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1 Can we agree on innovation and creativity? The author is based at Smart Process International PL, Singapore Keywords Innovation, Creativity Abstract Discusses the nature of innovation and creativity, with particular reference to technological growth Suggests, with examples, the nature of innovative approaches to problem situations Identifies an ``innovation mindset'', and suggests ways in which such a mindset can be created and supported, and innovation can be triggered Electronic access The research register for this journal is available at The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at Volume 50 Number pp 229±233 # MCB University Press ISSN Innovation is heavily promoted; understandably it is a popular subject for training courses and business books Similarly, creativity is the subject of much discussion A study of 20 public sector organizations and 13 private sector organizations in three SE Asian regions revealed that the terms innovation and creativity are often used interchangeably At the basic definitional level, some believe that creativity produces innovation; others argue that innovation produces creative ideas There is a curious circular argument here ± creativity brings forth innovation which in turn produces creative solutions This level of confusion and ambivalence over the terms and their various interpretations means that the actions that follow are likely to match such ambivalence Often linked to these buzzwords of innovation and creativity are exhortations to build a ``knowledge-based enterprise'' and create a ``value-added work'' It is clear that there is a ``movement'' at work here ± perhaps one built on unclear foundations, but one which has shared ideals, aims and aspirations It is possible to describe elements or components of this movement which help clarify, by example, the underlying concepts At least it moves us towards a ``definition'' which, if still somewhat imprecise, can be useful and instructive for teams working on projects These elements of innovation and creativity are: new ideas are made use of, or used, in a creative way; solutions are extensive in their application; the impact of solutions extends to departments and agencies in other organizations; solutions are revolutionary and long lasting; new value is added to work; solutions contribute to the achievement of business objectives; solutions involve lateral, and ``out of the box'', thinking These elements suggest the qualities of true innovation ± it is groundbreaking and has high impact It is significantly more than simply ``thinking about'' a problem or situation 229

2 Volume 50 Number ±233 Perhaps an example can illustrate A photocopier was a source of disruption in an office Frequent faults and breakdowns created a backlog of work and frustration An idea was mooted to ``outsource'' the photocopier requirements to a vendor As in many situations, the starting point for change is a negative occurrence or problem The suggested solution here (outsourcing) is a simplistic response ± a typical ``fire-fighting'' response The solution may work ± in terms of addressing the problem ± but the result is hardly new or revolutionary An innovation ``shifts'' paradigms Some ``harder'' (creative?) thinking could have considered the underlying need to photocopy at all, to copy in such volumes that caused the overload, the causes of, and approaches to overcoming, faults ± and perhaps even improving the photocopier itself Implementation The Prime Minister (PM) of Singapore Goh Chok Tong (2000) presents another parameter or factor that must be introduced to ensure we have a full and rounded understanding of innovation He said: Innovation is not just about creativity but also about implementation Innovation need not be limited to the realms of the technical and scientific (Tong, 2000) The keyword here is ``implementation'' Ideas are transformed and become tangible in the workplace According to the PM, creativity is visible in positive change only after implementation ± ideas are insufficient, only the successful implementation of those ideas can be regarded as true innovation He adds: Innovation is a social phenomenon ± it occurs when people think up new ideas, accept these new ideas and work together to realize these ideas (Tong, 2000) A social phenomenon implies that innovations affect people's lives Implementation often involves first building a consensus on the change, ensuring ``ownership'' of the idea/solution by those whose lives it does affect The other significant dimension is captured in the words `` work together to realize these ideas'' (Tong, 2000) Implementation often involves people working together to create change ± if we are to implement change successfully, we need to understand the concept of teamwork 230 Teams are a social phenomenon and exist where people rally behind common goals The aim should be to seek to benefit the people working on the ideas as well as the organization and customers that the team serves ± the mythical ``win-win'' situation The PM adds that teams: need to also bring their ideas to fruition and ensure that such ideas create value for the organization (Tong, 2000) The key dimension of innovation expressed here is the creation of value Value is realized in terms of profits, time, cost, output, effort, etc Value is a positive term and understanding and promoting the ``value'' behind change helps to create positive feelings towards the desired change This contrasts with ``problem solving'' which has negative connotations and is described with terms such as: correcting; maintaining standards or current accepted values; reducing time, cost and eliminating negative outcomes Thus, the elements that define innovation are seen by the PM as including: themes aligned to the objectives of value creation in the organization; projects creating positive changes by adding value to work processes and methods; new technologies setting new standards derived from knowledge and expertise of people; cost savings in time and manpower resources ± maximizing the use of available resources; solutions that benefit other work processes and methods and become best practices in the industry; ``built in'' reviews of the changes, that make them last and create ``spin off'' The creation of new technologies is seen as a cornerstone of innovation At its basic level, technology is simply the application of tools or other devices to create change in an object or situation Technology trajectories Technologies inherently carry trajectories ± there is a ``natural'' path to their development, acceptance and use ± determined by the perceived relevance and value Innovation can

