Innovation and creativity are two of the biggest business buzz words of today. Companies are paying enormous amounts of lip service to becoming more innovative, and many are actually putting processes into place to move them selves beyond mere rhetoric.
Sadly, too few will succeed.
In my mind, innovation is a by-product of creativity. The primary product of creativity is awareness. Creativity opens our eyes to possibilities, and innovation is born out of that new awareness.
From a corporate perspective though, innovation is perceived as being the core product of creativity. Companies form creative teams with very strict guidelines and goals aimed purely at specific innovations. “We need to become more innovative with our distribution methods. Create a process to improve distribution costs by 10% and reduce delays by 8%”.
While I am a firm believer in having well defined goals, the problem comes when the innovation team becomes too focused on the end result, the innovation.
That’s the Focus Fail. The board, the CEO, the manager or team leader push the creative team to think purely around the problem. They consume swathes of of information about distribution channels, brainstorm relentlessly around tweaks and improvements and eventually design a a new system that achieves their goals. All good. The board smiles, the manager collects a bonus and the world turns.
The problem is, by focusing purely on the problem, the ‘innovation’ is often just a cost cutting or minor procedural tweak, rather than a true leap.
Creative teams need the freedom to lose focus. They need to be able to keep the end goal wedged in the back corner of their brains while they explore and absorb different snippets of information. Externally, the company may see inefficiency, or even laziness. But if they’ve hired or engaged the right people, they should trust that they’ll get the right result. A great result rather than a stopgap.
One of the biggest blockers of creativity is success, and that’s why the Focus Fail is so dangerous. It makes your team look efficient, it provides a measurable result, and it creates ‘innovation’ that management can easily understand.
If your company truly wants to embrace innovation, then embrace creativity first. Set up an open brief Skunk Works program. Like Google, give your teams time to play. Put a process in place that will build true innovation, rather than a makeover masquerading as a masterpiece.