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Creativity and Innovation at Work

This blog article is about innovation and creativity - what they are and how it can be applied at work and in personal life. The article also tries to provide some insights into being creative.

Creativity Defined

"Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing. Innovation is the production or implementation of an idea. If you have ideas, but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.” — Linda Naiman

“A product is creative when it is (a) novel and (b) appropriate. A novel product is original not predictable. The bigger the concept, and the more the product stimulates further work and ideas, the more the product is creative.” —Sternberg & Lubart, Defying the Crowd

What is Innovation?

Innovation is the production or implementation of ideas.

Creativity at Work

According to the IBM 2010 Global CEO Study, which surveyed 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, CEOs believe that, “more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision – successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity.”

Creativity is a crucial part of the innovation equation. Creativity is a core competency for leaders and managers and one of the best ways to set your company apart and create blue ocean.

Innovation can happen at various levels in an organization. Likewise, it can create a local or global impact. Whether it's local or global, there is definitely a meaningful impact. And it can in turn create a fly-wheel effect. A technical software or process innovation for example, can internally impact an engineering team. But the impact does not stop there. The innovation can itself attract more innovation or indirectly impact business. In this case, the engineering team can build better software which in turn positively impacts customer experience. For a company seeking profit, this results in improved top-line, part of which will be funneled into increased expenditure in innovation.

From a psychological point of view, creativity requires whole-brain thinking; right-brain imagination, artistry and intuition, plus left-brain logic and planning. So creativity and innovation can (should) happen in every environment. People are often too occupied with their everyday-work, that they don't have the time to think of something else. Often, they think that “people in management” are the ones who should think about new ideas.

Well, this is so wrong, everyone could have improvement ideas in everyday-work and life. To let out the subdued creativity in ourselves, here are a few points that can help:

1.  Creative people are restless by nature (in a good way of course!). They cannot sit still unless absorbed in something of his or her own interest. They are very energetic and the whole process of creation give them satisfaction. Connecting with such people can create a tremendous impact on oneself. Like a magnet can magnetize iron, such is the effect of connecting with creative people.

A word of caution: Often, some people are bubbling with ideas all the time. They dish out ideas but never see it through or just create an initial buzz and leave it midway. Most of their energy is spent in either thinking about it or talking about it. And the positive energy goes to waste.

The same theory is applied at organization level. For innovation to flourish, organizations create an environment that fosters creativity; bringing together multi-talented groups of people who work in close collaboration together - exchanging knowledge, ideas and shaping the direction of the future.

2.  To be creative requires a moment of silence. At times when the brain is at rest or not solving a problem at hand but distracted by some other leisure activity, chances are more than a creative idea will strike or a solution will announce itself.

A friend of mine was struggling with a software issue for over 3 days. He had stopped eating, would not care of personal hygiene and continued to stare at the computer screen. Even sleep avoided him. Unable to solve it and the deadline the next day, he decided to goto a nearby store to get some biscuits. And there it happened. While crossing the busy road, he stopped for a moment and the sense of Eureka! befell on him. Lot of us have experienced it. And psychologist have done experiments to support this observation.

3. Not all ideas are worth pursuing. Let's face it, not all "wow" ideas are powerful enough to create a measurable impact. And this brings us to the point of objectively analyzing a novel idea or process. Some people go by hunch, others by passion and "let's give it a shot" attitude while others derive a mathematics formula to prioritize ideas. Whatever it is, it requires patience and wisdom to analyze and prioritize ideas.

I once knew a senior manager who created an Excel to do some sort of impact analysis and also measure the risk associated with the execution of the idea. This way, he spent his limited time pursuing the ideas and also understood the risk level.

4. Growing and extending creativity. Since you can't be creative all the time, connecting with others around you and encouraging them can be effective. But saying mere words of encouragement to people around you rarely works. Understanding the competencies and motivation of your colleagues and your subordinates, and ensuring they work on projects that directly maps to their competencies is a great way to extend creativity. When individuals have the freedom to choose the means to achieve the goal, imagination and creativity blossoms.


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