Why talk about creativity when you want innovation?
A plea for systematic innovation – Part II

March 16, 2021 – Reading time: 7 minutes

In the first part of the systematic innovation series, I compared the fundamental motives of a company (efficiency and effectiveness) and the mode of action of creativity. The second part of the series illuminates the reasons why creativity dominates the innovation process even though it is in direct conflict with essential company interests and juxtaposes in-house innovation management and radical innovation management.

We interviewed Eric von Hippel and Sandro Kaulartz on their new approach to innovation using artificial intelligence and user innovations.

Here you can watch the summary of the video (12:35).

Why does the topic of creativity dominate?

Why does creativity dominate the innovation process even though it is in direct conflict with essential company interests? Several reasons speak for this.

  1. Myth and media hype: creativity is a dazzling term associated with great personalities and their genius. It is said to show itself in brainwaves, in creative moments and in revolutionary inventions. “Geniuses” gain media attention and placing oneself there seems attractive. Genius and brainwaves are the subject of stories that attract media attention. It is therefore hardly surprising that many of these stories are invented afterwards.
  2. Fun and play: being creative is fun. The playful element is part of creativity. The fun also results from the fact that creativity knows no rules (only favoring factors). It gives space and legitimacy to individual inclinations as well as curiosity. Since it is not result-oriented, detours are allowed and sometimes desired. Being creative means doing exactly what one feels like doing [121, p. 35ff].
  3. Simplicity: creativity requires little preparation. Ideas can be drawn from within oneself. In a creative workshop, anyone can join in immediately. Since there are hardly any rules, they do not have to be learned at great expense. This is the great strength of creativity, but also its greatest weakness. Because apart from the fact that not everyone is creative, the creative potential of a person is individually different and limited.

These three reasons – and there may be others – show that creativity is nothing negative. However, it’s not a guaranteed path to innovation; in the author’s opinion, it is at best a tool. Like any tool, creativity has suitable and less suitable fields of application.

The task of in-house innovation management: Moderate innovation

Products become obsolete, and if the company does not want to live off its substance, it must create something new. Drucker even goes so far as to say that a company knows only two functions: innovation and marketing [15, p. 160]. Innovation efforts follow the law of evolution theory: only those companies survive whose rate of adaptation is at least as high as that of the environment in which the company operates [27, p. 16]. This means that innovation efforts must be transformed into a continuous routine. Whereas until a few years ago this was almost exclusively the concern of large companies, a brief look at the functional overviews of companies shows that medium-sized companies have also established this function within the regular organization [29, p. 88]. Departments are not created for their own sake. This trend shows that many companies consider this activity important enough to professionalize it.

In-house innovation management: Evolution instead of revolution

With professionalization and embedding in the regular organization, the same applies to the innovation manager that applies to any department within a company: the activity that was previously done on the side must be transformed into routines. The output (in this case innovation) is to be standardized and made plannable. This in turn requires an (innovation) process.

In business, innovation management dominates as a function within the organization. This and that efficiency and planning are important criteria in connection with innovation is shown by the current study by Theile-Schürholz [29, p. 88]. It is undisputed that innovation usually means disruption of the company’s daily routine [19, p. 68]. Saul Kaplan gets to the heart of it: “Everybody loves innovation – until it affects them.” Therefore, these departments have as one of their essential tasks to let the new emerge despite obstacles and to embed it into the company routines. Obstacles must be removed so that innovation can emerge more easily.

Radical innovation management: Make yourself obsolete before someone else does

In-house innovation management contrasts with a second type. In this, innovation management is organized as a partially external body. It is deliberately created as a source of disruption for a company. The external status ensures the necessary independence. The goal of such departments is radical innovation. A radical innovation often challenges the company concept itself. It would have no chance of being developed if it was part of that company [19, p. 99]. The self-preservation instinct of an organization would suppress it. The idea behind radical initiatives is simple: before potential competition undermines the current business model, the company prefers to reinvent itself. Examples of external innovation departments include Lockhead-Martin’s legendary Skunkworks or, more recently, Daimler’s Car2Go initiative.

However, this radical form of innovation management does not correspond to the operational function of innovation management. Regular in-house innovation management must function within the organization and its routines. It does not deal with radical innovations. It is not designed for that and it would be in the wrong place there. Creativity as a guideline for this ‘mitigated’ form of innovation management then has a counterproductive effect.

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  • Volker Lippitz

    Managing Consultant

How can we accelerate your development?

Link to the video summary

Here you can watch the summary of the video interview with Eric von Hippel and Sandro Kaulartz on YouTube.