It was one of those rare moments of candor you get when dealing with senior management. “I know that our mission statement talks about innovation and creativity,” she told me hesitantly. “But we really don’t want people really think outside the box. We just want to make the box cheaper.”
What do all pharmaceutical companies have in common? Every one of them has either the word “innovation” or “creativity” in their mission statement. They are not alone: According to the Innovation Network, 88 percent of all organizations have either the word “innovation” or “creativity” in their mission statements. Yet, less than 5 percent of them actually have programs in place that teach innovation or creativity and make it part of the culture. So, why do so many pharmaceutical companies and other organizations think it is important enough to put on the wall but so difficult to apply as a training strategy?
The problem that most organizations have in translating innovation and creativity from the mission statement to the enterprise is there is no real understanding about what innovation and creativity really mean.
I was sitting on a panel a few years ago with a consultant for a large training organization. The topic was creativity and this organization was launching a new training product that was “designed to tie creativity to the bottom line.”
“Creativity,” they said, “is going to be a hot topic at least for the next five years and we want to be on the bandwagon.”
So, in response to a demand for more creativity, this organization created a very complex program that was designed to make sure that “bad ideas weren’t expressed.” Bad ideas? I asked them how do they determine a good idea from a bad idea?
“Bad ideas,” the consultant told me confidentially, “just annoy people.” (Well, we would not want any ideas that might annoy people!) “Besides, our creativity is tied into the bottom line. People come up with an idea that gets approval. They get all the resources they need and then they measure the result, put in on their review and are held responsible for it. Consistently what we have found is that there is a positive bottom line effect.” ï¿½
My thought was that if my job was on the line for an idea I created, and I got all of the resources I needed for its completion, you could bet money that I would make sure that at least appeared to be successful! ï¿½
Everybody Is Creative
What the story above demonstrates is that if you are told that your head is on the chopping block if you fail, you will become very creative. We expect people to be creative and innovative. That is why they were hired in the first place. That is the reason that we have so much difficulty implementing training programs for innovation and creativity. Even though everybody is creative, not everybody is necessarily a project manager, handles change well or an effective communicator. That is why we have programs for those competencies. Since everybody is creative, how do we put that into an organizational development strategy? Training will not make somebody creative or innovative.
A New Definition of Creativity and Innovation
Here is a new definition of creativity and innovation: It’s about solving problems. It is a key ingredient to the success of project management, leadership, attracting and retaining talent, and career and change management. That is the important element about moving from a culture of entitlement to one of performance. People have to redefine themselves as problem solvers, not problem creators. Everybody who wants to have a successful career has to first start by defining themselves as a creative problem solver.
Creativity Also Is About the Environment and the Culture
Think about this statement: Our ideas are influenced by the input of others.
In a negative sense, if somebody is told that their ideas “just annoy a lot of people,” they might not want to share their ideas with others, even if it means helping an organization avoid a crucial mistake. Likewise, in a fun environment where people freely share ideas, one idea bounces off another and create lots of options.
You cannot confine creativity to a room, ask people to put on their thinking hats and then expect the ideas to flow. The environment has to be created where ideas flow as events happen in real time. It is unrealistic to put somebody in that room who is being told daily to simply follow procedures and not think, and then say, “Voila! Be creative now,” and expect the ideas to flow. So, how can you implement a creativity/innovation program into your organization?
4 Easy Steps to Give Meaning to Creativity and Innovation
1. Create a common language that encourages innovation: I call this moving from the “yeah, but,” to the “yes, and,” culture. It was once said that there were many quality improvement programs, but what you had with Six Sigma was a specific language that people spoke. It is the same with innovation. It is creating a language that makes it part of the overall culture and involves everybody.
2. Make creativity part of an initiative, not a stand-alone program: By tying it into project management training, a quality initiative, leadership program or performance improvement, people understand its importance and how they can apply it. For instance, you can include a module on innovation as part of project management training that deals specifically how, when and where to use innovation tools to help a project succeed.
3. Help people understand the “box”: You have to understand the box in order to go outside of it. The more people understand the why things are done the way they are, the more innovative they can be. Knowledge transfer and sharing are big topics for organizations as the workplace ages. By creating an environment of innovation, people are encouraged to share because they understand that, instead of it being a threat to their position, it actually makes their position stronger because they also receive ideas and information they can use.
4. Help people to understand the time and place for innovation: I think what scares most organizations is that the constant flow of ideas means nothing ever gets done. I have heard comments like “We don’t believe in creativity for creativity’s sake,” and “If it isn’t broke, why fix it?” I agree with both of these statements. Like all competencies, there is a time and a place for it. Not many of us want airline pilots to be creative and innovative on takeoff and landing. We like that there are procedures to get us on and off the runway. At the same time, if the steward sees something wrong, we do want them to share what is happening with the pilot and help to create a solution so that the plane can land safely.
Creativity is ultimately about making the box cheaper. The problem is you have to create an environment that supports ideas to make it that way.