3 Volume 50 Number ±233 intervene in the path to change that path ± to accelerate the rate of change or to change the fundamental shape of the path Such changes in turn produce new trajectories ± and we have typical ``organic'' technological growth Technology ± comfort zones Technologies also often carry ``comfort zones'' A comfort zone is the resistance experienced when intervention in the path is attempted The common thinking is, of course, ``if it ain't broke, why fix it'' So tested technologies go on functioning until failures, downtime and long-term problems rudely disrupt the path Still, the common response is to solve the problem ± the goal is to keep the technology working The effect of such measures invariably places people in ``firefighting'' modes of action Quite often, these are the routine actions that keep people busy and stressed at work Bill Gates, in his book of the same title describes innovation as ``business at the speed of thought'' Tiger Woods, the World's No 1 golfer, is quoted as saying, ``change is best attempted when you are at the height of success'' He explains that his record-breaking score at Pebble Beach in 2000 was only possible because he changed (innovated?) his swing to add value to his ``hits'' on the ball These suggest that: innovation is not ``settling into'' one successful strategy, but a constant search to challenge the technologies that are at the height of their success; improved results in performance arise from the search for new designs and methods that can add value to achieve phenomenal results at lower levels of cost However, in practice, it is more usual to come across the mindset which suggests that: There is no time to reflect on success; problems keep us busy Better people and improved equipment is the answer to doing things smarter Innovation needs time When all the problems are solved, there is time Solving problems is making improvement The general work climate in most organizations is to ensure that work methods and processes in use are working as designed and planned This climate breeds an atmosphere where people move from ``what went wrong'' to ``who is responsible for it'' 231 Solving the problems in most cases is seen as getting people to do the right thing, policing the right actions and enforcing the right action through more instructions and procedures The results are: reliance on education and training to correct actions; cost reduction efforts that may actually increase the cost of operations However, although this desire to make ``technology work as intended'' can result in effective performance ± it does not result in breakthrough performance Real technological growth takes place when people intervene to challenge the cost of use, and the accepted successful performance, of: equipment, machines and tools; and methods of work, approaches and schemes Technological growth is evident when: brain or knowledge-based work increases; body stress and strain is eliminated; quality of work life is enhanced; tangible savings are evident Mindsets in action ± position the brain The innovation mindset is illustrated with two examples Example one A production facility measures downtime of equipment The current downtime is measured in terms of a machine utilization rate 75 per cent Two machines are down in a month Current mindset Theme To get the two machines up and running Paradigm A problem-solving project that looks at what has happened, why the machines went down and ways of preventing down time Resistance None The concern is to identify causes and fix the machines ± to ``fight the fire'' Alternative mindset Theme To increase the machine utilization rate by 20 per cent Paradigm To find solutions The focus here is on how to increase performance Resistance Strong Solutions may suggest that what went before was less than optimal

