Creativity and Innovation

Creativity is widely defined as ability to generate ideas which are both novel and useful, and innovation is when these ideas are executed and later, commercialized. While creativity is not same as innovation, it is, nonetheless, a very essential component of innovation.

Creativity springs from thinking slow and staying with the problem and that speed is more counterproductive than commonly thought of to be. The process of creativity comprises of three compartments — discovery, ideation, and validation. The discovery phase deals with the problem and its understanding in the context with an intent to unearth the problem(s) from the symptoms. The ideation phase aims to generate ingenious solutions to a well understood and neatly defined problem. Validation, the third stage, is about picking the most promising of the ideas using a sound logic.

Hence, keep the three rules in mind while solving a problem: First, understand the problem well before attempting to solve it; second, generate as many ideas without trying to be critical about your or other’s ideas; and third, be objective while evaluating ideas while making the process democratic.

World-class talent starts at the school and college level with an education system that emphasizes both the sciences and the arts, and encourages diversity and collaboration while being flexible and inclusive enough to have space for everyone. That’s the real path to innovation and self-reliance. Another important attribute of innovation is craft. “Think with your hands” is a core philosophy of innovation and a generation of tinkerers took Germany, the UK and the US to their industrial and economic heights. If students are systematically exposed to carpentry, electrical work, metal work, coding, gardening and more, they are more likely to become holistic inventors. Experiential learning would further help students develop multiple intelligences.

Open innovation is where the focal organization is the orchestrator, working with various entities to solicit ideas, talent and capital, rallying the outcome in a collaborative manner. However, the adoption of an open model of innovation is met with difficulties. There are issues around privacy, value appropriation, intellectual property management and designing contracts. Such issues are sufficient for enterprises recoiling to their time-tested, insular approaches to innovation. A big challenge in open innovation and shared solving of problems is managing intellectual property. Since ideas and information are becoming democratized, there are occasions when multiple people come up with the same or similar idea, and others build on them. So, getting to know appropriate intellectual property and managing its transfer becomes a tricky issue. Blockchain can enable innovation, especially as the pendulum swings from an insular approach to a more participative one.

Innovation necessitates a prototyping mentality, which is far removed from the efficiency mentality that most senior executives hone by default. Innovation requires time and freedom, and a mindset that allows mistakes. A prototyping mentality also necessitates investments in terms of hard resources, time and opportunity cost. Unless the leadership appropriates resources for such efforts, most employees would not even venture into risky bets. The need to cut some slack doesn’t come naturally to efficiency-minded managers, and yet, it is the oxygen of creative problem-solving. Most innovative organizations have policies in place to allocate resources, especially talent and their time, to projects with no immediate consequences. Such a provisioning of scarce resources can’t be a one-off practice but has to be a part of the organizational culture. For effective problem solving, one must allow for divergence before converging on specific problem areas or opportunities. Iteration should lead to better results, and one must be willing to start amid uncertainty instead of waiting for complete clarity.

Innovation is an invention commercialized, and while necessity can trigger an invention, the invention sees the light of the day only when the enablers come along. With necessity being the (surrogate) mother of invention, and timings (read ecosystem) being the father, what choice does the potential innovator have? Two, actually. Create the need, or build the ecosystem, in no particular order. Almost all technology-forward innovations, including transistors, the internet, global positioning system (GPS), addressed some latent necessities with a better approach, that of computation, communication, and navigation, respectively.

Creating a need is a risky, costly deed. Both creating the necessity and meeting one with creation of an ecosystem calls for planning, investment, and, of course, risk taking. Most spoils, however, go to the one who creates the ecosystem and commands a central position. Hence, the power of ecosystem and the acceleration of innovation by managing time to market is the father, besides the often latent mother, called necessity.

Creativity is a highly desirable and yet widely elusive attribute in both personal and professional spheres. A generally accepted definition of creativity is to come up with ideas that are both useful and novel. Here are the three quintessential characteristics that can possibly raise one’s creative yield. The attributes are having a clear head, a deep heart and honing a thick skin. There is a sufficient research to indicate that creativity has little correlation with intelligence, unless one has low latent inhibitions. You ought to be sensitive towards what other feel (read a deep heart), but not too sensitive about what other feel about you (read a thick skin).

Boredom is one of the most definitive predictors of how creative you could be. If creativity would be our definitive feature going forward, there might be some counterintuitive and uneasy realizations that would pave the path, and one such insight is on the importance of boredom. So, how to be boring again? Three simple ways. Firstly, keep some “my time”. Away from people, away from gadgets, and away from activities. Secondly, narrow down your challenge set, in other words, prioritize. Thirdly, don’t impress anyone with your achievements. Let it be. Keep it boring!


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