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Completing the link between creativity and innovation critical for business growth

Completing the link between creativity and innovation critical for business growth

By Denille Roostee, Group Marketing & Communication Manager at Sanlam Namibia*

So, you find yourself reading this, realising that you are not a creative in the traditional sense like a conventional artist or designer.

But as business leader you are still a creator, whether a Chief Executive who creates a vision and designs the “resource recipe” to execute the company strategy optimally, or the HR consultant who creates a culture aligned to the mission statement, or a car guard or police officer who creates a safe environment for that matter.

It is a myth that creatives exclusively work for advertising agencies. This thinking could not be farther from the truth. All of us humans can be creative – and should be! I believe we are created to create; a Creator created us to be creative.

One can trace the natural human predisposition toward creativity back to ancient times. Anthropological studies show that creativity has been a defining characteristic of humans, dating back to prehistoric cave drawings, old stories and myths predating even the Odyssey and Homer’s Iliad. It isn’t a stretch to say that civilisation, in general, wouldn’t be possible without creativity. From the design and structure of buildings to recently invented electric cars, none of it would exist without someone looking at a problem and constructing a creative solution.

The importance of creativity in business cannot be overemphasised and is vital across various industries because business challenges require inventive solutions – I think we can unanimously agree now more than ever. However, merely having a good creative idea is not sufficient. A clever idea may or may not make an impact. What we are after is Innovation. We need to do things differently and make an impact. We need to dig into our creative sides to come up with innovation in business.

So why do 60% to 80% of innovations fail if Innovation is so critical? (yes, that is the sad truth). According to research, Innovations mostly fail not because of technology failure but because of human failure. Whether an idea succeeds or fails depends mainly on the company, specifically the human beings behind the Innovation. According to the Maastricht University of Innovation, the top reasons for innovations to fall by the wayside are a mismatch in the end user’s needs, a missing (or inaccurate) business case, low adoption by the end-user, a lack of endorsement within the organisation and political and regulatory issues. Most of the reasons are subject to human intervention in some way. Thus, we can control, manage and mitigate these possible pitfalls.

Globally, sizeable corporations tend to leave disruptive Innovation to startups. Yet, according to the book Corporate Explorer: How Corporations Beat Startups at the Innovation Game, larger companies are fertile ground for Innovation. Established corporations are freer to try, amend and react and conceptualise solutions due to the infrastructure and resources they have at their disposal. Furthermore, Corporates often have an extended footprint, allowing them to share learnings and ideas across innovation teams based in different countries.

However, the challenge for established corporations is to break through the barriers of departments working in silos. An orchestration of the companies’ resources is required to deliver a value-adding solution to the end customer by mobilising and enabling the relevant stakeholders to achieve the desired outcome. The rise of cross-functional teams is becoming more common in organisations as leadership realises the importance of aligning resources to accomplish successful Innovation. The end goal is to add to the customer value proposition in current or new markets, and alignment across levels is necessary.

Yes, Innovation entails methods (i.e., Six Sigma, Agile or Global Innovation Management Methodology) and design thinking processes, but equally also a mindset of “customer centricity” or “user centricity”. We need to become fixated on our customers. According to McKinsey & Company, pretty much all companies insist they focus on the customer. Yet reality often belies that assertion. Budgets and key performance indicators are often not aligned with customer metrics performance. Research may be superficial. Business decisions made at the executive level often fail to consider the impact on customers.” Do we really know our customers?

Another barrier to adopting Innovation can often be attributed to past failed initiatives. Once the team experiences the first “flop”, they withdraw and trust in the process is deteriorated. This is part of the process where empathy and human leadership is most needed. A culture of innovation can be created by refraining from simply withdrawing but allowing employees to make mistakes and failing fast within reason. There is beauty in failing by embracing it when it occurs and taking learnings from the iterative process of Innovation. It is essential to be adaptive and strike a balance between adaptivity and structure by providing a clear direction and focus.

Corporates can mitigate costly failures by setting clear budget and reputational risk boundaries at each stage of the ideation process and especially implementation. This approach could significantly increase the trust of those involved in the innovation process and provide the employees responsible for the execution with the comfort that they may fail and be encouraged to fail within objective reason.

Champions of Innovation need to be aware and enlightened on the systems approach. We should not shy away from or perceive complexity as ‘wicked’ due to the ambiguous nature of the business challenge. We should guard against disregarding or invalidating the complexity of problems as this may inhibit Innovation. Maybe this is because we do not want to feel out of control and do not want to admit to the complexity and all the “fog of uncertainty” it brings.

A change in mindset is required. We need to adopt an attitude where we do not have the warped perception that we need to have all the answers at every stage. Instead, complexity should be perceived as the breeding ground for design thinking, leading to satisfactory and optimised customer solutions. Finally, humility is vital as we will continually have to learn and tweak how we execute as we embrace an innovation mindset.

Will it be scary? Not if we avoid the corporate pitfalls and intentionally adopt an “innovation mindset” with a fixation on our customers.

Will we fail? No, we will learn.

Will it be worth it? If it adds value, indeed. If it’s for the public good – even better.

* This article by Denille Roostee guides corporates in their innovation journey. She writes in her own capacity, but is currently employed by Sanlam Namibia as the Group Marketing & Communication Manager. She obtained her MBA from the University of Stellenbosch Business School after completing a post-graduate diploma in Marketing & Advertising from Red&Yellow School of Business and a Post Graduate Diploma in Business and Administration from the USB after reading her B Comm in Business Administration.


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