Creativity & Innovation

No company in today’s world can afford to ignore innovation. In fact, if innovation is not in the company’s DNA, then you are doomed for eventual irrelevance. But how do you create a culture of innovation? How do you prove an “RoI” for innovation? How do you have a “process” to manage innovation? What’s the difference between innovation and creativity?

These are just some of the questions that came up at a recent peer gathering that I attended. Coming out of the meeting, I spent a few days ruminating over the last question — what is the difference between creativity and innovation?

I’ve had this long-standing belief — “I’m not the creative type” and one of my greatest parenting fears is that I’ll pass this belief on to my children as a genetic hand-me-down. For the longest time, being “analytical”, not “creative” was a matter of pride — I mean, who gave a damn about the fluff stuff really? At any rate, it wasn’t gonna make you money. Creativity was for painters, dancers, authors — but for us in the business-world, well we couldn’t be bothered with this stuff. For us, it’s all about the rough and grind of hard numbers.

Right?

Well, actually, no. This is one of those “I wish I knew this when I was 20” learnings.

First, the limiting belief — “I’m not the creative type”. I wonder now what caused that belief in the first place. Perhaps a fellow student laughing down something I created? Perhaps a teacher actively discouraging experimentation? I don’t exactly remember where this whole notion sprung from, but it has been actively reinforced over many many years and has become some sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. As an example, you’ll never catch me doodling in plain sight.

Secondly, if we assume that innovation is a necessary (but not sufficient) factor for success, then can one be innovative without being creative? Let’s look at the dictionary definitions (there are several versions if you google these words, but I picked the ones that had a recurring theme):

Creativity = the use of imagination or original ideas to create something

Innovation = the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods

Creativity then is a critical ability to possess because no matter whether you want to improve incrementally on an existing process or product — call it “evolution” — or come up with something completely unprecedented — call it “revolution” — you cannot escape being creative. I like the way Drew Marshall put it: “Creativity is the price of admission, but it’s innovation that pays the bills.” (link)

So, how does an organization nurture creativity amongst its employees? And how does a parent do the same for their children?

Working for a company that features in Forbes’ 2015 “The Most Innovative Companies” list makes me feel immensely proud. So, what makes @Equinix innovative? Top-down encouragement & role-modeling, for starters. Encouraging individual initiatives. Recognizing & rewarding innovation. From our core value proposition to new products to our fantastic corporate social responsibility initiative, there are so many instances of individual and group creativity around the company, it really motivates & encourages others to try and innovate.

When it comes to nurturing creativity in children, this TED talk by David Kelley, the founder of legendary design firm IDEO, hits the nail on the head & truly inspires creative confidence.

Having lost my own creative confidence somewhere along the way, I’m determined to not let that happen to my kids. Encouraging creativity is, in many ways, about encouraging risk-taking and learning from failures. Allowing creativity to manifest in different forms and take whatever direction it wants to go is the probably the best thing I can do for my kids to prepare them for the 6 essential aptitudes on which, per Daniel Pink, “professional and personal satisfaction will depend” in the 21st century — Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning. Creativity seems to be the anchor on which all of these rest. (link)

So, when your kid looks at this picture of a sheep inside a box and thinks it’s a fabulous idea, feel DELIGHTED!

Chapter 2 of The Little Prince
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