Generally speaking, innovation is good for consultants and bad for managers (or leaders).
Bad for managers because it’s notoriously hard to do. Most innovations don’t work. Creativity is an arcane and unmanageable thing. Organisations don’t tend to follow through. You can easily end up with egg on your face.
Good for consultants because you can dive into an organisation and make significant, short-term interventions. A cynic might say you can be a bit unsettling and disruptive, bounce some ideas around, facilitate in a challenging sort of way and get out without being responsible for what happens in the long term. (Though once you’ve seen a really effective coach/facilitator at work, you know that the best consultants really are worth every penny).
Innovation also tends to be counter-cyclical. Yes, when times are good and companies have money to spend, they may turn to innovation. But, inevitably, it’s when times are hard that the pressure’s on to find new products, services or ideas to lead the business out of crisis.
This point about creativity under pressure raises the question of whether you should impose severe constraints (including time constraints) on an innovation team/project, in order to wring the best out of them – or whether you should remove such pressures as far as possible so that people can get on with being creative (what Harvard’s Professor Ted Levitt called ‘give them the chance to show their fructifying stuff’).
Creativity and Innovation
Ted Levitt goes on to explain his view that:
"…there is really very little shortage of creativity and of creative people in American business. The major problem is that so-called creative people often (though certainly not always) pass off on others the responsibility for getting down to brass tacks. They have plenty of ideas but little businesslike follow-through. They do not make the right kind of effort to help their ideas get a hearing and a try."
His point, clearly enough, is that ideation in businesses is relatively abundant. It is its implementation that is more scarce. Which brings us back to one of the conventional distinctions made by people who attempt to define innovation and creativity: namely that creativity is about having the idea, while innovation is about making it happen.
Triarchy author Bill Tate expands on this idea:
"What do we mean by innovation and being innovative, and how do we distinguish this from creativity? By 'innovative' we mean the systematic capacity of organisations to successfully exploit new ideas in a commercial context, wherever and whenever they arise and to whatever they might be applied.
We therefore make a firm distinction between creativity and innovation. Whereas the dominant focus of creativity is on the individual, innovation is more firmly located as a property of the organisation. Both are important, are symbiotic and respond to organisational management. You cannot have innovation without creativity, and there is little point in a company having individually creative employees unless that is channelled into innovation benefiting the organisation and its customers.
Managers in organisations typically understand creativity better than they do innovation. And because the training market predominantly addresses individuals and their skills, creativity receives more attention and funding than does innovation. Interventions aimed at improving innovation are more subtle and complex than those that seek to make individuals more creative or try to encourage more ideas to come forward. But it is at the interface with the organisation's needs, systems and dynamics where the biggest payback exists."
Innovation is one of those quasi-subjects that writers, academics and theorists (as well as consultants) have swarmed around – precisely because it’s such a vague topic. Twenty-five years ago, when Total Quality Management was going to revolutionise business, innovation meant suggestion schemes. End of story.
You put out a box marked IDEAS and occasionally someone would put an IDEA in it. Mostly people put in Mars bar wrappers and chewing gum. Your biggest worries were:
• What to do if someone came up with a really good idea. Should you give them an extra week’s pay at Christmas? Free lunch? Shares in the company?
• How to remove the IDEAS box discreetly without losing face when it all goes horribly wrong.
But, having said all that, innovation is enormously important and this page is designed to flag up some interesting starting points if you want to know more. To the right are a number of Triarchy books, thoughts and articles and our Innovation resources page has many more suggestions that have no connection with Triarchy.
The Threefold Path
Businesses that come up with good new ideas (products and services, of course, but also ways of delighting customers or saving money or doing things faster) and put them to work are often the ones that adapt best, keep up and continue to make profits in difficult times. Businesses that can do that again and again are almost bound to do well. So, it pays to be able to institutionalise creativity and innovation.
1. FREE Innovation ideas in
2. FREE Innovation Thoughts
3. Innovation Resources - a list of our favourites and best suggestions.
Google’s Marissa Mayer has 9 Notions of Successful Innovation: