Boosting Innovation: Five Reasons to Flex Your Creative Muscle

#1. Creativity fuels innovation.

Today, it’s hard to find an organization that doesn’t have “innovation” in its mission statement. Professor Felix Janszen stated, “After the age of efficiency in the 1950s and 1960s, quality in the 1970s and 1980s, and flexibility in the 1980s and 1990s, we now live in the age of innovation.” And for good reason: “Researchers tested whether innovation translated into bottom-line value for organizations. They compared more than 300 firms in their study and found that the most innovative firms enjoyed more than 30% greater market share, compared to the least innovative companies.” The most innovative firms were the most active in applying creativity to develop new knowledge. The researchers concluded that, “creativity in problem solving is the main driver of new knowledge creation and innovation.”

#2.“Future-proof” yourself.

Not so long ago, workers were celebrated for being stoic, reliable, independent and predictable. Comparing the results of a 2012 global IBM survey of both students and CEOs, there is a striking consistency in what both groups see as top personal characteristics for success in the workplace.

Standing head and shoulders above all the others were “communicative,” “collaborative,” “flexible” and “creative.” These four personal characteristics “help the employees and leaders of tomorrow become ‘future-proof ’ —able to continuously adapt by acquiring skills and capabilities that may not exist today.”

#3. Lead in complex times.

Leaders are recognizing that creativity is essential. In times of change, we need creative leaders who are not only flexible and quick to react to change, but also effective at driving change. Managers often promote the status quo. Leaders, by contrast, are expected to identify opportunities and bring about change. As creativity researcher Michael Mumford discovered, they have the ability to orient a group towards the attainment of meaningful goals, while solving problem along the way—embodying the very definition of a creative problem solver.

#4. Solve “heuristic” problems.

You face a problem whenever there is a gap between what you have and what you want. Some problems are “algorithmic,” meaning there is a single, logical solution. Other problems are “heuristic,” meaning that the solution is cloudy and indeterminate. The heuristic gap is much harder to bridge. These problems require creative thinking. Using our imagination deliberately enables us to generate novel breakthrough responses to problems, thereby bridging the gap and reaching new solutions.

#5. Build resiliency.

Strengthening your ability to solve problems creatively makes you more powerful in the face of life’s ups and downs, improving your resiliency and psychological wellbeing. At-risk youth who have underdeveloped cognitive abilities may actually have dif f i culty seeing any possibilities beyond the present. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi showed that seeing alternatives improves coping skills, giving people the ability to choose how to respond to stressful situations. You are at the greatest risk when you see no alternatives. Creative thinking is about seeing, and generating, many different possibilities and the more alternatives available to you the more likely you are to find a constructive way forward.

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This article is a condensed excerpt from the upcoming book “Organizational Creativity: A Practical Guide for Innovators and Entrepreneurs,” by Gerard J. Puccio, PhD, John Cabra, PhD, & Nate Schwagler MS (Publisher: Sage. 2018.)

Sarah Thurber

Sarah is managing partner at FourSight and the author of Good Team, Bad Team, The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker, Creativity Unbound, and Facilitation: A Door to Creative Leadership. Her work helps teams and leaders think creatively, work collaboratively and achieve innovative results.