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Bruce Holland

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Innovation is Creativity With its Sleeves Rolled Up

If creativity is scarce, innovation is like hens' teeth.

We all have the capacity for creativity but most people shy away from it. The biggest barrier to creativity is the fear of being wrong (or looking silly).

People stay on the straight and narrow because it is safe. Safe may never change the world. But safe seldom gets laughed at.

What is creativity?

To be creative we need to take existing ideas and combining them in new ways. Creativity is based on the generation of new and different ways of thinking and looking at issues. In creative thinking there is no such thing as a wrong idea since any idea may trigger a right and useful idea. Jonathan Milne, CEO of The Learning Connexion and author of "Go! -The Art of Change" says:

"Creativity is not about reinventing the wheel - it's about taking existing ideas into new places." Jonathan Milne, Go! The Art of Change.

We need to be willing to let go of much that we think we believe.

"Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things." Edgar Degas.

How to get into a more creative mood

Some of the things I've tried may sound strange but, as long as they work, I've given up caring what others think, it's one of the good things about getting older. I've found the following ideas useful: Stay loose, Cry during movies, Smell a rose, Laugh a lot, Imagine yourself magic, Giggle with children, Get down on your hands and knees and play with children, Listen to children's ideas, Listen to old people, Bless yourself, Hug a tree, Build a garden, Skip down the street, Travel, Read inspiring books, Listen to inspiring audio tapes in the car, Do one thing a day that challenges you, Paint a picture.

If you promise not to laugh you can look at some of my artistic attempts. I will never be great but they are better than I imagined when I was still working as an accountant.

More formal ways to increase creativity

There are many useful tools for increasing creativity. Some of the most useful ways I've found are: Compliment People Often, Challenge People Often, Remind People that You Want Their Ideas, Provide Time to Think, Provide Space to Think and Talk and Create, Go on Creative Thinking Field Trips, Encourage Humour, Hold Analogue Drawing Sessions, Draw Your Dreams, Assumption Smashing Sessions, Brainstorming Sessions, Use Osborn's Check List, Read Roger Oech's "Whack on the side of the head", Use Mind Maps developed by Tony Buzan, Use Dr Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats, Use the "La Salle Innovation Matrix".

Innovation is beyond creativity

Many people have great ideas in the middle of the night. Few get up and write them down before they forget; and even fewer commit to turning the ideas into reality. To be successful you need to roll your sleeves up and go to work. Innovation is about hard work, overcoming fear and having real courage.

Let me demonstrate by my own experience: For many years I knew what I wanted to do, but the Bank of New Zealand was very comfortable, its conditions were attractive and I felt the fear of unlocking the golden handcuffs that trapped me there. I will always be grateful to my brother-in-law, Roger Gardner, who said, "You've obviously thought it through and believe in yourself. So you can do it!".

Whatever you want in life, there is no alternative, you must face the fear and jump. In the end, to get the courage I needed, I had to go out and tell many people that I would not be employed by the Bank by the time I was 45. Even then the temptation was to play it safe. Somehow I found the courage to resign on my 45th birthday.

Whatever you think you can do and believe you can do, begin it. Action has a magic, grace, and power in it. I've also found great truth in the saying, "Leap, and the net will appear."

The moment I resigned opportunities started to open up. The nature of the consulting business is that there are not long pipelines of business committed into the future; and for several years I worried about what the month after next would bring (or not bring). What I have found is that it's like a ship travelling through water, somehow the water flows in behind you and supports you when you need it.

Since 1992, as the founder of Virtual Group, I have helped many people who wanted to start their own consulting business. In all that time I am unaware of anyone who has been successful while they have been looking at job advertisements too. You must leap and you must be committed. As they say, luck follows the brave.

When I launched Virtual Group, I thought deeply about the business I wanted to create and even prepared a five year strategic plan. Reality did not happen in such a linear fashion. I always tell new consultants to plan if you want, but don't expect that it will turn out like that. It's better to prepare, think and dream. It's more like shaking the apple tree and trusting the universe to deliver the apples.

Completing the following statements may help you see if you are handcuffed:

I don't do it much, but I enjoy... My biggest limitation to creativity is... If I could lighten up a little, I'd let myself... If it weren't too late, I'd... If it didn't sound so crazy, I'd... I'm afraid that if I allowed myself to dream, I'd...

"It's not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it's because we do not dare that they are difficult." Seneca.

Innovation is often an organisational issue

Most managers I talk to assume that lack of ideas is the reason their organisation lacks innovation. This is sometimes true but not always. One of my clients is run by a highly innovative man who has gathered around him a top team of similar people. Their problem is too many ideas. Ideas come from left, right and centre, but few of them stick because the top team gets bored before the ideas are converted into anything workable. Managers below just raise their eyebrows and dismiss the latest "saviour idea" as just another madcap scheme that will go nowhere.

Sometimes organisations fail to introduce innovative products because they fail to generate ideas but more often it's because they fail to adopt an end-to-end innovation process. An innovation process has three distinct phases and the problem can be in any one. The phases are: Idea generation, Idea conversion and Idea diffusion.

Generating ideas sometimes causes anger and frustration if there are not good processes in place for screening and developing ideas into products. Sometimes conversion is limited by lack of budgets for development or funding criteria that are too strict. Other times ideas go nowhere because they languish in a part of the organisation that is too busy doing other things, or fail to see the potential or suffer from the 'not invented here' syndrome. Unfortunately, the saying, "If I want to kill an idea, I send it through the formal process.", has more than an ounce of truth to it.

Even when the idea has been turned into a product, poor diffusion can mean that the organisation is too slow or can't capitalise on the innovation before others catch up.

I hope you can see that increasing innovation is far more than just getting people to be more creative. I have been working at helping "Product Leaders" and "Thought Leaders" for many years. For more on an Innovation Process.

Warmest wishes, Bruce. Bruce Holland Virtual Group Business Consultants PO Box 6521, Wellington, New Zealand. Phone +6421620456 or Skype Bruce.Holland Liberating the human spirit at work

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