Managing Creativity and Innovation

By Martin Gilliard

Managing Creativity and Innovation is a key management skill these days with many managers expected to drive more and more innovations forward in order to increase competitive advantage. 

In order to be able to manage innovation the manager should be first aware of the different types of innovation.

In particular she should know the difference between radical innovations and incremental innovations as well as process innovation and service innovation.

spitting image puppets

(Photo Credit: Salim Fadhley)

Ideas provide the creative input to the management process and therefore managers should be aware of techniques to enhance creativity

Scanning the external environment can aid in finding new ideas, you should monitor customers, suppliers, competitors and any news bulletins or journals directly related to the markets in which your organization operates. In fact a term has been defined specifically related to reaching beyond your internal environment with respect to innovation – see open market innovation for further details.

Also you should attempt to define the culture (create an environment where people at all levels feel free to generate ideas – see the suggestion box article. If people feel that their thoughts and ideas will be valued then they are more likely to come forward with new ideas.

All ideas should be documented and the best chosen based on potential market value and costs / resources available. It is important not to outright dismiss any ideas not chosen for immediate implementation.

Keep detailed documentation of all ideas as they may prove useful as the market or circumstances change.

The innovation process is an inherently complex process and is therefore difficult to predict or control and occasionally innovations simply emerge by luck, chance or just being in the right place at the right time rather than good management. Take the examples of:

  • 3M scotch guard where the product was accidentally spilled on a tennis shoe and the material was noted to stay clean of stains for longer, or post it notes, which were a result of glue that wasn't quite sticky enough.
  • Or consider the Splenda sweetener product which originally started out as an insecticide product but when a chemist was told to test the product he mistakenly read the word test as taste, which he did despite the fact that the product could have potentially been extremely toxic!
  • And then there is the discovery of penicillin that came about when Alexander Fleming was curious as to why bacteria would not grow near the penicillin fungus on his desk. This discovery ultimately changed life forever by saving millions of people from potentially fatal bacterial infections.

A core challenge related to managing creativity and innovation is stimulating and motivating people to come forward with ideas – the creativity aspect. Then determining which ideas are worthy of pursuing further, followed by a strong method to quickly put the idea into action – the organization and management aspect of the process.

When choosing an idea you should know what you are, what you do and where you are going in terms of the organization in which you operate. Look closely at your mission statement, company values and major strategic direction. Ensure ideas that are put forward for implementation complement this.

When ideas are converted into innovation projects ensure that you have key stakeholder buy-in and that you have defined what is in scope and out of scope with all of the major deliverables defined.

While managing creativity and innovation, try to get your team to complete something quickly this will help them maintain momentum you might consider starting with a prototype to better aid approval and buy in from key stakeholders. Once complete and you have something to demonstrate then look at making incremental improvements. 

On the way you will probably make mistakes as change is inherently risky and therefore always raises the possibility of mistakes. Take mistakes as learning opportunities and pick yourself and your team up as quickly as possible and move on. It is better to make mistakes and move in a positive forward direction than it is to simply maintain status quo. 

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