Put Creativity in Concrete

Why innovation belongs on the board agenda

by Scott Isaksen

All organizations face immense competition, increasing demands to respond to change, and ever-intensifying levels of complexity—credit unions included. Entire industries are being replaced in very short timeframes. Remember what iTunes and Netflix did to Blockbuster?

In this context, those who lead organizations must face the creativity and innovation imperative: Sustainable innovation and growth require the deliberate management of creativity. A study done by the Innovation Network last year found that 88 percent of publicly held organizations identified innovation as a strategic priority, but only about 5 percent had any specific programs or initiatives to make that idea a reality. Those that have made their strategy concrete are reaping the benefits—particularly sustainable growth.

The Obstacles

The Magic Myth

So why don’t more organizations make their lofty innovation strategy more tangible? From my experience, most people hold some level of unproductive mythology about creativity. Since creativity is the key prerequisite for innovation, it may be helpful to examine and dispel these myths. One of the underlying beliefs about creativity is that it is magical—something supernatural—and only a few highly gifted people possess its unique qualities.

Well, more than 60 years of serious behavioral science can help us transcend these non-productive barriers to move forward on innovation. There is tremendous support for the idea that creativity is a natural human attribute–something we all possess (although certainly at different levels of accomplishment). The same psychological processes applied by creative geniuses are accessible to everyone.

The Mystery Myth

Another belief is that creativity defies definition and is therefore quite enigmatic and inexplicable. As with all myths, there is an element of truth to this opinion. Creativity is certainly a bit complex, but we have made considerable progress in understanding it.

Creativity can be defined as the making and communicating of meaningful new connections and insights. Innovation is the transformation of these ideas and insights into deliverable and value-added results. The irony is that you can have creativity without innovation (ask any parent!)—but you can’t have innovation without creativity.

Although there are many different definitions of creativity, nearly all would agree that it includes novelty and usefulness and can be productively approached through:

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