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A common discourse in the workplace these days is how to improve creativity and innovation, which can be central to an organization’s performance and sustainability. As the knowledge-based, interconnected global marketplace continues to move ahead at warp speed, it will become increasingly critical to be competitive. This will require different approaches and strategies to address and solve problems. Creativity and innovation will provide the underpinning for action. Creativity is defined as the mental and social process (conscious or unconscious) of generating ideas and concepts, while innovation is the successful exploration of new ideas or the outcome of the creative process.

Common types of innovations relate to product, service, and organizational (procedural or process) and are typically market-led or market-push innovations. The others are technology-led, for which markets must be developed.

Here are some leadership practices that warrant consideration to foster creative and innovative core behaviors for your employees:

  • Problem identification and resolution
  • Tolerance for risk-taking
  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • Integration of different disciplines
  • Tolerance for employees communicating new ideas to others
  • Tolerance for employees’ ideas that do not appear readily effective
  • Tolerance for comfort with the notion of "no right answer"
  • Awareness of diverse thinking and how to incorporate this thinking into the teams
  • Awareness of different behavioral styles
  • Hiring and working with people of different ethnic backgrounds
  • Encouragement of intellectual conflict within the workgroup

Organizations that embrace these practices will be more creative and innovative, and likely very competitive in their markets. However, when business leaders think about innovation, too often what comes to mind is research and development for new and improved products and services.

Clearly, this type of innovative effort is critical to staying competitive. However, when leadership expands its perspective and seeks to apply creativity more widely to the processes and systems that support the business, the result can be significant contributions to top line growth, increased cost savings, and greater profitability

Rather than just expanding and making improvements to WHAT is sold to customers, it is important to look at HOW an offering is delivered. Over and above the product or service itself, value can be provided to clients by making interactions easier, less expensive, or more enjoyable. For example, a superior customer experience leads to long-term loyalty, additional purchases and positive referrals. Similarly, a focus on innovation with internal processes and systems can significantly reduce costs and improve profitability.

Running a business effectively means managing both revenue and costs, so it makes sense to dedicate innovation resources to both sides of the profitability equation. In addition to traditional investment in developing products and services, opportunities abound for new ideas to grow revenue and reduce cost in both customer-facing and internal processes and systems.

Organizations that take this broader view of creativity and innovation, across the entire organization, will increase their chances for success, now and in the future.

Much thanks to Charles Parnell and Diane Janovsky, strategic partners at HPI Solutions, for their contributions to this article.