I once got an outlook calendar invitation that came with the note "Sorry for the short notice. We hope you can make it. We need your creativity." I juggled some commitments around to find time for my client and accepted that next-day invite.
I sat through that meeting listening to the team share one idea after another for the problem they had at hand. At a certain point, it became clear to me that there was no shortage of creativity at all - the room was full of ideas! Yet, two hours later, there was no consensus (nor commitment) on the way forward.
I left that meeting quite puzzled as I once again witnessed the initially-demonstrated positive attitude towards creativity suddenly turn so weak and disintegrate in the face of the risks and uncertainties all their exciting ideas posed to their company. So I felt frustrated. I felt like I had not delivered what was expected of me. I had been called in to contribute with my creativity - my ideas. But then I felt somehow overpowered by the creative energy going on. So I asked myself: why did they invite me at all? Why do they need me here?
Later that day, almost like a sign from above, while scrolling through my LinkedIn feed, I stumbled upon an article entitled "Creativity vs. Innovation in the landscape of startups". As I read it through, I had one of those 'a-ha' moments! Quoting https://medium.com/swlh/creativity-vs-innovation-42fde2e70201:
Creativity happens in your head.
Innovation happens in the world.
That was it! I knew that creativity was abundant in that team! It was the follow-through energy needed to bring those ideas to reality that was scarce. And it suddenly became clear that I had been called into that meeting room not because they 'needed my creativity', but because they' needed my innovation energy to act as a driver to make their ideas a reality'.
Innovators as Competitive Advantage
There are many ways to define creativity and innovation as well as their overlaps and differences. No matter how we choose to do it, it is imperative that these are not treated as synonyms. While creativity is in the line of thinking and ideation, innovation concerns the implementation of ideas. Moreover, we should also not assume that creativity automatically leads to innovation. The value of an idea only exists once it is used and verified.
Therefore, creativity alone is not able to create value, whereas innovation is the process of validating creativity, making it real, tangible, measurable and hopefully valuable. That is to say, innovation may not always be successful. After all, to require that there be success in advance would render void its chance of ever getting tried at all. The bottom-line here is that the existence of a system of making creativity yield innovation is critical.
By projecting this notion onto an organization, it is pretty much like saying that any team or anyone can be creative whereas not every team nor everyone can be innovative. Innovators are the competitive advantage that tell teams within an organization and companies within an industry apart. For these scarce resources are those who have the energy, courage, expertise and will-power to turn creativity into innovation, in other words, ideas into actions.
After it all dawned on me, I went back to my client with a "Challenge accepted!" mindset and not only I played my role to drive their ideas into action, but I also felt obliged to empower them to bring an innovator into their team.
This week, more than a year after that meeting, I got a call from that company again. They just wanted to share that the motivation to hire a Digital Transformation and Innovation Manager into their team was the piece of the puzzle they were missing to - in their own words - "…make our team truly complementary. We already had an idea farm, but now we have an idea laboratory."