Nearly 30 years ago, Fred Moody and Bill Gates recognised that the basis of competitive advantage had fundamentally shifted from the agrarian age to the industrial era to the information superhighway, when it was commented that Microsoft’s only factory asset is the human imagination. The corresponding shift is from what Icall Brawn Based Industries (BBIs) to Brain Based Enterprises (BBEs) in a new book I have just released with Bloomsbury Publishing plc entitled “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise”.
Research has shown that our brains absorb five times more information every day as compared with 1986. During our leisure time every day, each of us processes 34 gigabytes, or 100,000 words. In such a world, strategy changes from a long-range plan to a flexible posture, where the half-life of knowledge is in freefall and success depends on creativity as a key input and innovation a key output. Adapt, innovate or die has never been more true in an age of exponential information growth and discontinuity.
Enterprises based on brainpower therefore need to understand higher order business questions of leadership, innovation and creativity to stay ahead. Questions such as:
- Where does creativity and imagination come from at a personal level? How can you make collective creativity work?
- What kind of leadership is required to make innovation and creativity “business as usual” in your enterprise?
- What ensures that creativity turns into innovation? What stops it?
- What are BBEs really doing that helps them stand out?
- How do culture and structure support or limit innovation and creativity?
- How may we become a genuine learning enterprise?
We will briefly address some of these questions in this article.
Is everyone creative?
It helps to start with some definitions:
Creativity is the thinking of novel ideas
Innovation as the conversion of a novel idea into a profitable or sustainable product / service or process
Everyone is creative. However, not all creativity is what I call “good creativity”. In business, good creativity is characterised by ideas that are novel, appropriate and feasible such that they turn into sustainable innovations rather than short term fads. Whilst we are all creative, we all need to channel our good ideas into sustainable innovations.Issues such as timing can radically affect the degree to which an idea turns into an innovation. Da Vinci “invented” the helicopter some 400 years before the technology existed to realise his invention.
Is creativity the enemy of strategy?
Some people fear that creativity is the enemy of strategy. It is not. A good business strategy therefore allows for responsiveness and agility and this requires creative responses to opportunities that appear which are consistent with the general direction of travel. It also requires the consideration of the appropriateness of ideas rather than just novelty per se. A bad strategy either fails to respond or, worse still flip flops around to every fad that appears on the horizon, with the result that there is no focus in what the enterprise does. Good creativity is needed at all levels to help BBEs flex their corporate synapses and corpuscles to respond to a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world. In the book we visit companies such as FujiFilm and Nokia to examine how they learn collectively in a VUCA environment.
How do you lead a BBE?
Many creative people refuse to be managed, but they can be led. This is what Daniel Pink talks about when he discusses the alignmentof passions with purpose. Embedded in this short sentence is a huge mass of complexity around finding what gets people to come to work at your enterprise, and, more importantly, what keeps them coming over the long-term. How then do you design work as an experience that gets the best out of your people and which engages them to give their best? There can be no single HR strategy for the motivation of intelligent people, but, in general we look to the higher order things on Maslow’s triangle and to Leadership Strategies towards the more consultative end of Tannenbaum and Schmidt’s Leadership Style continuum. Virgin are a good case study in this sense, in so far as they have cracked the engagement and leadership issue in their enterprises. Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise features an exclusive interview with Sir Richard Branson where he describes aspects of The Virgin Way.
It’s one thing to be personally creative. Quite another to create a culture where creativity and innovation are embedded into the “corporate corpuscles” of the enterprise.Part of that individual and collective mindset concerns the ability to embrace failure. In Virgin’s case Richard Branson says he has lost count of the times he heard that his new ideas would not succeed. Having won a prize for my work on leadership I learned from Richard that we shared parental encouragement to always keep trying, albeit not the same thing over and over. In Richard’s case he says:
“My mother taught me that I should not focus on past regrets, so with regards to business I don’t. My teams and I do not allow mistakes or failures to deter us. In fact, even when something goes wrong, we continue to search for new opportunities”
- BBEs are not just concerned with encouraging individuals to bring their minds, bodies and souls to work. They make collective creativity and innovation work at the level of the enterprise.
- BBEs do this by encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship and through the use of formal and informal strategies and tools for divergent and convergent thinking.
- Leaders are pivotal in modelling the culture such that others experiment, learn and recover from failure.