Creativity and innovation within business
Posted on: November 14th 2022 · read
Innovation and creativity.
They often seem to be the holy grail of an economy and a business.
And that elevated status isn’t unreasonable. Innovation has been the engine of human progress. It was so important to the Ancient Greeks that they had at least 3 goddesses and gods who wanted to lay claim to it - Athena, Hephaestus and Hermes; and we have covered it in previous blogs.
Greek gods are all well and good, but what about businesses? Successful businesses are, usually, those which have proven particularly skilled (or blessed?) at creating innovative products or processes.
However innovation can feel like a bit of a rare commodity these days. Particularly in the face of what can seem Gordian knot type problems - low levels of UK productivity and global climate change to name but two.
But, from our perspective, we don’t think that a pessimistic assessment that we have somehow passed the high point of business innovation and creativity is right. We see lots of it across our clients.
And it’s not just here, in our part of the world, that innovation continues to occur.
If you are not fully convinced, and need a bit of a pick me up, can I suggest that you take a look at the website Science Daily (www.sciencedaily.com). It has daily (hence the name!) precis of scientific developments and papers; all written in layman’s (for the most part) terms. It is US based and so there can be a weighting towards North American research stories – but ultimately, innovation rarely recognises international borders.
A great example is from just a couple of days ago with an article regarding research by the University of Chicago which appears to have created a new material which can be made and used like a plastic but conducts like a metal (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/10/221026114443.htm). That is, apparently, a mix of characteristics which was previously considered impossible.
Discussing ‘peak creativity’ is all well and good, but isn’t the key question for any business (or country) which wants to encourage innovation and creativity really quite simple? Isn’t it – What practical things can we do to maximise the chance we generate greater innovation?
There are a lot of resources available to you if you are grappling with this question – most TED talks have innovation and creativity running through them somewhere. But sometimes the question of how to encourage innovative thinking can seem a bit overwhelming and you don’t know where to start. Maybe we can just hire some people who are really good at it?
But I do wonder if we are making this question of how to generate innovation a little too over complex? It might be a bit easier to create the right conditions for it, with the people we have, than we think.
The evidence we have around innovation and creativity seems to suggest very strongly that we need to become more childish.
Yes, hold on, I can guess what some of you might be thinking… but bear with us.
Picasso famously suggested that his artistic ability and creativity was all down to something both very simple and very difficult - that he had managed to retain the ability to think and paint like a child - “Every child is an artist; the problem is to remain an artist once we grow up.”
And some research earlier this year (Science Daily again) suggests that Picasso was on to something. Ohio State University had devised a creative thinking programme for the US Army which delivered very strong results (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/03/220314095702.htm). The key takeaway from this for all of us was that: This new method, based on narrative theory, helps people be creative in the way children and artists are: By making up stories that imagine alternative worlds, shift perspective and generate unexpected actions.
Rather than summarise the summary, I have copied the key elements here:
The narrative method of training for creativity uses many of the techniques that writers use to create stories. One is to develop new worlds in your mind. For example, employees at a company might be asked to think about their most unusual customer -- then imagine a world in which all their customers were like that. How would that change their business? What would they have to do to survive?
Another technique is perspective-shifting. An executive at a company might be asked to answer a problem by thinking like another member of their team.
The point of using these techniques and others like them is not that the scenarios you dream up will actually happen, Fletcher said [ Angus Fletcher, who developed the method and is a professor of English and a member of The Ohio State University's Project Narrative].
"Creativity isn't about guessing the future correctly. It's about making yourself open to imagining radically different possibilities," he said.
"When you do that, you can respond more quickly and nimbly to the changes that do occur.
It seems a bit too simple doesn’t it?
Perhaps that is because we are used to thinking that some people are just more creative than others. This research suggests otherwise. Create the right conditions and creativity will flourish. Which begs the question - how can you do that in your business?
Well, perhaps you could start with a short lunchtime session with small groups of staff (from across the organisation) to discuss one of Fletcher’s suggested topics – “..to think about their most unusual customer -- then imagine a world in which all their customers were like that. How would that change their business? What would they have to do to survive?..”
Remember, what is really critical here is that the question isn’t, in a sense, important - it’s the thinking and new ideas which the question gives rise to where the value lies.
Why don’t we give it a go? What’s the worst that could happen?