Creativity & Innovation: Eight Attributes Essential To An Innovative Culture

For innovation to become part of the company's culture, everyone must work to make it happen. Innovative attitudes must guide every decision made daily so that innovation itself becomes a fundamental part of the organization.


Some years ago, Professor Edward de Bono, creator of "lateral thinking," conducted a simple experiment among children and adults. He presented them with a drawing of an unusual wheelbarrow and asked them to write five comments on the design. The adults' comments were critical and negative, but the children provided ideas to make this strange wheelbarrow very functional.

According to De Bono, the result is due to the fact that adults are biased and usually have a tendency to degrade new ideas by focusing only on the negative points; children, on the other hand, have a natural curiosity that leads them to distinguish the positive from the negative, and from this, they look for what is interesting.

This curiosity is natural in children and is the basis of creativity. The ideal is to encourage this curiosity to awaken creativity. The problem is that today's adults, trained in the old way, accustomed to memorization, and chained to an excessive uniformity in methods, have largely lost the sense of curiosity. Inadvertently this can curb it in children either by the way, they respond to their questions, disapproving an idea out of the ordinary to perform a school work or by forcing the child to be subject to traditional ways of doing a task or understanding a concept.

Let's start by understanding curiosity. The dictionary defines the curious as someone inclined to find out about other people's things and to learn what they do not know. It is an inner force that leads us to show an interest in something unknown and motivates us to investigate and learn. It drives us to seek information and interact with the environment and with other beings around us. It is an inner force that has led many people to explore new areas of knowledge, lands, or planets, to discover what was not known before, or to generate, through a creative process, what did not exist and that satisfies some need. For example, through curiosity, America was discovered and through creativity, everything from the wheel to spaceships, submarines, and artificial intelligence have been invented.

Curiosity awakens the need to know and learn, asks questions about the why and wherefore of things, or about what would happen if something is modified, breaking routines and inertias that provide "security."

Creativity requires self-confidence to discover, and since it involves finding new paths and changing one's outlook and points of view, it also demands a willingness to fail and a willingness to keep trying. It is about turning a passive being into a creator of new realities. The creative transforms, combines, decontextualizes, abstracts, observes, tests deconstructs; possesses flexible thinking to imagine, improvise, invent, modify, relate, transform and adapt. It provides solutions and adapts to new situations. By its nature, creativity is an action whose results must be: novel (something that has not been seen before); useful (it solves a problem, enriches, and produces changes); and comprehensible (it can be reproduced in the future).

With this context you might think that while curiosity and creativity are specific topics for people with a certain sensitivity and intelligence like Einstein, Graham Bell, the Wright brothers, or Leonardo Da Vinci, how does it sound to talk about curious and creative engineers, politicians, doctors, mathematicians or entrepreneurs? An engineer created color TV, a politician created the dream of landing man on the moon and a young entrepreneur created Facebook.

Organizational Creativity

One of the main advantages of today's companies is knowing how to capitalize on the ability of their employees to seek and detect improvements and opportunities; this implies not only relying on research and development areas but also taking advantage of responsible leaders who are open-minded to disruptive ideas and concerns, willing to question current procedures to seek alternatives for a better future.

Until a few years ago, R&D areas hired the best specialists to work on a specific project; but this no longer guarantees innovative results in a globalized world. More than looking for specialists, an external vision is required to differentiate the positive from the negative of a project, to find what is interesting about it. Collaborators who are willing to solve the problems that matter and whose creativity takes them from invention to final product, who constantly drive improvements and create their own luck by perceiving what is happening in their field and applying their observations and experience to the problems.

Creativity is often thought of as something that comes as a surprise. In reality, it is a process whose starting point begins with questions. A question is better than an opinion or statement to find creative solutions. Good questions invite action and expansion.

The subconscious loves to make connections and have something to do, so it loves good questions. But the right approach to questions is also important. It's not the same to ask, "Why don't people buy my product?" as it is to ask, "How can I improve my product so that people will buy it?" The former has a negative focus while the latter is a positively oriented question.

