Creativity Vs Innovation In Business
How companies can encourage creativity and innovation?
The word ‘creative’ is generally not accepted within the business environment because it is understood as ‘vague and undefined’ (Gogatz and Mondajar, 2005, p.123). The word ‘innovation’ however, has found its place in the business world, given that business people constantly seek to innovate their products, services or ideas; it seems that entrepreneurs want to innovate, rather than create.
To be able to quickly respond to the market changes and customers needs, companies need to encourage innovative thoughts of their employees (Gogatz and Mondejar, 2005). Indeed, innovation is imperative for the growth of competitive market and success of the business (Christensen et al., 2001). In fact, Robinson and Stern (1997) argue that a company can be considered creative when its employees create a novel idea without being directly taught how to do it. On the other hand, authors also suggest that there are six key solutions which should be applied to encourage corporate creativity: (1) Alignment, (2) Self-Initiated Activity, (3) Unofficial Activity, (4) Serendipity, (5) Diverse Stimuli and finally, (6) Within-Company Communication. Consequently, these six ingredients not only encourage employee’s creativity but also innovation.
The first condition to encourage creativity or innovation in an organisation is to make sure that the views of different employees are in accordance. According to Robinson and Stern (1997), a company can function without strong alignment, however, misalignment is highly destructive to a company’s creative process. In fact, alignment is the ability to show a relationship between innovation and company’s performance. Innovation is then shown as an essential element of the business plan, because it is a mean of reaching financial goals (Strassmann, P. 1997). Consequently, the views of upper management on innovation correspond with the views of the R&D department and other employees responsible for innovation. The example of Apple Inc. is representative of the importance of alignment in the success of a company. Prior to 1997, Apple did not release innovative products on the market (Gallo, 2011). The technologies were outdated and as a result, customers were not satisfied. Arguably, the come back of Steve Job as Chief Executive, allowed the company to focus on developing innovative products with the latest technologies. Since then, the financial performance was assured because customer satisfaction and active R&D was aligned with the financial goals of the company.
(2) Self-initiated activity
The second key ingredient for corporate creativity is self-initiated activity. Businesses should be aware that promotion of self-initiative activities among their employees is essential, to improve the work environment of employees (Robinson and Stern, 1997). Employees should be able to implement their ideas without the involvement of the upper management. The example of a waiter finding a new way to dress a table in a restaurant, allowing him to serve twice as many customers as before, because he decided to implement his new idea without the approval of his manager. After releasing the increased performance, the manager takes a decision to make the waiter’s idea the new policy of the restaurant. The freedom of implementation allowed employee to improve directly the way of work. Consequently, the waiter’s creativity has proven to be beneficial to the functioning of the whole organisation.
(3) Unofficial activity
The third element is unofficial activity, which occurs when employees are developing new projects on their own, without the supervision of management. This allows the project to grow to full maturity, before being officially presented. Indeed, there are no strings attached, either financially or regarding time scale (Robinson and Stern, 1997). In fact, Robinson and Stern argue that giving an official status to an idea can create a range of restrictions, which will be reverberated on the ability of the employees to be creative. Removing those restriction will give the employees enough time to conduct their unofficial activities and fully develop their ideas. The example of Google shows relevance of this element encouraging creativity. Google belief in their employee’s innovative minds is shown in their policy. The company allows their staff to spend twenty per cent of their office time on developing their own projects (Forbes, 2011a). The employees are encouraged to contribute actively and personally to the overall success of the company. They are then fully integrated into the company identity.
Serendipity plays an important role in the creative process. According to the Oxford Dictionary, serendipity can be defined as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way” (n.d.). It refers to a ‘fortunate accident’ during which employees can take advantage of an unexpected discovery by further developing the new idea into an innovative product (Robinson and Stern, 1997). The companies therefore should ensure that the ‘mistakes’ made by their employees are corrected in a thoughtful way, and consider any unexpected outcome as a potential idea worth developing. One of the most famous examples is the discovery of a well-known antibiotic: Penicillin. In fact, Alexander Fleming accidentally left some culture of bacteria in a contaminated area of his laboratory. The contamination having the form of a fungus appeared to kill the bacteria. Further researching the previous fungus, Fleming realised that he had discovered Penicillin, the first antibiotic (Bud, 2007). This was not his first serendipity, he also discovered Lysozymes, a well-known enzyme (Bud, 2007). This proves that further researching and unexpected results can lead to innovation and creativity.
(5) Diverse stimuli
The fifth element of creative process is diverse stimuli. Indeed, every person pays attention to different events and recall different ‘things’. In this way, a company will beneficiate from communicating with its employees in the most various ways, to make sure that everyone had a chance to understand (Robinson and Stern, 1997). Consequently, organising many activities will allow the company to reach the maximum number of employees. The communication between employees will increase in effectiveness, due to the numerous interpretations each of them have of problems. Various stimuli increase the interconnection between employees and improve the understanding of the company’s goal. In fact, when Dan Buchner has worked on developing products for Procter and Gamble, he has encouraged members of his team to spend time at customer’s houses (Horth, 2010). Buchner therefore decided to conduct an in-depth research on how people clean their houses and this allowed the employees to obtain ‘new’ experiences. Indeed, this stimulus was essential in the way that it regroups employees to think about the company’s goals. The outcome of these stimuli is likely to be creative.
(6) Within-company communication
The final ingredient of corporate creativity is within-company communication, which aim is to create cooperation and understanding between employees for planned activities within the corporation. Employees will then share their ideas and help each other develop their projects and their ideas further. According to Robinson and Stern (1997), communication happens naturally in small corporations, while within-company, the communication process is much harder in firms with multiple locations. It can be argued however that Google, which is a large international corporation, has successfully developed an internal communication system. It allowed the company to use the full potential of its employees by combining their knowledge and creativity into new products. Indeed, Google’s Vice President Marissa Mayer has established weekly, voluntary meetings with employees, where staff have an opportunity to present their creative ideas. The goal of such meetings is to encourage employees to think creatively and develop communication between upper management and employees. Therefore Google hold the belief that employee’s creativity should be encouraged on a regular basis, but the upper management of the company should initiate this encouragement.
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