Creativity Versus Innovation
It's true: Many confuse the process of getting ideas with the agonizing realities of putting them to work. Lack of creativity is not the problem in most organizations. Great ideas almost always abound. The real problem is converting an idea, which is just a good intention, into operational reality. Indeed, a powerful new idea can kick around unused in a company for years, not because its merits are not recognized but because nobody has assumed or been assigned the responsibility for “running with it.”
Said Harvard's Ted Levitt: "An organization that exists to get today's job done cannot also do tomorrow's job very well… Tomorrow's job needs a new structural entity, a diminutive autonomous organization of its own."
What is lacking in most organizations is not creativity in the idea-creating sense but innovation in the "making-it-happen sense." In short: There is no shortage of creativity or creative people in business. There is, however, a shortage of innovators. Senior-level management must be responsible for creating a system or structure for enabling the conversion of a new idea into operating reality.
The Fallacy of Creativity
Being creative is fun. And it's pretty easy. Implementation is hard. That's why creativity is relatively abundant and innovation scarce. The fact that you can put a half-dozen people into a room and conduct a brainstorming session that produces exciting new ideas (that rarely get implemented) shows how little importance ideas have when unaccompanied by a system or process for converting those ideas into actual doing. Most brainstorming sessions we've attended over the years are inspirational.
It's truly enjoyable to stretch every idea generated in all possible directions; to associate, adapt, magnify, minimize, and rearrange a raging torrent of ideas about how to do new and different things. But because of the lack of appropriate organizational structures and other causes, few of the ideas served up in brainstorming sessions are actionable. When the next brainstorming session is scheduled, all the exciting ideas discussed in the past brainstorming sessions are rarely discussed.
In other words, most “good ideas” are usually rejected by the ongoing organization which is dedicated to getting today's job done and has no time or real desire to make the new and different happen. Allegiance to the daily task remains the primary focus of the organization.
So, how does one make innovation happen? Really make it happen?
We hope to bring into focus how Drucker-inspired disciplined innovation methodologies can be taught, learned, practiced, and become embedded into an organization's DNA. Put bluntly: There must be a disciplined process for converting good ideas into doing.
A recent Harvard Business Review article documents the astonishing failure of many leadership training programs. Leadership training must now include the specifics of what's involved in innovation. This breaks down into four distinct (but highly interrelated) subcategories:
- Identifying and abandoning obsolete, outworn, and unproductive activities of all kinds to make room for working on tomorrow's future.
- Continuous productivity improvement of all organizational resources including people, capital, crucial physical assets, and mission-critical knowledge(s).
- Systematically identifying and exploiting successes. This involves being able to disaggregate relevant data to find those successes.
- Producing and managing innovation. In many instances, the above three subcategories lead to innovation, but innovation–creating the truly new and different as opposed to more and better–must be approached with understanding, with purpose, and with a reasonable probability of success.
In the months to come, we will detail the kind of training that equips executives with what they must know to identify the many sources of new opportunities for innovation, and how to create the right environment and organizational structures for converting good ideas into true innovation.