Monthly Archives: January 2013

Building Innovation Capability

During a recent workshop I conducted in New Jersey, participants shared their perspective that innovation is often too tightly tied to Research and Development. It’s seen as something that R&D departments are “in charge of,” rather than as an integrated, daily activity for staff across a corporation.

As a result, the product of innovation is frequently perceived as being patents or inventions, not new ways of doing business or revamping routines. And when front-line employees feel disconnected from the innovation process, they don’t contribute the ideas that arise directly from hearing about customer wants and problems – the types of ideas that are capable of spawning game-changing products.

Building innovation capability is about ensuring that employees at every level of the organization have the skills and understanding they need to incorporate creativity as a natural and easy part of their everyday routines. When that happens, the pipeline of ideas that often flows in only one direction can be transformed into an interconnected web of opportunities that encourage innovation across an organization.

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Return on Engagement: Reaping the Benefits of Creative, Motivated Employees

In today’s world of information, innovation and ideas, brainpower is undoubtedly the most valuable asset most corporations own. Like financial or physical assets, which are safeguarded, insured and audited, the resource of talented human beings is an asset that needs to be equally valued.

Paychecks are obviously the most basic of staff motivators. But while the financial rewards – money, benefits, pensions and the like – will typically keep employees loyal, they aren’t necessarily the best way to keep them engaged. What will keep them engaged is the opportunity to creatively shape their jobs and workplaces, through finding and solving new problems and implementing new solutions.

Engaging employees in creative problem solving can directly increase revenues and cut costs by developing new corporate products and methods. Innovation starts with identifying new problems to solve, so a culture of creativity and adaptability is crucial in today’s rapidly-changing economic climate.

But the human resource benefits of creative engagement are as important as the direct economic benefits. Research has demonstrated that human beings find exploration, creative activity and the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity to be intrinsically motivating. As creative engagement provides employees with more rewarding work, it also has been shown to increase motivation and commitment.

Encouraged to engage in finding and solving problems, employees become motivated and desire even more participation in not only creative activity, but also their routine, efficiency-driven work. They work harder to perfect their own workplace practices, and gain self-esteem through their accomplishments. Creative activity stimulates teamwork, as people help each other to solve problems. Happier and more motivated employees typically have lower absenteeism and job turnover rates.

Invest in training employees at all levels in creative problem solving, and then empower them to use those creative skills within their own jobs. Along with a more innovative workplace, the investment will build an engaged workforce that happily brings its maximum brainpower to the job every day.


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What’s Your Style?

It’s relatively common to hear workplace comments like, “She’s an idea person,” or “He’s a detail guy.” Intuitively, most people recognize that solving a problem or creating a product requires a number of different tasks to be completed, and also that different people prefer different tasks. But a vague intuitive sense is only vaguely helpful when building successful teams.

Understanding the key stages of creative problem solving is the first step to finding the right balance between generators, those idea people who are great at finding problems and recognizing opportunities, conceptualizers who are good at understanding and defining those problems and coming up with ideas for solving them, optimizers who like to evaluate the ideas to pick the best solution and implementers, who are good at the hands-on, detail-oriented execution of the plan.

Build a team with too many generators or conceptualizers and it will tend to get stuck at the idea stage, with little momentum for moving toward implementing a concrete solution. A team with too many implementers may be inclined to rush preliminary ideas into immediate use, without enough time for thorough development and evaluation.

The ideal blend of problem solving styles will vary from team to team, as well as across departments and organizations. During uncertain economic times, the need for innovation and for optimally-designed teams will be most evident. But even in the most stable and prosperous of times, organizations will benefit from helping employees to recognize their own preferences and learn how to most successfully integrate their styles with those of their teammates.

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