The problem then is to encourage curiosity in employees to awaken in them creative attitudes and the dilemma to discover how to cultivate it when they are adults accustomed to mechanical answers, usually monotonous and not disruptive at all. It is said that innovation is difficult in consolidated companies; they are usually better executors than innovators. However, large companies have succeeded.

What is common to large companies that are high performers in the product, process, or business model innovation? A Big Four company interviewed leaders from more than 300 organizations to discover what attributes are essential in an innovative culture. The result was a set of eight elements of innovation present, in part or in whole, in all large companies with high performance in product, process, or business model innovation. The first four, of a strategic and creative nature, help establish and prioritize the terms and conditions under which innovation is most likely to thrive. The next four, of an essential nature, deal with how to deliver and organize innovation repeatedly over time and with sufficient value to contribute significantly to overall performance. They are these:

1. Aspire

Having an aspiration combined with estimates of the value to be generated by innovation, and strategic planning linked to financial targets, are key to fostering innovative projects within an organization. Quantifying "innovation goals" is an indicator that helps solidify aspirations and encourages managers to include innovation investments in their business plans.

2. Select

The value of new and creative ideas is intangible. It is important to recognize which ideas the organization should support and take forward. Innovation is inherently risky, of course, and making the most of a portfolio of innovation initiatives is more about managing risk than eliminating it. To facilitate the process, executives can define conditions that identify and guide the opportunities they want to explore, directing investments in innovation.

3. Discover

Innovation is directly related to the discovery of new ideas. But how to generate knowledge? Besides the option of waiting for inspiration to arise, "which may take some time," ideas can be systematically examined by looking at three things to discover: a problem to be solved, a technology that offers the solution, and a business model that generates money from it.

4. Develop

Most large companies are reluctant to risk altering their core business model until it is visibly threatened; but diversifying the revenue stream, changing the economics of the value chain, and expanding delivery models are all part of innovative business models. Developing new ways to reinvent the business has become increasingly urgent to remain competitive.

5. Accelerate

Bureaucracy and slow approval processes are often very detrimental to innovation. The best way to accelerate innovation is to foster collaboration, continuous learning and to rely on skilled and experienced managers to make crucial decisions at the right time, shaping the path for innovative ideas to take shape. Companies also thrive by testing their promising ideas with customers early in the process, before internal forces impose modifications that blur the original value proposition.

6. Scope

Some ideas, such as luxury goods or some mobile applications, are aimed at specific niche markets. Others, such as social media, have a global reach. Considering the scope and scale of an idea is critical to securing resources and calculating potential risks.

7. Extend

Innovation requires collaboration and most of the time collaboration must go beyond the boundaries of the organization.  Talent and knowledge flows transcend geographic boundaries and there is a need to be open to creating external partnerships and developing smart collaboration flows inside and outside the company. Smart collaboration with external partners, however, goes beyond just getting new ideas and knowledge; it can involve sharing costs and finding faster routes to market.

8. Promote

Another element of innovation is to stimulate, reward and support innovative thinking among employees. How to do this? Connect innovation, strategy, and performance. When the company establishes financial goals and spaces for innovation, minds are much more focused, idea generation and project development among employees are stimulated. The best companies find ways to embed innovation into the fibers of their culture, from the core to the periphery. They start with aspirations that forge close connections between innovation, strategy, and performance.

This speaks of a corporate culture of innovation and creativity, a culture that can be integrated into the corporate culture to motivate all employees to dare to work in a different way to optimize the company's results. It is about motivating the adoption of strategies and resources that facilitate creativity at work to develop improvements and facilitate the adaptation to the continuous transformations of the environment to meet the new demands that arise in consumers.

With a culture of creativity and innovation, employees have the opportunity to share their ideas to improve or change dysfunctional processes, and the company can become stronger in the market, stand out from the competition and win new customers through solutions that add more value. Therefore, it is important to properly manage innovation and creativity through motivational leadership so that everyone understands and participates in the creative change processes. Through the culture of innovation and creativity, it is possible to gain market share over the competition and generate more income, since new consumers may become interested in the company's proposals and do business with it.

