Welcome to my blog.  Here, I hope you will find posts that will kindle your curiosity, ignite your desire for learning, and sharpen your strategic leadership skills.

In this first post, I will share some thoughts on why I believe that leaders must understand the power and importance of definitions — about leadership, innovation, strategy, and creativity.  In subsequent posts, I will explore other leading edge issues around leadership, strategy and creativity.

Let’s start with creativity.  Figuring out what you mean by “creativity” and “innovation” is not an academic exercise.  It’s an imperative for leaders who want to build more innovative organizations.  There are three reasons why I believe this task is so important.

  1. There is a great deal of information (and unfortunately misinformation) out there that can make developing an innovation strategy ever so challenging.  Understanding the meaning behind the advice is critical if leaders are going to benefit from the research and advice.  For example, a recent IBM study found that a majority of CEOs rated a creative competency in leaders as essential for the coming years.  But what does this “creative competency” mean?  Just generating ideas, a common definition for creativity?  Undoubtedly not, since the study refers to capturing the benefit of new and different ideas as part of the creative competency.  A solid understanding of this competency is thus necessary for putting together organizational and personal development strategies.
  2. Secondly, I believe we are all creative.  And I am not alone in this belief.  But that’s because I define creativity as the ability to produce different and valuable results. Creative contributions, which come in many shapes and sizes, are required in every stage of the process, from idea generation through implementation, at both the messy (and sometimes sexy) front end of idea generation to the sweaty execution of the best ideas.  [If we accept this definition of creativity, what happens to innovation?  It’s an organization’s ability to capitalize on the creativity of its employees to produce new and useful value for stakeholders. More on this definition in another post!]

Creative results can range from incremental improvements (think Thomas Edison and his hundreds of experiments to produce the electric light bulb!) to disruptive breakthroughs, from solving conflict to facilitating an environment that promotes more creativity in an organization.  So, defining creativity as all about big ideas (as many studies and consultants do!) minimizes the creativity that is involved in building on what others have done (think Gutenberg and the invention of moveable type!) and excludes many individuals from being considered creative.

  1. One final reason for clear definitions.  Employees need clarity around expected behavior.  When leaders throw out requests for more “creativity” or “innovation,” employees need to understand what is being requested.  Wild ideas that have little chance of providing value?  Breakthrough ideas?  Incremental ideas?  And if they don’t know what is being requested of them, how do they go about developing their creative potential?

So, figuring out what you as a leader mean by “creativity” is critical to fostering more creative behavior in your organization.

What do you think?  Have you run into this issue in your organization?  How have you resolved it?

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