Creativity and Innovation for Results – Practical vs Theory?

Thinking outside the box? – Pilots Flying School for Infinity and Beyond

I was recently asked if I would do some more talks on business Innovation in the Far East. They would even fly me first class, as a further incentive. This got me thinking about creativity and how practice and theory play a huge part in developing innovation for companies and nations.

I would ask sometimes why innovation isn’t on top of the university agenda in their respective countries?  Well of course it is – the problem is that universities are, generally speaking, risk averse institutions. Unless it is within their remit, within their radar – they will, every time, go for so called ‘safe options’. Clients will often opt for the university perspective simply because it appears a safer bet and frankly looks good on paper (we worked with a top university on this problem).

The amount of times that high profile companies have chosen a university professor to deliver an innovation workshop – who has little or no real practical experience in commerce and innovation in industry is laughable. It’s like asking an airline pilot who knows the theory only – to fly a jumbo jet. Would you get on the plane? No, neither would I. But companies still do it, because it fits the “training on innovation” box. They wonder why, afterwards, there is no real difference – no tangible before and after. But, I guess, they think, their jobs are safe – or are they really?

Real ‘switched on’ companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, fortunately for me – keep most university professors at arms length. That’s not to say universities are not smart, the better ones that are good on research can provide invaluable inputs to company and global objectives The smarter ones, and sadly, the very few, understand that ‘theory’ alone is not enough and cannot compensate for real life experience in industry or in the field.

Successful innovation demands creative and interactive thinking – and should take people participating out of their comfort zone, and out of their usual environment – otherwise what’s the point?

How does this relate to a small or medium size business you may ask, does this just apply to corporations who want to play it safe? Unfortunately, this attitude is all too common place in our business education system.

The fact is, that the common success criteria for large corporates and small businesses as far as creativity is concerned is the same. It is simply a mindset. Attitudes to solving problems are significant indicators as to how well companies will succeed.

Do you have an attitude in your company that compels people to ask positive questions, or is it – well, lets stick to our guns and hope for the best?

We worked with a Direct Mail* company a few years ago who decided to opt for our positive and creative approach to problem solving. This was at at a time when direct mail companies were struggling or going out of business. They could at the time, do more of the same, only faster, or try something different?

We devised processes for the them to follow using the Darwin Matrix  – but they did the hard work with an incredibly positive attitude to problem solving (which can be learned) – which they still have today – 5 years down the line. They are now one of the most successful direct mail companies in the Midlands, because they fundamentally changed their perspective and adopted new processes for solving problems.

It isn’t all down to attitude, of course, the knowledge has to be there – but unless the company’s “frame of mind” can engage meaningfully with creativity and innovation it will always flounder and default to safer options.

When it comes down to business, and literally one’s livelihood, is it really a safe option to take a chance with a jumbo jet pilot that largely knows only the theory, or do we choose a pilot that has hundreds of hours of flying experience?

By the way, I will take the first class tickets, but in the knowledge that I will have a good chance of getting safely to my destination.

John Rainford.

(*refers to Baker Goodchild – Direct Mail. Midlands UK)