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Creativity Isn't What You Need

July 6, 2017


Many organizations believe they can become more innovative by encouraging their teams to be more creative. In actuality, most organizations already have the creative ideas they need. The problem is they are missing or outright rejecting the creative ideas within their organization and they don’t even realize they’re doing it.


Leaders continue to struggle in the face of changing consumer needs, technological advances and globalization. Accenture describes the challenge in their 2015 US Innovation Survey - “The belief among US executives that innovation is a critical tool for growth and market differentiation is stronger than ever.” But knowing is very different than doing. As Accenture continued, “We found that a significant gap exists between what companies want to do in the area of innovation and what they are able to do.”


Readers of this blog know that my passion is to combat the misinformation of innovation. To help organizations cultivate their ability to transform great ideas into winning programs, products and services. And, that brings me to The Myth of Creativity.


When I speak to leaders about innovation, many immediately think “creativity.” They believe innovative organizations are the ones lucky enough to find that rare breed of creative genius to join their team. Or they believe innovation requires creativity workshops and workspaces filled with bright colors and communal games. But the problem in most organizations is not a lack of creativity. Yes, that’s right. Most organization already have the ideas they need!


The real challenge organizations face is their ability to identify creative ideas and transform them into programs, products and services that create a competitive advantage. As the renowned expert Theodore Levitt said, “What is often lacking is not creativity….but putting ideas to work.”


If we have the ideas we need, then where are they? Believe it or not, they are often right in front of us. The problem is our ability to recognize them.


In 2010, Jennifer Mueller of Penn’s Wharton School of Finance and her team published a seminal study on our ability to identify and support creative ideas. They found that no matter how open-minded we are or how much we say we want new, creative ideas, we unconsciously exhibit a bias against those very same ideas. When individuals in their studies were asked to select ideas presented to them, they consistently selected the practical, conventional ones despite stating that their goal was finding new and creative ideas.


The simple truth is that human beings are hard wired to avoid risk and uncertainty. And this survival instinct is alive and well. We are unconsciously bias toward the predictable and familiar. This bias interferes with our ability to recognize creative ideas and, even when we recognize them, causes us to actively reject them. We are missing or outright rejecting many of the wonderful, creative ideas that already exist in our organization and we don’t even realize we’re doing it.


Innovative powerhouses have great ideas. But that is not what gives them a competitive edge. Their competitive advantage begins with their ability to overcome their natural bias, identify the ideas within their organizations, and select the most creative ones.


For more information about our bias against creative ideas, I recommend the team’s study “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas.” Another great read is Theodore Levitt’s piece “Creativity is Not Enough” in the August 2002 issue of Harvard Business Review (and the source of the quote in this blog).

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