I was recently discussing with a friend the difference between creativity and innovation, and how people tend to confuse and conflate the two. In business, while creativity — coming up with new ideas and new ways of looking at the world — is a nice thing to have in any organization, unless you are creating ideas that can be put to use (innovations), then it is of little real use. Innovations flow directly to the bottom line, while creativity tends to float somewhere high above.
Businesses must therefore innovate, or die.
A colleague of mine — Jerry Kitzi, former Vice President for Youth Development at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, and current director of the Francis Institute — suggests the following activities for jumpstarting innovation in organizations:
- Look through a different lens. Have you looked at the service or product from the eyes of the user? Are decisions about a service or product made by management or by the people closest to it? Is a mechanism in place for regularly encouraging and obtaining feedback from staff and employees at all levels of the organization?
- Change the basic assumptions. Are the basic assumptions, which were originally used to design the product or service, still practical in light of changing conditions? Do current market conditions still support your assumptions about your customer, products, or services?
- Brainstorm with colleagues/competition. What do competitors offer in other communities, locally and nationally? What do other companies that are targeting your customers offer that is better and/or more effective? Could a partnership with another company improve your products or services and increase your chances of achieving desired results?
- Brainstorm with the customer. Do you seek feedback from your customers? Are you asking the right questions? Are you listening to what they are saying, or are you hearing what you want to hear?
While there may be many paths to innovation in your organization, keep in mind that if the end results of creative efforts among your employees cannot be put to practical use, then they are worth nothing. And effort expended with nothing to show for it is something that few companies can afford today — at least not for very long.