On September 8, 2011, David Kappos, Director of The United States Patent and Trademark Office signed and presented the eight-millionth patent in the history of the United States. Since the very first patent was secured in 1790 it took 121 years before US citizens reached the millionth patent in August, 1911. By 2005, we registered seven million patents, and then, in less than six years we added another million innovations to the USPTO files.
In this increasingly fast-paced era of competition for the next great idea, leaders must understand how to foster creativity and how to structure innovation if they still want to be a part of the business landscape of tomorrow. Perhaps Bill Gates said it best, “Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time.”
Creativity is About Ideas; Innovation is About Results.
Creativity is an internal event requiring imagination, vision, even freedom. Some might say there’s a magical quality to creativity and perhaps that’s where inspiration comes in. Most of us know the people in this space – the creative types. They need their space. A place where inspiration won’t be derailed by interruption. A place where the free flow of thoughts is allowed to bounce around in the brain and, with any luck, form connections like the neurons that enable them. When these connections occur, both thought-wise and neuronal, the next big idea is born.
Innovation is the external process that brings that idea to market, so to speak, in order to create a measureable effect. While it can reasonably be said that innovation may involve similar elements as creativity, innovation also requires a level of discipline and discernment, an ability and drive to apply the big idea in some useful purpose. Thus, innovation is inextricably bound to action. Have you ever had a moment when you see some wonderful new product and say to yourself, “I thought of that…first!” That’s the difference – you may have thought of it, but someone else made it happen.
Leaders that understand these differences create environments or work cultures and structures for both and consistently outpace their competitors.
A Culture of Creativity
Creativity is an introverted process.
In this new world of open office space and collaborative communication, many leaders are frustrated by new research that supports quiet, creative alone time. Susan Cain, author of the book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, shares research that suggests people are "more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption, and that highly creative people in many fields are often introverted, even though they’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas."
Her findings are not shocking. Give someone time alone to think – to reflect, evaluate and predict (the highest forms of thinking) – and you are likely to yield significant creative output. Even Steve Wozniak told aspiring inventors in his book, iWoz, to work alone. While brainstorming can get someone unstuck, recent research has proven that it limits creativity when it comes to solving highly complex problems because it can stifle new ideas. Instead of someone offering an original consideration, they too often produce minor iterations riding on the coat tails of others' ideas.
Leaders who create a balanced culture of independent, uninterrupted creative time and respect individuals' needs for incubation and focus prior to collaboration, will enable and maximize the unique and creative talents of the people on their team.
A Culture for Innovation
Innovation is an extroverted process; it brings about change.
Change – that much maligned word that causes people to posture and defend that which is more habit than excellent. “Change is not necessary, however. Survival is not mandatory,” (W. Edwards Deming). But, whether it’s an iPad or i(Whatever), robotic manufacturing or green technology, innovation is what makes living more sustainable…and even fun.
Innovation is a complex, human, and multi-disciplinary process - a social process that requires communication, collaboration, application, and risk. In business, leaders may like creative thinking, but they love innovation results. Why? Because innovation can produce profit. Or in a fresh entrepreneur’s mind, world domination!
For innovation to occur and even come to market, a culture of curiosity and action must exist. What might the big idea look like to different people; how might it fit or disrupt existing products or systems; what’s the big why for the big idea? Creating an environment where these questions can be explored, where ideas are tested and measured, and results challenged and applied, is absolutely essential for the idea that’s born to create innovation that works.
Creativity and innovation, while often interchanged in conversation, are, more importantly, interdependent: creativity finds meaning and purpose through innovation, and innovation would never occur without creativity. Each stroke of brilliance must be nurtured to thrive.
Creativity and Innovation Questions for Leaders
- How might we create a culture that generates brilliant ideas? What’s working now; what should we tweak?
- How might we create a system or structure that enables collaboration and innovation behaviors? What’s happening to our great ideas now?
- How will we decide which ideas are worthy ideas in which to invest, innovate and bring to market?