4 Volume 50 Number ±233 Innovative mindset Theme To improve the ``value'' at current machine utilization rates Paradigm To achieve a cost saving even at the 75 per cent machine utilization rate Resistance Moderate Most people will accept the 75 per cent rate as ``standard'' A cost saving is an improvement to the current model, not a radically different model Reason for this approach There is no guarantee that the 75 per cent rate will be sustained Problems in the future may arise from this group of machines There is a cost of obtaining 75 per cent success today which can perhaps be lowered It is necessary to challenge whether the approach to the current value and success achieved is ``the best'' An intervention in the technological path begins here Example two An education institution records an 89 per cent pass rate in an examination of a trade subject Current mindset Theme To cut down the number of failures Paradigm What happened? Why? What can be done to get the students to pass? Resistance None The response is natural The solutions are also obvious, since the inquiry looks at the students that failed It is a routine ``fire fight'' The problem is acute when the pass rate falls below the expected and tolerated level Alternative mindset Theme To increase the number of passes in the examination Paradigm The efforts get underway to find solutions to help the 11 per cent to pass The solutions are more relevant to the group likely to fail Resistance Strong when the level of passes is above the desired or expected level Resistance is weaker as long as the level of failures is considered as normal In this case it is seen as a special project Innovative mindset Theme To find new ways to achieve the 89 per cent pass rate Paradigm The search is for cost-effective approaches that achieve the pass rate The questions raised include: What is the cost of this pass rate? Why is the current method of teaching incurring such costs? How could the pass rate be obtained at lower cost? Resistance Mixed This approach may cut into ``comfort zones'' However, if the 89 per cent pass rate is the best ever achieved ± celebrated as ``best in class'' ± this approach is not seen as threatening to that achievement Challenge what is ``best'' Intervention in current technological paths challenges what ``exists as the best'' The questioning process challenges the paradigms in use All technologies carry shortcomings when applied to real situations The ``fire fight'' mode is a natural response in the application of any given technology It therefore follows that people pride themselves as experts in ``fire fighting'' This mindset creates inertia in the organization that can render it incapable of sufficiently fast and flexible change when external competition and unforeseen circumstances force change upon it The innovation mindset breaks that ``laid back, taken for granted'' approach Innovation triggers The innovation mindset is triggered by: measurements that track performance of equipment and competencies; language of the right brain; action learning thinking processes Few organizations capture measurements that track the performance of work methods and processes or the competencies of people Where such measurement is made, it generally consists of measurements such as: defect rates; complaints; delays in meeting schedules; breakdowns and failures; high cost and time spent The current mindset is ``locked in'' by these data Such measurements assume the relevance and acceptance of technology already in use These measurements are important For example, in sigma terms, the data show non-compliance, deviations and stretch the acceptable sigma level standards The questions raised by these measurements 232

5 focus on meeting the standards, keeping the current value and reducing the noncompliance The technology in use is not challenged Measurements that trigger innovative thinking are those such as: pass rates; acceptance levels; performance that keeps within the sigma levels; cost of meeting the required or acceptable levels of performance; success rates They can force attention onto: documented procedures of work methods and processes in use; equipment capabilities and performance that is within the specifications; current expected response rates; current designs of work methods; business strategies in use The brain remains the primary ``driver'' that positions the mind to seek innovation ± consideration of ``evidence'' is no good without an enquiring and thinking mind behind it to: identify an area that promises innovation; reflect on the issues that make up the current cost of producing quality; search inventions that reduce the cost for producing quality; look ahead to build upon new methods of work The brain is ``positioned'' by mindsets A left brain mindset produces actions that apply ``learned'' knowledge The database, built up over years of experience, values and norms help to produce solutions to problems These are non-conformances and defects It is the ``fire fight'' side that seeks out possible solutions to visible causes The mindset here is to make a decision on the best solution The left brain is indispensable for routine actions in the workplace A right brain mindset produces inquiries The ``what'' and ``why'' triggers are used to challenge current paradigms This forms the basis to look at the accepted ``logic'' and seek changes The changes become innovative when the solutions are: tested in actual situations through an approach such as ``action learning''; ``win-win'' positions for the customers, organization and the team members; integrated into the current work methods; able to maximize the use of available resources; new and affect other work methods positively The language used is vital in opening the side of the brain that begins innovative inquiries The language that describes ``what is wrong'' is routinely monitored and tracked The language that describes ``what is right'' provides the basis to create new value Data are often tracked to present the level of success achieved by work processes and performance Such measurements adequately offer the current value achieved The innovative mindset begins to search the cost of realizing these ``positives'' The challenge that is posed by innovation is formidable The resistance that the left brain presents is obvious However, we are in control of the choices that create mindsets Knowledge-based work raises more right brain inquiries The response is the important factor We know that success in any human endeavor has a cost The search for an innovative approach to the ``success in hand'' positions the brain to drive the change for a new value of success achieved Reference Volume 50 Number ±233 Tong, GC (Prime Minister) (2000), Speech at the launch of the Singapore Productivity Campaign, 2000, Singapore, 4 April 233

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