Importance of Creative Tension to Innovation

Importance of Creative Tension to InnovationInnovation is no serendipity” says Braden Kelley in Innovation is No Accident: “When it comes to innovation, good ideas are a dime of a dozen”.

The story of Newton’s falling apple is surely not what happened to Charles Goodyear: “Discovery holds meaning only for the one whose mind is prepared to draw an inference, the one who has applied himself most perseveringly to the subject.”

Actually Braden claims:

“innovation thrives within an environment with some structure and constraints, it is not a solo activity and requires that collaboration be fostered with a formalized approach”.

It includes innovation meaning for your organization, innovation language, vision, strategy, goals, process, financing, innovation portfolio, projects staffing and funding, instrumenting to learn fast.

Similarly, in Rapid innovation model and Innovation: thoughts for thoughts from 24 years ago, I have suggested innovation projects should be sparkled with a “creative tension”.

What is creative tension, and how does it articulate with new product development teams?

Tension #1 is Diversity

  • Diversity will be promoted within innovation teams; setting-up multidisciplinary teams, with T-shaped professionals, crossing the company boundaries, and interacting with the outside market of innovation is a way to circulate knowledge and enhance creativity: bringing  a variety of point of view generates new ideas and accelerates development, and further industrialization through anticipation. Diversity is also a source of tension, and one has to define a common language to let the team work harmoniously : tension drives attention!

Tension #2 is Focus:

  • Knowledge circulation is key and has to be carefully monitored, notably by fast iterative prototyping, showing whether the concept manage to transfer into elegant realization, and capturing new knowledge to enrich the concept as in the C-K approach. Fast prototyping implies cutting development into pieces, and moving incrementally at fast pace. Designing in short cycle eliminates a lot of collateral ideas, focusing on the essence, converging progressively as product finds its identity, leaving “chaos for order”. “Keep It Simple and Sexy” is a constant tension for the innovation team.

Tension #3 is Leadership:

  • It provides a constructive management framework as well as ambitious and specific goals which will support innovation efforts: narrowing the scope actually helps the team. To manage the creation of new knowledge linked to your innovation, the team will have to build what Ikijiro Nonaka calls metaphor, analogy, and model in “the knowledge creating company”:

    • Metaphor is intuitive, it’s a symbol which drives imagination and starts creative process;
    • Analogy is the next step which clarifies distinctions and solves inconsistency;
    • Model is the last step, it is logical, immediately understandable, and integrates all concepts previously created.


Creative TensionMetaphor reminds me of Belief Simon Sinek speaks of in “How great leaders inspire action” at Ted: “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it, they buy in your belief. “No freedom without necessity” says French philosopher Alain. Developing co leaders within the team, empowering team members, letting the team manage the team, achieving persistent knowledge circulation, inspiring your team create a worthy operating system to boost innovation. It’s also a demanding way to lead, requiring indefectible trust: that’s the third tension.

Creative tension addresses risk and uncertainty; it builds a framework for the innovation team which reduces what Jeffrey Phillips calls the uncertainties of innovation: strategic, outcome, communication, success, commitment.

What is important is to get your team out of  “serendipity land”! And therefore define your own innovation engine and share it with your team, grabbing in the methodologies what echoes in your mind, and molding it the way it fits with your organization.

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Nicolas BryNicolas Bry is a Senior VP at Orange. He developed a strong experience in innovation management, creating digital business units with international challenge, and completed a professional thesis on rapid innovation at HEC Business School.

Nicolas Bry

Serial innovator, Nicolas has set up creative units for new business at Orange, Club-Internet, and SFR. Nicolas created crowd platform, Orange Studio for Intrapreneurs, and edits Open Innovation blog International speaker, entrepreneurs & startups coach, innovation teacher at Telecom ParisTech, HEC & CentraleSupélec, and freelance consultant (ECC). Follow him at @nicobry.




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