Creativity and Innovation – 10 Characteristics

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jan 05

Yesterday, I kicked off the series on Creativity and Innovation – the latest “next big thing” for companies. Next, I covered some of the reasons companies believe innovation and creativity are so necessary for survival.

In this post, I’ll take a look at how you can tell if your company has that innovation and creativity capability.

Check out the 10 characteristics of innovations.

In my head, there are two different approaches to innovation and creativity – Products and Operations. Let’s focus on Products first, because they are a bit more obvious to the outside (customer) world.

Five Characteristics of Product Innovation

  1. Which department drives the company? In most companies, especially large ones, it is fairly easy to see which departments can make or block decisions. Are most of your top managers all from Engineering? Are most of your top managers from Marketing and Sales? That should tell you something. For example, for years, Motorola and Boeing were run by the engineering side of the house. If it was too hard for engineering to do, it didn’t get done. Yet, over the course of the years, management has changed that orientation. Once Sales and Marketing got into the mix, their listening to customer skills resulted in the Razr and the Dreamliner – both stunning successes where engineering supported what was needed by customers.
  2. Products are constantly tweaked with something new and different – not just new commercials. Marketing is great, of course, but real change to meet a customer need is even better. The addition of Miller Lite – a beer with fewer calories than regular beer – was still beer. But it was different enough to give Miller a powerful new product to use in the beer war with Budweiser.
  3. Design plays an important role in the product. In a Macintosh PC versus a Dell PC, it is pretty clear which company has the innovative design component going for it.
  4. Your competitors are always matching what you are doing in the market place. If you have free checking, they add free checking. If you add on to your free checking, they add on to their free checking. Remember the Ford Taurus? It became the best selling car in America because of the innovative rounded look to the car – at a time when all American cars were squared off. Everyone copied the look. That was innovation.
  5. Your products are ideas that serve customers better. MP3 file formats for music have been around for years. Web sites for purchasing music have been around for years. But putting a web site to purchase single tracks of music with a portable player that utilized MP3 file formats was an idea. The iPod was an idea about how a customer could listen to music anywhere, not blatant new technology (though technology, engineering, and programming all played a role, of course).

If you see those five characteristics in the products and services your company offers, you have innovation and creativity.

Less visible – but as important to customers and the public – are operational innovations. Operations is all about increasing efficiency and reducing costs while maintaining great quality. Innovation and creativity are just as important in this environment as the product area.

Five Characteristics of Operational Innovation:

  1. Cubicle Warriors are highly valued inputs for improving the operational environment. Employees really do understand how to make the operational work – coding, testing, manufacturing, building – better. The challenge for management is listening to what the employees are saying about making things better and then making something close to what is suggested actually happen.
  2. The company supports a change methodology. Great words, but essential. The classic methodology for manufacturing is Six Sigma and Lean. In software, the Software Development Life Cycle. In IT infrastructure, ITIL is becoming much more pervasive in North America after a great start in Europe. The reason the methodology is important is because it gives everyone a structure to evaluate current work and proposed changes to the method of work. The methodology also gives Cubical Warriors a language to describe the change needed and a way to measure it. If your company embraces (not talks about) a change methodology, you can see innovation and creativity at work.
  3. The company is willing to invest in innovative operational change. Companies are all about dollars. Often, significant change requires significant investment. For example, and I apologize for not bookmarking the article, an Asian manufacturing company utilized a Lean methodology to reduce waste in the manufacturing process – waste meaning taking out that which does not add value to the customer. In analyzing the work, the group recommended taking out about 80% of the steps in the manufacturing process. But the company – to realize the benefits – had to invest millions of dollars to change the factory machinery and layout to match the concept. And they did.
  4. The company tolerates operational failure that is designed to improve operations. This, of course, is a fine line to draw (perhaps a bottom line, so to speak) . But often, trials of the concepts can take place to prove operational innovations. Failing at this level of work is not only tolerated, but encouraged. We learn just as much – if not more – from failure as we do from success. If your company is all about success and perfect execution at a pilot level, there is little operational innovation that will occur.
  5. The company aligns rewards with innovation. At the most mundane level, recognition programs reward the smart innovation – not the caring for the crisis, an all-too-dominant theme of reward programs. My classic HR reward alignment is when we build programs of stock rewards vested over years to create employee loyalty – and then the company lays employees off removing access to the very programs that were designed for loyalty. Alignment around the desired behavior state is a critical, if pedestrian, task.

So five characteristics each for products and operations. How many of these characteristics do you see in your work?

  • […] taken a look in this series at the corporate need for innovation, ways to tell if your company is innovative, and some of the effects of globalization on innovation . But, we haven’t talked about how […]

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