Some of today’s most perplexing problems involve the need to improve processes. Around the globe, governmental organizations are struggling to make efficient use of scarce tax dollars in an environment of outdated, expensive and overly bureaucratic processes. Non-profit and corporate organizations are typically more nimble and capable of change-making, but are still challenged by the task of improving processes that involve numerous staff across various departments.
Robert F. Kennedy popularized the notion that dreaming of things that never were and asking “Why not?” could change the future. In the decades since his death, the business world has focused more on efficiency than on imagining a different world. But with innovation now recognized as a key corporate capability, the value of questioning has roared back to the forefront.
We live in a world grown skeptical of ‘new and improved’ products and services. Too often, the change is a marketing gimmick – the same old product in a new color, size or package. Sometimes a flashy new gadget or feature is sold as innovation. Invariably, these products fail to improve a company’s market share because they simply don’t offer customers anything they need.
“Experienced problem solver” is a term a human resources person might expect to see on an incoming resume. “Successful problem generator” isn’t nearly as likely. But maybe it should be.
Organizational creativity is a process with four separate and sequential stages – generation, conceptualization, optimization and implementation. The generation stage, which launches the creative process, is where new ideas are developed – often by discovering problems that need to be solved. Not surprisingly, generation is usually chaotic, spontaneous and disordered.
When I talk about creativity, it isn’t uncommon for people to tell me that they aren’t the ‘creative type,’ as if creativity were an unchangeable trait akin to eye color or height. While it is often viewed as an innate skill that people are born with, the truth, however, is that creative thinking is actually a readily-taught set of skills, attitudes and behaviors.
During a recent workshop I conducted in New Jersey, participants shared their perspective that innovation is often too tightly tied to Research and Development. It’s seen as something that R&D departments are “in charge of,” rather than as an integrated, daily activity for staff across a corporation. Integrated innovation makes everyone in the organization responsible for finding solutions.