Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things. The relationship between the two is clear: Innovation is the practical application of creativity. Both are necessary for business to succeed and grow. – 3M Innovation Center
Creativity in the DNA
Innovation thrives best in organizations where people have creativity in their DNA. If your business or your product is innovation, staff your company with creative people. Don’t just hire for skills—choose creative people.
Creativity thrives in an enabling environment. Where people are constricted in a highly regimented environment, and are practically paid to do and NOT think, creativity dies. Top management must provide an environment where crazy, big, small, ridiculous or outlandish ideas have equal opportunities to be heard before they are stockpiled in the graveyard of stillborn ideas.
Employees, on the other hand, must realize that innovation is part of their job description (JD). It’s usually not written in there, but it is subsumed somewhere in the JD. Business isn’t just about profits—it’s more about growth. There can be no growth unless there’s an improvement. Incremental improvements don’t count, as the rest of competition improve too. With small increments, you might survive. To grow and lead, you need breakthrough improvements from innovation.
Organizations that aspire for innovations must make deliberate interventions. Aside from championing innovation, the CEO must create the environment for innovation to thrive. Policies must allow people to do whatever is not prohibited, instead of letting people do only what is allowed. Through leadership by example, the CEO must replace fear with fun. Fear of failure kills creativity and deters innovation. People think, work, and produce better in a fun environment.
For their part, employees must work hard at improving their creativity quotient (CQ). Here are some tips to make creative ideas work:
- Forget that money is the problem. Money cannot create ideas. But ideas can create money. After the birth of the Internet in 1997 and the social media in 2007, new sources of wealth were also born—ideas, information and relationships. Creative ideas that made a lot of money aren’t even original—the iPod, the iPhone, Uber, etc. Mickey Mouse was born when the financial walls were almost literally closing in on Walt Disney.
- Define your box. Thinking outside the box often results in out-of-this-world ideas that don’t work in the real world. When you want ideas that can work, it is best to define your parameters. Parameters are limiters. But they can also be liberators. In 1999, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez wanted to make a movie. Their parameter was simple—a $50,000 budget, no stars in the cast. They didn’t even have a scriptwriter – only a loose plot structure that allows the actors to improvise their dialogue. The plot was different from the run-of-the-mill movies at the turn of the millennium. It’s about three filmmakers in search of a mythical witch in Maryland. “The Blair Witch Project” grossed $140 million. “The Phantom Menace” or Star Wars Episode I with a production budget of $115 million was nowhere as profitable. The Blair Witch Project gave the producers a $2,800 return on every $1 invested.
As they say, peel the onion and strip away layers of thinking that don’t add value to the idea. Ernie Schenck suggests that if you want to shoot a product commercial that starts with a ballroom scene with a 20-piece orchestra, you can save cost and achieve practically the same effect by having a “no-name piano player nobody’s heard of” instead of a Benny Goodman orchestra.
- Use the power of deadline. Ideas take time to germinate. They take a very long time when the thinker isn’t given a time constraint. When you put the thinker inside the box and he knows that there’s a deadline, he will race the clock and come up with a simple but workable idea. This is counterproductive to what the gurus say, “Free yourselves from the daily humdrum and take your minds to a place where you can ignore or set aside the real world.” This is ideal if you have the luxury of time. When you’re pressed for time to ramp up a new product or service, the market will not wait for you to climb a mountain, lie on your back serenely, and gaze at the verdant pasture.
- EQ over IQ. Intelligent people (with high IQ) are great problem solvers. But they’re not as creative as people with high Emotional Intelligence or EQ. Sometimes, people with high IQ often are driven to solve problems in ways that benefit themselves more than the project. Malcolm Gladwell observes, “Narcissists typically make judgments with greater confidence than other people and, because their judgments are rendered with such conviction, other people tend to believe them and the narcissists become disproportionately more influential in group situations.”
To paraphrase Rene Cristobal, “It’s nice to be great. With a little more humility, we can be perfect.”
Ernie Cecilia is the chair of the AMCHAM Human Capital Committee; and co-chair of ECOP’s TWG on Labor and Social Policy Issues. He is the president and CEO of EC Business Solutions and Career Center. Contact him at [email protected]