As it appeared in the Daily Nation on June 7th2016
Creativity and innovation seem to be favourite values that several organizations in Kenya and across the globe have adopted as core values. The question though is, are we innovating enough? Are we putting the novel ideas we receive from our staff and from our customers into use or are we killing them? We live in an era of constant change; there are changes in our staff‘s and customers’ demographics, in customers’ perceptions, in regulations, in knowledge, in technology and the like. Innovation is a change process and organizations that plan to survive cannot vegetate.
Innovation starts with generation of creative and useful ideas subsequently put into action and successfully converted into business innovations. Christensen a thought leader on innovation argues that the ability to innovate is the “secret sauce” of business success. Many organizations have evolved through innovative products, processes and models. Unfortunately, in many organizations there is an underlying bias against new and creative ideas. This is possibly because of the uncertainty that such ideas present while in some cases politics and lack of funding deter innovation. Many creative ideas have slipped away before implementation. A well-known story in business circles is that of Kodak whose team invented the first digital camera in 1975.Sadly, it never pursued the idea until way after Sony had taken it up.
Creativity is perceived as the starting point of innovation. Creative ideas cut across the entire organization from new products and new technologies to simple process improvement, or even to new business models. These ideas can originate from any part of the organization; they are not a preserve of the management or the genius. It takes time and effort to move from idea to making the innovation a reality. Creative ideas only flourish if the environment encourages their blooming. Automated Teller Machines, Smart Phones, Microwaves all started as ideas and took time to develop. In addition to these lofty ideas there are many simple novel ideas that are being implemented every day at our workplaces. In his new book “Under New Management” David Burkus a professor of management shares simple innovative ideas on how companies are controlling the voluminous internal emails. At some companies he says, emails are now restricted to certain hours, so employees can work without distraction and in other companies, internal emails have been banned. Many people would ask – How is that possible? It is possible because in the 90’s we communicated effectively internally without email.
Leadership has a major responsibility of creating an environment where creativity thrives, where employees have the knowledge and the freedom to innovate. Studies on identical twins separated at birth indicate that only a third of our ability to think creatively comes from genetics with two-thirds achieved through learning. Therefore, creativity can be developed through a learning process. Physicist William Pollard once said, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow”. Managers need to foster creativity in the people they lead. They also need to reward innovation and lastly they ought not to instil fear of failure or kill useful ideas as this only dampens creativity. We can encourage innovation by putting in place a process of examining potential ideas instead of killing them.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy