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Who are the creative people in your organization?


With open innovation a part of the mainstream, it’s tempting to think that everyone should participate in the innovation process.  You never know where ideas may come from, so it makes sense to look under every rock.

Indeed, only recently Paul Kirkham from the University of Nottingham wrote about the importance of allowing everyone the chance to be creative within the NHS, as creativity is not something that is confined to the R&D team or those in board positions.

“Imagine a company has a staff of a thousand but only expects 50 of them to contribute to its innovation activity – say, by sitting on the board or working in the R&D department. That means 950 people, 95% of the workforce, contribute nothing,” he says.

It’s an opinion that I can certainly sympathize with, and I certainly agree that innovative ideas can come from far and wide in an organization.

Is creativity a specific talent?

A note of caution comes however via a paper from Wharton’s Karl Ulrich.  They asked a group of professionals to submit five ideas for a new business into their Darwinator idea management application.

The participants were also charged with rating the ideas of their peers, with each manager rating around 100 ideas in total.

Their hypothesis was that creativity was a skill, just like any other, and just like other skills, it would seem sensible to think that some are better at it than others.

We’ve seen in other walks of life the pareto principle whereby the majority of whatever is being measured, tends to come from a small subset of the larger group.

The results were very interesting, in that of the best rated ideas, the vast majority of them came from less than a quarter of the participants.

Now, it goes without saying that this was one solitary experiment, and the quality of the ideas was rated by their peers rather than by experimentation in the marketplace, but it does nonetheless present the question of whether opening up innovation to all is a productive use of time, or whether there should be a filtering process to ensure that those who consistently produce good ideas retain their place in the process.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.  Should innovation be the preserve of those who have a talent for it?

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