In a recent article, I explained that, though the terms are frequently used interchangeably, creativity and innovation are actually two different processes: Creativity is the birth of an idea, while innovation is actually doing something with that idea to create something of value. Each of these require separate supports for them to happen productively in organisations.
For creativity to happen, people working in an organisation must feel ‘safe’ to share or articulate their ideas. The bemoaners and the hecklers are the killers of creativity in organisations – if people are belittled, made fun of or humiliated in any way for sharing seemingly bizarre or wacky ideas, employees soon stop sharing them. Making fun of new ideas is the surest way to stop creativity in an organisation. And all great ideas start out sounding somewhat strange or unworkable, somewhat silly or impractical. What happens the moment an employee shares an idea determines whether an organisation will be creative.
If senior management want their organisation to be creative, they must introduce support processes that encourage and nurture ideas. Ideas should be encouraged and rewarded, and it must be made clear to everybody that ideas are not only welcomed but represent the very future of the organisation – organisations lacking creativity fall into decline and eventually disappear. So managers and team leaders need to be educated about creativity – they need to understand what it is and how to encourage and support it. As those in direct contact with staff, managers and team leaders are key in promoting creativity – if they are the ones who make fun of ideas by saying something like “don’t be ridiculous – that will never work” or “get real – be practical”, creativity will be stifled no matter what senior management say.
And when an organisation successfully creates an atmosphere conducive to creativity where employees share lots of ideas, all of these ideas must be treated delicately and nurtured. Some won’t develop into something of value now (but might in the future, so don’t disregard any!), but a few will if they are supported at birth. When an idea is turned into something useful – into something of value, this is innovation. For innovation to flourish in organisations, support processes are required. Again senior management must be seen to support the innovation process. This process will be somewhat different in each organisation, but essentially it must be one where failure is acceptable – most ideas don’t develop into something useful on the first attempt, so the organisation must treat failure as feedback and learn from it. Employees involved must feel safe to fail and when they do, they will repeatedly try until they succeed. It is the trying that makes an organisation innovative.