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Viewpoint: Creativity Does Not Equal Innovation

March 29, 2012
Innovation and creativity have two distinct meanings. Here are some tips to attain a winning combination of both.

Innovation and creativity are words that are at times used interchangeably in the R&D process, but they have two distinct meanings.

While creativity is about coming up with the big idea, innovation is about executing the idea and making it a business success.

Do not confuse the two.

An organization can certainly have creativity without the right steps to implement innovation.

Robert Brands: "Structure can actually free the creative spirit."Innovation implementation calls for a robust, disciplined strategy. It cannot be a one-time process, but must occur over and over again to form a steady flow of innovation that sustains long-term profitability.

The only way to achieve that is by bringing focus, a road map, screening criteria and checkpoints to the new-product development (NPD) process.

Many innovation leaders are concerned that adding structure will dampen creativity. But in my experience, structure can actually free the creative spirit.

By applying structure that adapts to the needs, size and culture of an organization, a leader can draw both creativity and innovation out of its team members.

Here are some tips for attaining that winning combination:

  • Hold ideation sessions with a group of diverse and highly charged creative people in your organization -- and be sure to keep any restraints off. Do not ignore or override any input from the team. Practical, real-world filters can always be added later on, but you want to capitalize on all ideas early in the process.
  • Keep track of meeting decisions and next steps. Delegate responsibility and encourage ownership.
  • Use your motivational skills by creating clear and unwavering deadline pressure, while reinforcing and praising their incremental progress. Apply "Trust with verification."
  • Give team members some incentive for their contributions and achievements. This does not necessarily have to be money -- often recognition is a key driver for creative players in your organization. Make them the initiative Champion, and offer recognition among peers.
  • Create an environment where mistakes are tolerated and free of punitive measures. Remember, the creative process is a ratio, so more attempts at success naturally equate to more failures along the way. Managing failure as a learning experience lets your creatives feel safe and empowered to do their best work.
  • Provide regular feedback and keep the lines of communication open throughout the NPD process.
Last but not least, consider some defined "Free Time" with unlimited creativity but accountability to report the outcome aligned with the company vision, mission and strategy.

Robert Brands is the founder and president of Brands & Co. LLC, and the author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival." The book offers 10 imperatives that serve as a guide for successfully starting, nurturing and profiting from a culture of sustained innovation in the workplace.

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