Why It Is Important To Speak About Organizational Creativity and The Future in 2014
Monday, January 13, 2014 at 5:23PM
Ralph Kerle in Creative Leadership, HR, Innovation, Innovation, creativity, leadership, management, six sigma

The Current Climate

With the US economy finally starting to turn around, China continuing to grow, albeit a little slower, and the awakening of global regional economies with relatively stable governments such as Central and South East Asia, skilful strategic innovation that can be measured will emerge in 2014 as a key organizational capability.

Yet, for all the millions of articles, interviews, tweets and videos offered almost daily on the topic of innovation, there is little real understanding and experience at senior leader levels around the length of commitment and the type of measurement and experience required to make innovation a key driver for business growth or organizational success .

In 2013, in particular, I had conversations with senior leaders in which they declared the time had come to grow their businesses again. Over the last six years since the global financial crisis, they had successfully managed their businesses by focusing on maintaining revenue and profitability through removing costs and increasing productivity. In several cases, continuous improvement initiatives had achieved greater efficiencies and productivity.  However, continuous improvement did nothing more than offer incremental improvement in business management processes in most cases and was not perceived as a genuine engine of growth. Technology continued to disrupt industries and business models, yet in and of itself, technology as a driver of growth still only offered real success in isolated and specific cases - mostly within the technology companies themselves!

Realising there is nothing more to take out of the business, senior leaders are now being confronted and challenged to transform their risk aversion thinking from the last five years to risk-taking thinking. This is a difficult ask!!  

Almost without exception, senior leaders agree innovation is the answer. Yet, my research shows there is a very low level of practical innovation skills and capabilities in organizations generally and this is a serious impediment to growth and risk taking.

Technology has ensured adherence to process is the organizational glue in any business and business process driven by technology suppresses organizational creativity rather than supports it. Leaders are often forced to suppress their innate perceptions around an idea because the organization is chained to a huge investment in technology that was made with the promise of productivity and efficiency gains that were never properly quantified at the beginning and in many cases not manifested after several years. The only certainty that has occurred is increased cost in maintaining the existing system!!

To further compound this problem, the current organizational training in creative thinking and innovation skills fails badly because it lacks almost without exception all context in a technological driven environment. There is simply no connection between the use of the imagination to drive creative thinking and its application and the ability of a rigid technological process to facilitate that thinking.

In the world of technology, creative thinking and its application lies within the domain of the creator of algorithms and algorists are a rare breed, with little known entrepreneurial skills, supported by large marketing and advertising budgets screaming “the next big thing you can’t miss out on is.........?”

almost without exception if (creation && object of art && algorithm && one's own algorithm) {

     include * an algorist *

} elseif (!creation || !object of art || !algorithm || !one's own algorithm) {

     exclude * not an algorist *

 An Algorist's Vision of Organizational Creativity

Organizational creativity evolves out of cultural practices and the behavioural and resource constraints placed on those practices. Organizational innovation is the journey of successfully navigating those constraints along the way growing value for the organization. 

The capabilities required to operate in this environment are leadership experience in creative thinking skills such as envisioning, reflection, communication plus an awareness and personal confidence in dealing with essential elements of applied creative practice such as risk, ambiguity, uncertainty, paradox, emergence and an understanding of the world of aesthetics - the branch of metaphysics concerned with the laws of perception.

In 2013, these are topics in which business schools failed badly.

The on-line creativity and design thinking crash courses run globally by Stanford Business School that I participated in last year were built on content that was an aggregation of publicly available, old, passé and outdated content and methods designed from an academic’s theoretical understanding of creativity, design and innovation. The course revealed how badly the practices of innovation and creativity are understood by academics who have little to offer apart from a high status driven business school brand and a few theories – about as far from the real world of organizational creativity as the algorist!!

The Future Landscape 

In 2014, the challenge for leaders who want to grow their businesses will be how to skill their leadership teams and employees in the practicalities of organizational creativity in order to build a culture of innovation – a difficult exercise in organizational self-disruption.  One of the more practical academics, Clayton Christensen and two colleagues recently released this well-researched article “Consulting on the Cusp of Disruption”  providing up to date insights on this topic.

A journey of organizational disruption driven by simply generating ideas without proper framing of the ideas is a waste of time and money and often kills an innovation initiative before it starts. Further, without understanding your fellow travellers innate creative skills and capabilities around their professional practice, chaos in the disruption will rule. I say to leaders there is an 80% failure rate if this area is not explored when an innovation initiative is being planned.

My recent practice has shown when an organization designs its own strategic innovation framework with its own unique principles, protocols and practices then the exercise in self-disruption is given meaning and purpose and as a result, growth through innovation has a good chance of success.

The connection between new product and service development and business model innovation is emerging as a vibrant disruptive trend. Organizations create and trial new products and services through their own organization and existing networks to make the business case before taking them to a wider market.  This trend is particularly noticeable in the digital world as "apps" take centre stage in our lives.  The obvious advantage in this disruptive practice is rapid prototyping with reduced risked as concerns around service or product implementation are worked out through internal application; the strengths and weaknesses, limitations and benefits of the product and services observed in real world conditions with real world applications and problems with associated technology, its utility, benefits and cost can be observed and tackled head-on by users who are also involved in the process of creating the product or service – the full creativity to innovation loop in play..

Currently, the hardest element from a senior leadership perspective in organizational innovation is trying to analyse the benefits and rewards of focusing resources and time on self-disruption without understanding the competencies of the organization’s innovation culture in the first instance. A new unique innovation analytic, the Management Innovation Index recently launched, is showing promising signs in this complex area. The MIX as it is known, benchmarks and measures inherent organizational innovation capabilities and beaviours from four perspectives – culture and environment, strategy, innovation practice and the cumulative traits, beliefs and attributes of the employees across all levels within the organization.

Above all, organizational creativity and innovation requires vision and context. Processes policed by the cardinals of continuous improvement inevitably confine the context of innovation. In the next five years those organizations who recognize this problem and develop capabilities and behaviours that focus on the envisioning and creative rather than the process will win out.

So plan to make 2014 the year in which your organization grows into an externally focused, 21st Century creative thinking organization pragmatically envisioning the future whilst actively challenging along the way all the traditional processes and technologies that will silence its imagination and kill off its opportunity for growth

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