Innovation, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t happen with a lone inventor working alone in his laboratory, though there have been quite a few discoveries and inventions this way. Per the Harvard Business School professor, Teresa Aambile, there are three components of creativity: Expertise, creative thinking skills, and motivation. The most creative people are also innovators. They spend countless hours learning, honing their skills, and thus, acquiring expertise. They also possess creative thinking skills. Having domain expertise is not enough. Thinking creatively may involve applying ideas from other disciplines, connecting disparate notions, and observing the physical world for ideas. However, the most important element is the motivation to innovate. The motivation can come from outside (corporate incentives, good grades) or from within oneself (passion, purpose, or interest/fun).
The enabling factor for innovation in an organization is the corporate culture. A culture that promotes teamwork, interdisciplinary problem-solving, intrinsic incentives, exploration, play, and empowerment. Research as well as success of companies such as IDEO, Apple, and Google have proved beyond doubt that these factors lead to a culture of innovation.
- Collaboration: I believe in the wisdom of crowds. Nobody is as smart as a group working toward the same goal. Rules of brainstorming apply, though.
- Diversity: A team that has people with diverse educational backgrounds, expertise, work and life experiences, and culture is more innovative than a team with similar type of people.
- Intrinsic motivation: People are more innovative when they have a purpose. Money doesn’t give people purpose. This is why Samuel Langley and his team of experts, despite spending tons of money failed where the Wright brothers succeeded. A quote from Gordon Mackenzie’s Orbiting the Giant Hairball – “Orville Wright did not have a pilot’s license.”
- Empowerment: 3M pioneered the policy of letting their employees spend 15% of their time on any idea they wanted to pursue. This led to the development of a large number of new products at 3M. Google popularized this policy with 20% free time.
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