5 Steps to Creativity and Innovation

Innovation by Celestine Chua, Flickr

Most companies feel a compelling urge to be more innovative in today’s rapidly evolving global markets. What few companies can agree on, however, is exactly how to do that. In many organizations, people confuse being innovative with adopting new technologies. In others, management pays lip service to innovation while continuing to enforce “the way we’ve always done things.” People who study innovation realize that even the nature of creativity and the ways in which we evolve new ideas are continually changing in response to new social and technological realities.

Creativity, Innovation and Invention

Creativity, innovation and invention are related, but not interchangeable. Cultivating creativity is about “unleashing the potential of the mind to conceive new ideas,”[1] while innovation is about implementing those new ideas. Similarly, innovation and invention are not the same. Invention requires the creation of something which has never existed before, while incremental improvements to existing products and processes are still innovations. These three definitions[2] illustrate how creativity, innovation and invention are related, yet distinctly different.

  1. Creativity is the capability or act of conceiving something original or unusual.
  2. Innovation is the implementation of something new.
  3. Invention is the creation of something that has never been made before and which is recognized as the product of some unique insight.

Inside or Outside the Box?

The notion of “thinking outside the box” has become a cliché for organizational efforts to foster creativity and innovation. This well-worn phrase (which apparently originated with a nine-dot puzzle that could only be successfully completed by extending a line outside the box), was inspirational in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but no longer generates much enthusiasm. The workplace is ready for a new business innovation model.  

In their recently released book, Thinking in New Boxes, authors Luc de Brabandere and Alan Iny propose one such model. They suggest that the boxes that confine our thinking are an essential tool in managing the overwhelming volume of information that surrounds us every day. Without these boxes, we are buffeted mercilessly by a storm of input—like trying to navigate the deck of a ship during a gale! They propose a five step approach that involves recognizing, modifying and replacing boxes, rather than abandoning them.

5 Steps to Innovation

Iny and de Brabandere suggest that the assumptions and filters that we rely on to survive in a complicated world (our mental boxes), often blind us to different perspectives and new ways of thinking. This leads to missed opportunities and unnecessary business risk. To combat the limitations of our mental boxes, without losing the necessary structure we need to function amidst the noise, they have defined (and expanded upon) the following five step process for thinking in new boxes:

  1. Doubt everything: challenge you current perspectives.
  2. Probe the possible: explore options around you.
  3. Diverge: generate many new and exciting ideas.
  4. Converge: evaluate and select the ideas that will drive breakthrough results.
  5. Reevaluate: No idea is a good idea forever. Relentlessly reevaluate.

Given market forces like globalization, an increasing rate of change and the proliferation of new technologies, the need for innovation is unlikely to decline in the foreseeable future. Whether your goal is to foster creativity and make incremental innovation part of your culture,  or you prefer to reach for inventions that will disrupt your industry; understanding how your people’s need to manage information overload impacts their ability to innovate is a great place to start.


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