Creativity, Innovation And Cake
Back in 2009, I became concerned about a lack of consistent terminology in the field of innovation. One of the most commonplace errors I come across is people confusing the terms “creativity” and “innovation”. Often, experts are talking about creativity, but they use the word “innovation” because they believe it is a sexier business term than “creativity”. This lack of consistent terminology continues today—and I am seeing a critical problem that is resulting from inconsistent terminology: actual innovation is not happening!
First, let’s revisit definitions. Creativity is combining two or more different ideas or concepts in order to create a novel, new idea. Innovation is about changing your world for the better (note: I have changed my definition of innovation recently: How Will You Change Your World?). In short, creativity is about the ideas. Innovation is about the implementation of those ideas in order to institute change. In a business context this would typically be through increasing value either in the form of increased revenue or reduced costs or both. But, there are other forms of value a business innovation can generate.
However, many so-called innovation initiatives, such as brainstorming, ideas campaigns and even my anticonventional thinking (however, I am addressing this issue) are actually creativity exercises. They are about generating ideas rather than implementing solutions. Often there is a complete disconnect between the creativity exercise and the processes for implementing any ideas that arise during the exercise. I believe a part of the problem is that when people, who are participating in a creativity exercise, are told and believe that they are doing innovation, they become satisfied with the result of generating creative ideas which are so often labelled “innovative ideas”. As a result, they feel their work is done. But the truth is an unimplemented creative idea may be cool, but in business it is worthless.
As an example, you could have a cake recipe writing competition in which you reward people who write the most creative cake recipes. Doubtless, you would get some really creative recipes that result from the competition. Moreover, you would have some happy and proud participants who are recognized and rewarded for writing truly creative cake recipes. However, one thing you would not have, no matter how many recipes are submitted, no matter how many people participate, no matter how creative the recipes. You would not have a single cake.
Now, let us assume you want to innovate. You intend to make the three most creative cake recipes from the competition. But, you have a relatively small oven, limited ingredients in your pantry and an even more limited budget for buying additional ingredients. Oh, and you only have access to the kitchen for two hours. Chances are, the most creative recipes cannot be made into cakes in view of these limitations. So what happens? Do nothing and simply be happy that some creative ideas were submitted? Do you modify the winning recipes to make them meet your limitations? Do you review the recipes again? Do you launch a new competition?
In most companies, the first choice holds true: nothing much happens. Getting back to the analogy, a far better approach, would have been a creative competition to bake cakes rather than submit recipes. Or, if that was not possible, make the limitations clear before people prepare recipes. The resulting cakes might not be so creative and exciting as the recipes from the open cake recipe competition. But there is one massive difference. At the end of the competition, you have cakes!
This needs to be a consideration in any innovation initiative: the actual innovation. Not the ideas. Not the creativity. But the implementation of the creative ideas in order to innovate. The resulting innovation may be less creative than the sexy ideas you have in a charged brainstorm. But there is a critical difference: you have cake at the end of the exercise!