents said there is increasing pressure to be productive rather than creative at work. To be human is to be creative so it’s not surprising only 5% of the U.S. workforce is being “maximized” according to Gallup in 2015.

To understand why “creativity” is relevant to work requires that we understand what creativity is. The typical definition is rather abstract and/or haphazard. When asked what it is, typical responses include some combination of “new and novel ideas,” or “something that has not been done before.” Those definitions, I suggest, are not operational. If a leader wants employees to be more creative and those employees think creative means “new and novel,” what exactly are they supposed to do? Brainstorm? (That will be the topic of a future blog.) There seems to be an assumption that everyone just “knows” what creativity means and they should deliver it on demand.

If people knew what it meant, they would have more confidence in expressing it. BTW, the same is true for innovation, which many folks mistakenly think is essentially the same as creativity. I’ve read many articles in which the authors use the words interchangeably in the same paragraph. In the Little Black Book of Innovation, Scott Anthony says: “Over the past few years, I have written several books on innovation, totaling close to a quarter million words. I went back and looked, and in not one of those books do I actually define what innovation is. That’s a glaring oversight. After all, you can’t implore readers to be better at something without telling them what that something is…For a word that is thrown around so much, innovation lacks a clear and consistent definition.” The same can be said of creativity.

Let’s explore operational definitions of creativity and innovation. Most definitions address Creativity “the process” or Creativity “the outcome.” For individuals to effectively perform the process and produce the outcome, they must understand Creativity “the noun.”

Creativity the noun is a system of natural human qualities that are used cooperatively or alternatively to turn insights into great ideas and great ideas into value. Because they are human qualities, and no two people are exactly alike, creativity is idiosyncratic. Because creativity is idiosyncratic, there is not one ideal condition for it. Because they is not one ideal condition, individuals must choose to do what they know supports the manifestation of these qualities in themselves.

In other words, creativity is personal. Everyone has these qualities of creativity, but for whatever reason, they are seldom manifested in an integrated way. To become a creative person, to bring out these qualities, you must be aware of them and be aware of (and use) the process for augmenting and manifesting them. This simple creativity process (not the problem-solving process) is rarely acknowledged even though it captures how insights get transformed into great ideas. It has stages that are always relevant, but the strategies for each stage are idiosyncratic, varying by person and insight. Beyond the great ideas that come out of it, these qualities and this process also are useful to explore interests, strengths, comfort zones, and choose how to support creativity in professional and personal life.

Why is this relevant to innovation? The innovation process is organizational. Whereas the creativity process is relevant to people coming up with insights and transforming them into great ideas, the innovation process is relevant to taking those great ideas and turning them into value. Organizations provide the resources, processes, standards, and policies to do that. Ideally, the people resources are creative.

The Gift and the Servant

Albert Einstein said: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

Steve Jobs said: “I’m one of the few people who understands how producing technology requires intuition and creativity, and how producing something artistic takes real discipline.”

Despite massive contributions from creative people and innovative organizations, most people don’t think much about their own creative potential, and this has become a topic of increasing concern. The decline in creativity and the need to amp up innovation are frequent topics in magazines, journals, studies, surveys, and books. Most of these sources recommend that companies create a climate for creativity and try the latest tips and techniques. Rarely is the focus on the idiosyncratic nature of people and how to ignite creativity awareness and exploration.

Most education systems and business organizations teach, encourage, and reward the acquisition of technical and analytic skills outlined in curriculum and performance plans with extrinsic rewards. Decades of research indicates that people are motivated by freedom to express their unique brand of creativity, getting better at something that matters, and doing something worthwhile, all related to human intrinsic needs to develop and use natural potential. The opportunity cost of this disconnect is huge, for individuals AND organizations. Individual creativity is the fuel organizations need to innovate. Professional development can ignite it.


In the January-February 2014 issue of the Harvard Business Review, there is an article about IDEO, the famous design firm and innovation consultancy, titled “IDEO’s Culture of Helping.” One topic of the IDEO study especially interested me and inspired me to share an operational definition of “trust.”

The study at IDEO showed that to be perceived as a good “helper” in an organization, you have to be perceived as competent, accessible, and trustworthy. I think all these characteristics are important ones for establishing a climate for creativity in an organization (my main mission), particularly trustworthiness. In the article, “trust” was defined around “comfort” and “safety” in sharing thoughts and feelings; discussing mistakes and problems; and being able to count on the “intention” of helpers to help.

I learned an operational definition of “trust” many years ago that largely takes the “touchy-feely” out of the discussion. (My source attributed it to Fernando Flores, now president of Chile’s National Innovation Council for Competitiveness.) According to this definition, trust has three criteria:
1. Transparent agenda – There is only one agenda, not a public one and a private (hidden) one.
2. Competence – The person has the skill to do the job (mentioned in the HBR article as a helping characteristic separate from trust).
3. Track record – The person has a history of delivering what she or he says will be delivered.

I added a fourth criteria, “Capacity,” to the above list to address a chronic trust-related issue. (This seems related to accessibility at IDEO, mentioned in the HBR article as a helping characteristic separate from trust. It was defined as: how easily the respondent could obtain help from a person.) Working in high tech for many years, I know that sometimes a person just does not have the bandwidth to meet requests. It is important for all involved to acknowledge that regardless of intent or desire, capacity must be available to perform a requested action. No matter how good or reasonable the excuse is for not fulfilling the request, trust is eroded otherwise.

Whenever trust is an issue with a person or on a project, I apply the four criteria and the model has never failed me. Discussing these criteria takes the emotion out of the discussion and allows trust issues to be discussed objectively.