Creativity

Novel and Useful: Creativity and Strategy

Having academic ADD, I attended a number of sessions at a recent conference that had nothing to do with my research interests. I sat in on a roundtable discussion of creativity and performance that was just fascinating.

Creativity is important in organizations, as it drives innovation, and successful innovation drives ongoing competitive advantage. There are two elements of creativity, Novelty and Usefulness, which according to recent research appear to be different from each other. That is that although they are highly related, novelty and usefulness appear to be different parts of creativity.  Think of novelty as the creation of a cool, unheard of idea.  Think of usefulness as developing that cool new idea so that it can be commercialized.

So why does this matter at all in the practical world? There are a few reasons. First, it has implications for how we assess creativity.  Most of us think of creativity as novelty, while we don’t really think of it as usefulness. This could change who we think of as creative. Secondly, this has implications for how we select innovation teams. Some people may be high on novelty, while others are high on usefulness.  So selecting a team with a blend of novelty and usefulness skills might be a successful tactic when trying to improve the success of innovation teams. Thirdly, by identifying the elements of creativity, we may be able to develop more concrete evaluations schemes that will help with evaluation and training of creativity skills.

Finally, there are implications around tenure of employees.  Employees new to an organization may be highly novel, since they are not indoctrinated into the company’s culture and ways of doing things.  However, given their lack of industry and corporate knowledge, they may not be “useful” in their understanding of innovation. On the flip side, long tenured employees may be highly useful, given their knowledge of the industry and organization, but not particularly novel. This adds some new light to the debate about strategy and industry experience/knowledge.  To successfully manage large organizations, we appear to need deep industry and organizational experience and knowledge. Yet to be creative, that is novel, we may need to be constantly exposed to new situations.  So how do we do that?  More later.

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