A New Kind of Innovation for a New Era

Paul Torrance, Mr Creativity of the 20th century, wrote way back in 1958 that it is not your technical skills or academic intelligence that will give you or your organisation that particular advantage. Torrance was very adamant that it is only your creativity, your creative insight and energy that will provide you with that distinctive edge and make you one of the truly eminent. And who can argue with a man who spent 40 years researching beyondness and the qualities that makes a person a Beyonder?

Myths and nonsense

It seems that often scientists and laymen alike spend their lives trying to define and describe theories and concepts. Once they believe that they now understand the essence of the concept they will give emphasis to the borders around those concepts and draw their conclusions and make their evaluations from within these borders. Maybe some of the more clinical sciences could be defined in such rational and logical terms but if one dares to classify creativity and innovation in separate and disconnected ‘boxes’, you will be missing the fundamental nature and heart of progress and development.

Creativity and innovation have intertwining principles and meaning. Maybe the best way of explaining how they go together is to focus on the four integrated factors which are essential if the individual or the organisation wishes to sustain innovation. The continuous acceleration of everything in our world; our business, our markets, our financial realities, and our technology has created uncertainty and insecurity amongst most people. As soon as you have a new idea, someone somewhere has a better one, and you have to start creating all over again.

Navigating Open Innovation

(to access the landscape of bountiful knowledge and connect the seemingly ‘unconnectible’)

In a century where we are all required to dig deeper and anchor securely and be more flexible at the same time, the human being has no choice but to become the creators of chaos and order, imagination and reason, logic and intuition. Never again can we experience creativity and innovation as something outside of us that we can switch on and off and apply when necessary. It is not a doing ‘thing’; it is a becoming ‘thing’.

The creative person

There is a broad consensus amongst creativity experts that 98 percent of all human beings between the ages of 0-3 demonstrate creativity at a superior level. At the age of ten this figure drops to 32 percent, and eventually, only two percent of adults over the age of 25 still seems to exhibit creativity at a superior level. The terrible state of our planet and the overwhelming poverty throughout the world is at the same time a sad reflection of the way we have been creating and innovating the past hundred years. We are losing the battle, and we will lose it altogether the next few decades if we do not dramatically take stock of our creative inheritance. Thus the empowerment starts with the person; a rediscovery of your inherent creative qualities – the ability to go to the edge; to see with fresh eyes; to grab life with amazing energy. It also does not matter what your age is or what your professional background has been – the rediscovery of your creativity can come at any age. THIS REDISCOVERY IS THE FIRST AND CRITICAL PHASE IF INNOVATION HAS ANY HOPE OF BECOMING PART OF THE CULTURE, THE LANGUAGE AND THE VALUES OF THE ORGANISATION.

The creative process (‘verbing’ before ‘nouning’)

There are many deliberate creativity processes which have excellent track records. If, however, the persons who are part of these processes are not creative, the results are more often than not incremental and ordinary, and very seldom the innovative breakthrough or aha that takes one to the next level. Before embarking on the process, the investment should be in the person – otherwise, the shortcut that you are taking can be a costly one.

Some of the deliberate creative methods like the Osborn/Parnes model which approach innovation challenges by following a step by step process to reach a specific objective eventually have had incredible results. Starting with fact-finding and then to problem finding, idea finding, solution finding and ultimately acceptance finding for the innovation, is a progressive methodology which has been instrumental in producing newness in all shapes and sizes; from soft drinks to drilling equipment; from chocolates to insurance packages; from fast food novelties to absenteeism solutions.

In 1995 I was asked to write a television series focusing on South Africa’s transformation but from a creativity perspective. The question that they wanted me to address was why South Africa did not have a bloody revolution because it seemed almost unavoidable at a stage. My colleagues and I found some reasons, but the one that stood out was that the teams that negotiated our future, especially during the six months before our elections, followed this process of working from fact-finding to acceptance finding very, very carefully.

Creative Outcome (The innovation)

The outcome is the result of the person’s or group’s creative ideas, insight, passion and energy and the putting into action of those ideas and insights. The innovation can appear in any shape or form:

Things: telephone, light bulb, fast foods, a beer can, e-mail

Style: a new way of teaching, leading, managing, parenting, marketing

Societal change: peace (instead of war), values, beliefs, religion, education

The list is endless. Some innovations are only appreciated and used by a few people; some innovations change the course of history for the better (medical breakthroughs) or the worse (the atom bomb). Some innovations can create immense excitement amongst those who benefit directly from the newness (like the aluminium beer can with an integrated self-cooling system that was launched at a soccer world cup tournament). Just imagine pulling the tab and knowing that your beer will be ice-cold within 15 seconds!

Innovations will always vary between bad, ‘ok’, good or wow. Unfortunately, the ‘wows’ are few and far between.

Creative environment

The most important approach to sustaining innovation in the organisation and anchoring a culture of creativity and innovation is to develop an environment which supports opportunity and possibility thinking at all levels of the business. In the 20th century General Electric who registered 50,837 patents, and IBM with 32,498 patents were the dominant technical innovators. The primary reason that these two companies, like Canon, Toshiba and Hitachi the past few years, have dominated the world of innovation, is because of an environment that encouraged the ongoing edging and probing of boundaries. Once innovation becomes the culture, the language changes, the future begins to excite again, and passion becomes the driving force. In the words of Julia Cameron, in an innovative environment, a net will always appear for those who leap.

Extraordinary creativity

It is a new era, and once again the refrain ‘innovate or die’ rings ominously in our ears and our souls. Remember that the ‘innovate’ of today is radically different from the ‘innovate’ of yesterday and the day before.

And open innovation is eventually about ‘Beyondness’ not about ‘Comfortness.’

To learn more about how we can help your business capitalise on creativity, enquire here.