Who is Responsible For Innovation in My Company?

Whose job is it in the organization to assure employees creativity? In short–everyone’s! In my research of creativity in startup and mature companies (“From startup to Maturity: a case study of employee creativity antecedents in high tech companies”, see article) and in research done before that, three levels in the organization were found to have impact on employee creativity. Creativity is one of those “soft skills” that you cannot “order.” You cannot force an employee to be creative. Employees have to be motivated to be such. But the motivation comes at three levels: the organizational level, the team level, and the individual level. Yes, employees are responsible for their own creativity as well!

The organization’s role

In a previous article Away with the innovation funnel process, I defined innovation as an organizational function, and creativity as an individual one. Furthermore, innovation (organizational) is a creative idea (individual) that got implemented (an organizational function, again). The organization serves a dual role in innovation. First, it has to create a climate conducive for employee creativity. 57% of the participants in my study reported experiencing higher creativity levels in startup companies, 33% reported equal creativity at startup as well as mature companies, while only 9% experienced higher creativity levels in mature companies. Few organizational climate factors showed a significant impact on employees experiencing creativity. The positive factors included autonomy, external challenges (market, competition, technology), job satisfaction (although it was not clear whether employees felt more creative because of high job satisfaction, or that they felt job satisfaction because they experienced high creativity levels), big picture view, and the knowledge of the impact they had on their company’s’ success. The negative factors included the level of internal challenges, company politics, formalization, and processes within the company. The higher the bureaucracy in the company was–the less employees felt creative. When processes were used as a whip instead of as a guide–employees felt less creative.

But all is not lost. Companies can do something about each one of those factors in order to create a climate in which employees will experience creativity. The beauty of it–it does not cost any more to implement! Prior research showed a positive relationship between availability (read: abundance) of resources and creativity, but my research showed that beyond a certain level of resource availability–more resources meant less creativity. Employees don’t need to try as much as when they have less resources, and when they had fewer resources at their disposal they had to be more creative. My research thus concluded that additional resources were not necessary. More on that in a future article.

The company also plays a second role once a creative idea was generated by employees (or a team): implementing it. The company’s willingness to assume risk and try new things, its willingness to trust the employees and let them experiment, prototype, and finally launch a major development effort is significant in turning employee creativity into company innovation. Over time I found that the strongest motivation affecting a company’s willingness to assume such risk and trust their employees is a fear for the company’s survival (see “Prerequisite for innovation: Fear”.

The team’s role

My research also showed a significant relationship between team dynamics and the creativity of the individual employees within that team. The willingness and ability to argue and debate without personal conflict and competition had a very positive impact on individual creativity (see my earlier article “Why are we so afraid to argue, and how does it affect our creativity?”. The diversity of the team members (in terms of backgrounds, experiences, skills, expertise, and beyond) led to higher individual creativity and better team ideas.

The team leader plays a significant role in the team’s creativity. A good team leader “buffers” the team from the organizational bureaucracy and formalization. A good team leader facilitates positive, creativity-supporting dynamics, that encourages experimentation, risk-taking, trust, debate, humor, and playfulness. Finally, as my research showed, the respect that team members have towards the team leader had a strong impact on how creative they felt.

The team leader also has a role in the implementation process. The leader had to be chosen such that he or she is not only trusted and respected by team members, but is also trusted and respected by upper management, when the time comes to share the idea (and its prototype) and ask for permission to proceed with a major project and product (or service) launch (see “Implementing radical innovation in mature firms: the role of hubs” by Leifer, O’Connor, and Rice, in the Academy of Management Executive Journal, 2001).

The individual role

Individuals have a role in creating an environment for themselves in which they will be more creative. They cannot solely depend on upper management and the team leader in providing such environment. As I stated in my article “Creativity, the fourth element”, the invention moment might appear to be accidental, but is a result of certain actions taken by the individual to increase the probability of such “accidents.” Those actions include consuming a large amount of multi-disciplinary information, recording it, thinking about it, and creating situations in which the “collision” of ideas is triggered. But more on this in a later article.

In summary, all three levels (company, team, and individual) must participate in producing creative ideas and implementing them to generate consistent innovation by the company, and are equally responsible for its success.

image credit: Roger Braunstein

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Four Rules to Snap Judge a New VentureDr. Yoram Solomon s an inventor, a creativity researcher, coach, consultant, and trainer to large companies and their employees. For his Ph.D. he studied why people are more creative in startup companies than in mature ones. He also holds an MBA and LLB. Yoram was a professor of Technology and Industry Forecasting at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UT Dallas School of Management; is active in regional innovation and technology commercialization; and is also a speaker and author on predicting the technology future and identifying opportunities for market disruption.

Yoram Solomon




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