Developing and maintaining a culture of innovation and creativity requires resources that encourage and facilitate this process. In this sense, it is important to develop workshops to motivate creative thinking, identify challenges and solutions and generate more and better ideas to go beyond the obvious. This implies changing the role of the respective facilitator to stop being an exhibitor and coordinator of dynamics and become a motivator for reflection and autonomy of thought. One way of doing this is through Joseph Jacotot's "ignorant teacher" theory, based on the assumption that any person has the capacity both to instruct himself in any subject and to teach something he is ignorant of if he does so under the right conditions. Contrary to traditional learning in which the other only has to learn what the instructor transmits, the "ignorant teacher" seeks that the one who learns does it by his own research.

Traditional thinking has to do with analysis, judgment, and argumentation. In the world of a few years ago, this was sufficient because it was a matter of identifying "normal situations" in order to apply "normal solutions". But the world has changed and that thinking no longer works or solves anything. Today's world requires creative and constructive thinking to design the way forward. Many of the world's major problems cannot be solved by identifying and removing the cause; there is a need to design a way forward even if the cause remains in place.

Today's business world requires a different way of reasoning and problem solving, through a creative approach, what Edward de Bono called "lateral thinking." The ideas formed through lateral thinking are not usually obtained with the typical classical reasoning in which there is a step-by-step construction of ideas, a step-by-step approach; in lateral thinking, we bet on the flexibility of thinking to find new solutions, looking for ideas from "side to side" fleeing from rigidity and finding new original ideas.

If we think about it, we all have the possibility of being creative, of developing creativity. It is worth bearing in mind that currently, companies and organizations such as 3M, Dupont, HP, Motorola, Ford, etc., have identified the act of innovating as an 'intangible asset' that can maintain competitiveness. The promotion of this ability is so significant for them, that they have managed to invest large amounts for its development in addition to providing spaces where people can think, create and project these potentialities for the benefit of continuous improvement; they invest in actions that encourage innovation and stimulate creativity so that everyone is involved in the process.

For innovation to become part of the company's culture, everyone must work to make it happen. Innovative attitudes must guide every decision made daily so that innovation itself becomes a fundamental part of the organization. For innovation to become consolidated as organizational culture, effort and recurrence are required.

Finally, here are some questions for reflection:

Why do you think the culture of creativity has not been fostered in your company?

Personally, do you accept the approaches made to you from a different perspective with an open mind?

Do you remember the last time you did something creative that made a difference? How did you achieve it?

Why does it seem that the concept of "creativity" is at odds with the business world?

Do you think there is a cultural resistance to "employees getting creative" in your region?

Maybe you are one of those people who are considered not very curious. Is that a problem? No. When you were a child, you were curious, inquired, and asked questions. Today you can recapture that curiosity to develop your creativity. Here’s how.

  • Question what is presented to you as "The Truth", or what is justified with a "that's the way it's always been done." In general, try to ask yourself the journalist's questions: what, how, when, why.
  • Stop. Give yourself some time for your imagination. Enjoy it.
  • Develop a sense of observation: master the art of being able to understand situations and the reasons for them. What could you change to make them better?
  • Imagine seemingly absurd alternatives to what you are doing. Play with them. Maybe they are not so absurd.
  • Get off the screens and into the physical world. Interact with people. In-person.
  • Reflect on what you see. Imagine how it might be otherwise, and what reasonable consequences would follow from implementing what you imagine.
  • Ask questions. And ask for clarification if you are not satisfied with the answer.
  • Forget about "right." Thinking incorrectly is much more interesting.
  • Mix with different people. Of other ages -especially children-, opinions, tastes, beliefs, and customs. They will enlighten your curiosity and inspire your creativity.
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Pedro LOPEZ SELA Twitter

Pedro helps individuals & organisations thrive. He simplifies complexity, identifies inefficiencies, connects dots & imagines ideas that drive meaningful outcomes.