Managing creativity and innovation

In today’s world it is more important than ever to be creative and innovative. That means thinking in new ways and being open to completely different ways of seeing the world.

Creativity is defined as the generation of a new idea and innovation as the translation of a new idea into a new company. (Apple Computer), a new product (the Sony Walkman), a new service (Federal Express’s overnight delivery), a new process (one waiting line for multiple service at a bank or amusement park), or a new method of production (computer aided design and manufacturing).

Economic historian Joseph Schumpeter viewed innovation as the sources of success in the market economy, a view that is reinforced by today’s changing and competitive environment. The organization that is not creative and innovative may not survive. Thus, managers at more and more organizations are looking for ways to encourage and foster creativity and innovation on both the individual and the organizational level.

Once known primarily for their ability to replicate and improve on the products of others (particularly US products), the Japanese are demonstrating how to create cultures that nurture innovation. A 1991 study of 14 top US and Japanese companies found that ‘the Japanese were more consistent across the board in their innovation practices. They plan like demons, execute brilliantly and yet are constantly asking how they can do better.

Individual Creativity:

Individuals differ in their ability to be creative. If asked to suggest possible uses for automobile tires, non-creative people might say ‘buoys’ and ‘tree swings’. Creative people might suggest such things as ‘eyeglass frames for an elephant or halos for big robots’. Creative people also tend to be more flexible than noncreative people. They are able and willing to shift from one approach to another when tackling a problem. They prefer complexity to simplicity and tend to be more dependent than less creative people, sticking to their guns stubbornly when their ideas are challenged. Creative people also question authority quite readily and are apt to disobey orders that make no sense to them. For this reason they may be somewhat difficult to manage in most organizations. Motivated more by an interesting problem than by material reward they will long and hard on something that intrigues them.

Organizational creativity and innovation:

Just as individual differ in their ability to translate their creative talents into results organizations differ in their ability to translate the talents of their members into new product, processes or services. To enable their organization to use creativity most effectively, managers need to be aware of this process of innovation in organization and to take steps to encourage this process. The creative process in organization involves three steps: idea generation, problem solving or idea development and implementation.

Generation of ideas:

The generation of ideas in an organization depends first and foremost on the flow of people and information between the firm and its environment. For example, the vast majority of technological innovations have been made in response to conditions in the market place. If organization managers are unaware that there is potential demand for a new product or that there is dissatisfaction with already existing products, they are not likely to seek innovations.

Outside consultants and experts are important sources of information for managers, because they are frequently aware of new products, processes, or service developments in their filed. New employees may have knowledge of alternative approaches or technologies used by suppliers and competitors. Among the organization’s regular members, those who are constantly exposed to information outside their immediate work setting are valuable sources of new ideas. These people, called technological gatekeepers by Thomas Allen, can play a particularly important role in stimulating creativity and innovation in research and development labs.

The generation of ideas is more likely to promote innovation when those ideas issue from the grass roots level of the organization. She argues that empowering people on the lower levels of organizations to initiate new ideas within the context of a supportive environment is a valuable means of implementing successful innovations. In addition, although many new ideas challenge a company’s cultural traditions, such innovative companies as Hewlett-Packard and Toyota nevertheless routinely encourage their employees to generate new ideas.