As it appeared in the Daily Nation on June 5th , 2018
I am overly interested in creativity and innovation. Maybe because my first job was in product research and development. I recall coordinating the Dairy Fresh product development from all angles as we sought to commercialize the new product. I was especially fascinated by the Tutti frutti flavour. When one of our directors mentioned it as a possible flavour, there was no Google and I asked him what it meant. He simply said it is the “bubble gum” flavour. Later on, I learnt that the flavour was common in ice cream and we were ready to test it in milk. The not so well know flavour simulates the combined flavour of many different fruits and it was a great hit. The choice of flavours demonstrated creativity at work.
Every day, millions of creative ideas are generated in our organizations. These ideas emanate from different corners of our organization. Founders, senior executives, managers, staff, customers and even business partners use their imagination to generate original and useful ideas. Individuals generate most creative ideas and teams too generate ideas. It is not enough to generate new ideas. In addition to idea generation, creativity requires that the ideas are followed through. New processes, products and services need to be created, new valuable technologies adopted and new beneficial business models implemented.
I believe that creativity is the starting point of the much-needed innovation in our organizations. Without creativity, there is no innovation. No wonder these two terms are often used interchangeably. Innovation as a broader term goes beyond idea generation to commercialization of new inventions to meet customer needs. For this to happen, useful ideas need to be recognized. However, it is easier to generate ideas than to recognize the useful ones. As such, many useful ideas are generated in our organizations but only a few get the recognition they need. Some are dismissed at inception while others slowly fade away to oblivion. This means that having creative individuals or a creative team will not see new processes, products, services and technologies introduced.
To nurture creativity, staff need to be able to freely suggest new ideas and make proposals for improvement of existing processes, products and services. Smart companies are those that have a systematic way of searching for creative ideas throughout the organization on a continuous basis. Some companies do so by proactively seeking feedback from staff and customers. This stimulates idea generation and makes it easier to recognize good ideas. Once useful ideas have been identified, they need to be evaluated fairly and those that make business sense should be executed. However, when the idea recognition process is marred by unnecessary delays, creativity starts to dwindle.
Smart companies are creative not only in their processes, products and services but also in how they run their business as a whole. A closer look at many leading organizations reveals creativity at its best. Leading companies value creativity, seek useful ideas and implement them. Unfortunately, in many other businesses, creativity is lacking. In small and medium sized businesses, creative ideas are not actively sought. Many such businesses end up being a replica of their next-door neighbour. To successfully exploit new ideas, business owners and leaders need to be open minded. This will help them to visualize the numerous opportunities present. Above all, once we recognize creative ideas, we need to take action!
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy