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A creative organization
posted by admin on 20/10/06
At some point an entirely new platform or category is needed
WHY IS INNOVATION NEEDED IN AN ORGANIZATION?
Anderson has defined creativity as "... nothing more than going beyond the current boundaries, whether those are boundaries of technology, knowledge, current practices, social norms, or beliefs. Creativity is nothing more than seeing and acting on new relationships, thereby bringing them to life."1 While there are many definitions of innovation, it is defined here very simply: using creativity to add value. Value can be economic, social, psychological, or aesthetic.
There are many economic and technical forces that are driving an organization to be innovative.
First, margins can no longer be sustained by downsizing and reengineering. Either all of the excessive costs have been squeezed out or reengineering and downsizing have not worked.
Second, competition is fierce, coming from global sources and companies outside the industry. New products and processes are necessary to compete.
Third, product life cycles can be shorter than the time required to develop a new product. If there is a competitive product on the market, speeding up the process to get a "me too" product to market is not a profitable strategy because the market window will close before the "me too" product is ready. The solution is to innovate one or two life cycles ahead, creating a product that the market will be moving into, thereby beating competition and earning a substantial margin.
Fourth, continuous improvement will reach a point of diminishing returns. At some point an entirely new platform or category is needed. Motorola seemed to have made this mistake by improving analog cellular phones after the market had shifted to digital technology.
After studying 17 companies that grew shareholder return by 35% or more per year, Hamel concluded that their secret is strategic innovation that either defined new industries, such as the digital industry, or redefined existing industries, as Home Depot did to the home improvement industry. He suggests, "We have reached the end of incrementalism in the quest to create new wealth. Quality, cost, time-to-market, process improvement--these are important, but we are hitting the point of diminishing returns." He notes further that "Opportunities for innovative strategy don't emerge from sterile analysis and number crunching--they emerge from novel experiences that can create opportunities for novel insights."
Finally, there is a paradigm shift in what adds value. Material is becoming less important in creating wealth. The high-growth electronics industry is based on silicon chips, which are sand with great quantities of knowledge added. Reengineering is the efficient use of existing knowledge, while innovation is the creation of new knowledge.
THE OLD ORGANIZATIONAL MODEL INHIBITS CREATIVITY
Gone is the hierarchical model with the person at the top controlling everyone by holding all information. No one person possesses all of the knowledge or skills to control a fluid, rapidly evolving system. Leading gives way to facilitating relationships in a system where knowledge and skills are networked. Leadership in the new organization consists of facilitating shared values. This facilitatorship must take place in an environment which has relationships that freely share ownership, information, and ideas. Facilitation and sharing are basic to creative problem solving (CPS) processes, which is why CPS is needed to transform an organization into a continuously innovative one.
FOUR IRONCLAD RULES TO FACILITATE CREATIVITY
Judging, more than any other event, will shut down idea generation. The physiological reasons for this shutting down require an understanding of the functions performed by the three sections of the brain, known as the triune brain. In basic terms, they are the outer layer, the neo-cortex; the middle layer, the limbic system; and the inner-most layer, the brain stem. Each performs a different function.
The brain stem, known as the reptilian brain, focuses on food, fight, flight, and reproduction, i.e., survival of the species. It responds immediately to physical and psychological threats. Judging is a psychological threat.
The limbic section governs emotions and feelings.
The neo-cortex controls thinking, speaking, and problem solving. Creativity occurs at this outer level. Because judging is a threat, the brain shifts from the neo-cortex, through the limbic, to the brain stem to assure social-psychological survival. This shift shuts down the creative process. Because the creative solving process requires lots of creative ideas, judging during divergent activities must be avoided at all costs. Conversely, research has shown that positive feedback increases the combination of divergent stimuli in new ways.
Unfortunately our culture has taught us that large doses of judgment are prerequisites for extrinsic rewards. Professor Melvin Tumin, a Princeton sociologist, concluded that "...nothing is quite so hostile to the maximization of creativity as the competitive grading system which prevails in our schools." Furthermore, he believed that intrinsic, not extrinsic, rewards should be used. Thus, the joy of creating and learning is a reward unto itself.
CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT THAT IS COMFORTABLE WITH CREATIVITY
Creating an environment that is tolerant of mistakes is difficult. It must be made clear that mistakes are acceptable if they are based on solid thinking, enhance learning of what will not work, and are caught early before the damage is severe. There must be support for the people who were on the team of the project that failed. One company has a "wake," complete with black candles on a black cake, to shorten the grieving time and move on. Another company calls a project an experiment, thereby recognizing that experiments fail, but they provide new knowledge.
As noted earlier, our educational systems have destroyed innovative thinking styles by requiring conformity and by giving rewards based on easy measures. Innovation is very difficult to measure. To encourage innovation, we must help individuals to understand each other's preferred problem solving style. Creative problem solving sessions require teamwork among individuals who have different thinking styles because of their training and experiences. Effective teaming requires that each member understand his or her style and the styles of others on the team.
Thomas Edison embodied all of the characteristics and risks of an innovator. He generated 3,500 handwritten journals. He was a divergent thinker, musing about cosmology, making observations about the natural world, sketching, and writing poetry. He created a diverse environment by stocking samples of metal sheets, rods, pipes, 8,000 chemicals, and every kind of screw, needle, cord and wire made, along with natural products such as hair, silk, and sharks' teeth. He was not afraid of failure. Before settling on carbonized cotton for the light bulb filament, he had 3,000 failures with material from bamboo to platinum. Lessons learned in one failure led to success in another project. In addition to the light bulb, his 1,093 patents included familiar ones such as the phonograph, microphone, mimeograph, batteries, and an unfamiliar one for poured concrete. The last invention was an attempt to build a middle-class house in six hours. His most trail blazing contribution was the invention of a scientific laboratory. He directed a dozen colleagues in as many as 40 projects at one time. He set as his goal a minor invention every ten days and a major one every six months. Clearly he practiced the concept that quantity will produce quality. But Edison's divergent thinking ran into industry's need for convergence. Even though General Electric was founded in part by Edison and he had worked on x-ray tubes, the company gave its manufacturing to a competitor because corporate managers viewed him as unreliable and unpredictable.33 Here is another example of the need for a team of divergent and convergent thinkers.
Creative leadership must facilitate positive relationships in organizations to produce profitable growth through innovation. We now know that creativity is not a personality trait that is available to a few geniuses. Everyone has unique knowledge and experiences that can be tapped, given the proper environment. This environment must be free-flowing and nonjudging to take people through the mental blocks that they learned in early childhood. These mental blocks are associated with the risk of being wrong. Many educational processes give rewards only for getting the right answer, not for experimenting with new approaches or exploring the risky unknown.
The motivation for innovating comes largely from the joy of doing something that has never been done before. It is like going on an expedition and risking everything to be the first person to climb a mountain or sail alone around the world. It taps the same drive that exists within a composer or an artist who wishes to create something for immortality. It is rewarding to be part of the base camp that supports the climber who is the first to reach the top or the ground crew that supported the winning sailor. Creativity can transform a dream or wish into a new form of retailing, a fast-food concept, a new form of government, an airplane, a light bulb, a new way to grow rice to reduce hunger, or it may be a dream by an individual to lead a fuller life.
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