New knowledge: how to breathe creativity into your business

How do you instill creativity in places where it seems to be lacking big time? In an earlier post I mentioned that an investor’s mindset seems to chase away innovation. But what invites creative thinking? What sets us off on the hunt for new knowledge?

Why knowledge acquisition and the creative process grind to a halt

Firstly let’s add a bit of detail to my earlier thoughts about why inventors leave a company (after an IPO). Money seems to have an oddly familiar impact if you’re a business owner: it burns in your pockets, leading to buying decisions based on affluence. You have the money. This fact severely reduces your need to employ creative brains. If you choose your resources based on their availability, you can either put in creative thinking and the time you need to realize your ideas, or you can chuck in a bag of money at any given moment to buy the results of other people’s efforts.

When and how does creativity leave your business?

San Matteo by Caravaggio

San Matteo by Caravaggio [Fragment
of image on Wikimedia Commons]

  • Following my instincts I’d say the first awkward moments arise when you find that your best ideas no longer lead to reactions like “that sounds great – go do it and let me know when you’ve got something”. Instead you get “that sounds interesting – is there anything out there we could use?” or “okay, draft some requirements we can use for our vendors”.
  • The absolute get-out-of-here-right-now trigger is when decisions for further development are made without consulting the company’s innovative minds. It makes sense to leave when no one cares enough about your opinion to ask for it before taking a major decision. The best (or most independently thinking) inventors will leave at this point.
  • The other inventors may choose to deliver what’s being asked for. However their ‘inventions’ are probably the products of ideas born from the minds of investors, market researchers, and the like. No wonder they don’t match the level of the ‘breakthrough inventions’ done by pioneering innovators!

What does this tell us about factors that’ll get innovation and general creative thinking into a team or company? It’s not just “leave them alone and great things’ll happen”.

Apple or IBM: two methods to bring creativity into your business

1. The survival method: be creative or else

To draw upon my own education, one of my teachers in art history argued that Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio) would not have reached the peak of his own ingenuity if his patron had accepted some of the paintings he made. As an inventor you may well need someone who will warn you not to become complacent – push you out of your comfort zone – tell you they know you can “do better than that” and will not settle for anything but the best.

To me this is a part of the Steve Jobs approach – if engineers come up with new adaptations of old inventions you demand they think of something better. I can imagine this method does not go down well with people who are either independent thinkers themselves, or who aim for ‘okay’ solutions that lack a ‘wow’ factor. It’s a method that smells of survival basics (and can inspire real terror for that reason): either you come up with a solution that works, or you starve because all the animals run away. How’s that for a creative spark?

2. The cocreation method: the benefit of having different points of view

Another part of innovation at Apple which Jobs was probably good at, is the ‘naive outsider’ approach (I’m borrowing from a Forbes article on creativity in marketing here) – taking a fresh look at familiar things and asking the questions that experts overlook. But there’s a definite downside to having one person doing ‘creative quality control or CQC (I just made that up for the occasion).

If you’re into social or ‘open’ business like IBM you can get input from people outside your company and even your industry. If you have your creative process in full operation, this should give you plenty of alien points of view – forcing you to rethink what would otherwise pass for ‘obvious’ arguments.

Creative quality control: which method suits you?

In view of the possibilities offered by social media and the like, and the psychological effects of each individual method, my vote goes to the ‘many voices’ option of social business. But depending on the type of company your in and the goals you’ve set, another method may be more viable.

More reading:

How do you foster innovation in your organization? Let’s talk about new knowledge, “CQC”, creativity, business, and social media in the comments!

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