Oftentimes organizations use the words “creating” and “innovating” interchangeably, not realizing the distinction between the two terms. Definitionally “creating” is best described as unleashing the potential of the mind to conceive new ideas whereas “innovating” is the introduction of change into relatively stable systems (www.businessinsider.com). Per Theodore Levitt (American Economist, Harvard Business School Professor and Harvard Business Review Editor), “What is often lacking is not creativity in the idea-creating sense but innovation in the action-producing sense, e.g., putting ideas to work.” That said, given today’s economic climate, business environment complexities, solution immediacy demands, tactical work assignment overload coupled with employee engagement erosion, organizations are unintentionally stifling their ability to create and ultimately innovate. How so?
Pioneering theorists Graham Wallas and Max Wertheimer presented one of the first creative process models which has withstood the test of time. Their model consists of four defined stages:
- Preparation ̶ defining, observing and studying the issue
- Incubation – unconsciously internalizing the issue though not actively/observably “working it”
- Illumination ̶ consciously become aware that an idea is eminent
- Verification ̶ consciously verifying that the idea is real and further forming its exact shape
The challenge with a percentage of today’s organizations is that they do not:
- Provide their employees with the necessary runway (aka the available capacity) and renewal time (aka being untethered from the work environment) to thoughtfully, systematically and successfully traverse the four stages. Organizations oftentimes want and actually demand immediate, on-the-spot answers to big problems and challenges, not giving their employees the requisite critical thinking, unconscious incubation and illumination plus verification time to devise innovative approaches and solutions. Additionally employees are incredibly bogged down in day-to-day tactics, looming deadlines and conflicting priorities to a degree whereby they either have no time to be creative or, as is in the case of the “best and the brightest” high performing employees, they are mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally exhausted to a degree where it’s difficult to muster any amount of creative energy.
- Teach and encourage their employees to tap into their imagination. Yes, unleashing one’s creativity can be taught or at least, the right inspirational leader/facilitator can help employees “get out of their own heads” by breaking free from conventional, restrictive thinking through proven techniques that aid the idea-generation process. As important, organizations must create a safe environment where creativity and innovation are celebrated. As Charles Brower, an American Advertising Executive and American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame Inductee, once stated “A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow.”
- Realize that the last priority on a partially or totally disengaged employee’s list is to help his/her employer innovate new ways of fulfilling unmet internal and external needs and/or advance an organization’s competitive advantage position. Until organizations fully acknowledge, directly address and permanently solve their employee engagement shortfalls, with respect to employees and contractors alike (aka all of their people assets), creative thinking and innovation will continue to be two of many employee disengagement casualties. (Supplemental Reading – Successfully Increasing Employee Engagement – A Case Study)
To close the loop with creativity’s linkage to innovation, “Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference.” (Nolan Bushnell, Atari and Chuck E. Cheese Founder, “Innovator of the Year” Award Winner, Newsweek’s “50 Men Who Changed America” Honoree). If you’re an organization or leader who enables and promotes creativity, takes action and successfully executes, you can, without a doubt, harness idea power through innovation.