Understand the difference between creativity and innovation

Tags: Knowledge
Businesses cannot grow without innovation. For success, innovation is the most critical factor. Several management gurus have sprung up now to chant the innovation mantra across the world. According to them, the ability to constantly create newness in products, services and business strategies for competitive advantage is what makes the real growth companies stand out in the clutter.

As we all know, without innovation, creativity is stifled, ideas — even great ones — fail to be realised and revenues stagnate or deplete. Although companies talk of innovation, only a few actually cultivate a climate for the innovation spirit. Even if the roadmap to innovation is clear, invariably these companies put up their own roadblocks. To remove obstructions that impede innovation, one must know the difference between creativity and innovation, and structure one’s creative efforts accordingly.

Many people confuse creativity — generating ideas, typically through brainstorming sessions or using tools such as the deBono methods for radically different ideas — with innovation. Creativity in many organisations routinely fails to translate into tangible results because processes do not exist to develop ideas that are relevant to the organisation and its strategic objectives.

In her book, The End of Competitive Adv­antage, strategy guru Rita McGrath talks of ways by which companies can find growth opportunities when one’s competitive advantage is easily lost in a short span of time. It is not just about having the right people but also having the right processes in place. These processes must help nurture ideas while making them possible within the organisation. When you are headed toward true innovation, you will find yourself in an unfamiliar area. Remember what Einstein said? If at first an idea is not totally absurd, there is no hope for it.

You will not know how you are going to solve the problems you are facing. Innovative organisations enter unexplored territories as opposed to playing it safe. If you immediately know how to implement an idea, you are probably not looking at breakthrough innovation.

Resist killing ideas too early. New ideas often enjoy a short honeymoon and become less attractive as problems such as time frame or budget constraints arise. Thus, the ideas that would result in true innovation die while the familiar ones that don’t represent a real stretch are implemented.

Sometimes, it is also traditional tools such as net present value (NPV) that are used to approve budgets. McGrath presents a set of new tools for solving this roadblock. People who have been part of successful innovation efforts will tell you they experienced two diametrically opposite emotions during the process.

The first was uninformed optimism, euphoria for several big ideas that came out of the brainstorming session. Then, when they faced reality and seemingly insurmountable roadblocks, they entered the “dark night of the innovator”. This is the point at which many companies pull the plug instead of recognising that they are on the verge of a potential breakthrough.

Do talk to your customers prior to brainstorming to identify their unmet needs. Later, have them help you refine the brainstorming ideas. This way you know you are headed toward an innovation that serves your customers instead of one that only addresses internal business issues.

Innovation depends on a real, sustained, management commitment. Lots of bosses think they are empowering their people by saying, “We need some new product winners for next year’s business plan. Make it happen.” But true empowerment is a myth unless management provides structure and gives input at key points along the way. People need to know how what they are doing relates to an agenda set by senior management, and they need to receive feedback throughout the process.

Without a leader championing the teamwork effort, what gets produced bears little resemblance to what actually was desired. When ideas that people have put a lot of effort into are shot down at the last minute because they are not what management was expecting, or when the management priority changes with changes at the top, the result is wasted resources, missed deadlines, lowered morale and higher attrition.

If a new product concept feels right but fails miserably during quantitative testing, consider looking to the test itself. Only 10 per cent of new products succeed, yet most product launches are based on considerable quantitative analysis. Clearly such analysis is not a science, and it is not a worthy replacement for good judgment or gut feel based on hard-earned experience and knowledge of the market.

(The author is the CEO and MD of CustomerLab Solutions)


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