In our last blog, we talked about why failure is a misnomer and how it’s really part of the innovation process as a whole. With a strong idea and a fearless group of individuals, anything is possible when it comes to innovation. But to come up with something really innovative requires a large degree of creativity. In this blog, we look at ways to break down silos, those intra-organizational barriers which prevent two groups from collaborating, and catalyze a company’s creativity.
Perhaps the most essential element in the innovation equation is the creativity factor. In fact, if we actually had to invent an equation it would look something like this:
x knowledge * y creativity = z innovation
Having in-depth knowledge of the product or problem to be solved is the first part of the equation. The more you know, the greater the probability of inventing something that has impact. Knowledge is the x-factor, but it’s nothing without the y-factor, creativity. It’s creativity that helps transform knowledge into something innovative; without it, products or services lack those new and novel attributes that catch the market’s attention.
Unfortunately, in most organizations, creativity is limited to the colour of fonts you choose in your PowerPoint presentations and spreadsheets. Since creativity is not tangible and cannot be measured, it often gets overlooked and pushed aside. That’s why the subhead of the National Post’s article titled, “The Death of Canadian Innovation,” says “The price we pay for pushing too much paperwork.” The issue is crystal clear: we need to shake things up and revitalize our business practices.
To achieve this we need to look at two barriers that stand in the way: organizational stereotypes and a hyper-focus on productivity.
Stereotypes in our business culture are huge obstacles to the creativity process. Typically, marketers are considered creative, accountants straight-edged and techies geeky. When you put creativity and accounting in the same sentence, for example, people usually think someone is cooking the books. And yet — an innovation to the tax code could have a more profound impact on society than any typical creative endeavor. These stereotypes in organizations and institutions lead to the development of silos, where communication between departments breaks down and different business units become segregated. Combine that with a culture where productivity is squeezed out of every possible minute, and a stranglehold is put on the creativity and collaboration process that fosters innovation.
So how do we get away from old habits to spark creativity and break down the silos?
Creativity has to be encouraged and facilitated. To really develop creative ideas in a company, campus or group of friends requires some leadership and imagination. Rather than thinking outside the box, just make it a little wider and more enjoyable to be in. Add some colour, chaos and charisma to the process.
Design Squiggle diagram embodies the design process – click here to see the full size image
Take for example Alex Osterwalder’s new book, Business Model Generation, which provides a step-by-step guide to creating new business models. The book is illustrated with fun, colourful drawings on almost every page. Just looking at the book makes you want to get creative. The authors actually encourage people to get out the crayons and multi-coloured sticky notes to try and draw business models. While most people cringe at the thought of drawing, it can be amazingly effective at adding clarity to an idea. Going further, there are countless other ways to inspire creativity in the workplace. You can organize a group of coworkers to discuss crazy ideas, start an ideas competition, give employees a day off to explore creative endeavors, the list goes on.
The next step is breaking down the silos, which is as simple as making cross-disciplinary collaboration less arduous. That means encouraging the engineers to talk with the marketing guys and the programmers to have lunch with the accountants. One way to do this is to have people in different departments, or roles, switch places for the day. The CEO, for example, could switch places a member of the production team, which helps build an understanding of how each unit plays a specific part in a company’s overall success. Because if the business guy gets an idea, he’s going to probably need the help of either an engineer or computer programmer to make it a reality. You don’t want anybody to be shy when it comes time to discuss the details behind a new idea.
There is no better example to illustrate the merits of cross-disciplinary interaction than Ideo, the world’s most famous design consultancy. These guys design the products, apps and services that we use everyday to make our lives easier. To do it, they get a group of people from all different disciplines together in one room, encourage people to bring wild, crazy ideas to the table and let chaos run its course. The results are continuously astounding.
Overall, bringing a new and novel idea to fruition requires a large dose of creativity. Unfortunately, it is often stifled in organizations and institutions everywhere, which is why the silos need to be knocked down. And in business, where the bottom-line is still the bottom-line, creativity and imagination always lead to the great product or service that really knocks the market’s socks off. So get in touch with it before it’s too late.
_Next time, we talk about two powerhouses: business model innovation and design thinking; and look at how they can be combined to create the next generation of businesses. Check out Part IV: Business Model Innovation and Design Thinking, a Dynamic Duo.