What is the meaning of innovation? That’s a big question because today, more than ever, businesses have to be innovative to be successful. Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner state that the meaning of innovation is taking creativity and transforming it into something that has valued use.
The word innovation, like transformation, seems to be overused everywhere. It gets used so often that it has almost lost any real value. However, innovation is the key to enabling companies to be competitive in a tough and tumultuous economy.
True innovation is born out of creativity. For an organization to unleash innovation, it must first tap into its own resources of creativity. To transform a company or to innovate on a large scale requires creative thinking or thinkers to potentially change the game.
The primary object then becomes how to find and unleash creativity within the organization. This must start with organizational leadership.
Creativity is not something to look for only when times are bad. Creativity should be an asset that is alive and working at all times within an organization. For any organization to be able to tap creativity consistently, it must be open to diverse thinking.
One of the difficulties for most management teams is that managers tend to surround themselves with like-minded thinkers. Because of this, it is highly unlikely that the typical management team in need of creative innovation would be able to generate the right kinds of ideas.
W.W. Granger provides a wide array of products to organizations that keep their businesses running. With over $7.2 billion in current sales to businesses and government organizations, W.W. Granger is a Fortune 500 company and one of Fortune magazine’s most admired companies. The company has a vast data and communication system fed by satellite to all of its Zone Distribution Centers (ZDCs) and local stores.
When faced with an information access and distribution problem due to incompatible equipment between the ZDCs and local stores, which had no current or realistic technological solution because the technology did not exist, creativity and innovation were required.
Grainger and its IT consulting firm had a long, established relationship. This meant that the IT consulting firm knew exactly how Granger did things and how the company wanted things done. Of all of the highly intelligent individuals involved, programmers, designers, and consultants, not one had an answer.
It became clear that the intimacy between organizations was impeding innovation. To solve the problem, a new idea was needed that was beyond the current players’ thinking and creative limitations.
At this point, we elected to put together our own team, unrelated to either organization and present the problem to them. This new team of thinkers came up with a simple, elegant solution that created sales for our organization totaling in the millions and solved a deep-rooted problem W.W. Granger had struggled with for more than two years.
Where Does Creativity Reside?
Creativity exists in the leadership, in the individual, and in the organization as a whole. Many times, managers must lay aside their egos in order to allow creativity to come forth. Diversity of thinking brings out ideas.
This is often why cross-functional teams can solve inherent problems. The diversity of ideas that can arise from individuals that are not hindered by past thinking can provide innovative ideas untapped previously.
How to Release Creativity in Individuals
Guy Claxton calls the two thinking states within us all the “hare” brain (left brain thinking) and the “tortoise” brain (right brain thinking). Left-brain thinking is what most managers do. It is logical, organized, decisive, and efficient. This is the hare brain, fast and decisive. However, it is usually not very creative because of an inherent aversion to risk.
The tortoise brain is often illogical, slower in its thinking processes, and willing to explore new ideas, methods, and presuppositions. Both of these kinds of brains are needed within individuals as well as the organization. The tortoise brain often comes up with the meaning innovative ideas. The hare brain then implements the new ideas and manages the processes involved efficiently.
In order to release creativity, the tortoise’s brain must be freed. It’s usually the most creative during play. Have you ever wondered why the best ideas seem to come when you’re in the shower or running, or fishing? It is because the hare brain is put to a mundane task which it excels at but does not require much thinking, except maybe where did my daughter put the soap this time?
Once the hare brain is occupied, the tortoise mind undertakes control of the thinking processes and begins to work on issues unconsciously. Trompenaars, & Hampden-Turner, (2010) call this using the undermind. Freud called it accessing the unconscious. I call it allowing the subconscious to analyze the problem.
Have you ever worked on a serious problem, never finding a solution, only to wake in the middle of the night with the very solution you’ve been searching for? I have. How does this happen?
When you are working on serious problems, you’re loading your hare brain with data. Later, although your hare brain may have stopped thinking about the issues, your tortoise brain begins working on it or waiting to work when it can take over the processing within your mind.
Pushing the Boundaries
So how do we get our tortoise mind working in our organization? First, take an inventory of all resources available, capital and human. Make sure you can access enough of the organization’s capabilities. Bring a diversity of thinking together to look at the problem.
Challenge the routine. Push boundaries and take the road less traveled. Utilize brainstorming games or whatever measure you can use to free up the tortoise minds of those involved. Fill your hare brain full of data and let your tortoise brain churn on it.
The biggest problem with creativity is that it defies the left-brain logical thinking that most managers rely on. Managers want to maintain the status quo. They need to keep things orderly and efficient. After all, that’s why they’re managers in the first place.
Creativity is disorderly, inefficient, and often illogical. The logical mind asks how we can solve this task quickly and efficiently. The creative mind asks why the task is being accomplished in the first place.
Instead of being surrounded by like-minded thinkers, wouldn’t it be better to have a different opinion? The New Yorker reported Einstein as saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The opposite of innovation is sterility.
How Does the Meaning of Innovation Fit Your Team?
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