Innovation is big. World leaders recognise that economic success hinges on innovation. Businesses know that in order to succeed, or simply survive, they need to innovate. But even though there’s immense interest in the topic and more research than ever before, creativity, the force that fuels all innovation, remains an elusive and frequently misunderstood capacity. This is particularly true when it comes to understanding the way we apply it in our daily working lives.
Creativity research has come a long way. We’ve seen the focus move from personality in the 1950s and cognitive processes in the 1980s through to the current wave of interest in creativity in social systems. We know more about the way it works, and researchers across fields from neuroscience to anthropology have added their own flavours to our understanding.
Everyday creativity matters
We’re not going to get bogged down in theory, but there’s one concept that deserves a mention here: big creativity versus little creativity. Big C and little c, as they’re commonly referred to, divide creativity into two categories: big breakthrough ideas and products versus those little everyday ‘a-has’ we all know.
Experts recognise the value of both types, but the general public appears to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to little c. The common idea of creativity appears to be rather narrow, the exclusive domain of the Teslas and Apples and VanGoghs of this world.
Even though we display a great deal of innovation every day, most people, it appears, wouldn’t describe themselves as very creative. Quite often, we don’t consider all those small, everyday improvements, tweaks and hacks creative to begin with.
Are we missing something?
The urgency of the situation dawned on us when we were working with our clients focusing on simple workflow improvements. We noticed the vast number of great little ideas and tweaks among the people… and an equally huge reluctance to share them, or take them any further than their individual space.
We took this observation to our network just to check if the sentiment was more universal, and nothing changed. We interviewed people in many different roles across levels and were truly surprised and shocked by how few people considered themselves innovative at work.
On the whole, the only people to describe what they do as creative were in innovation teams or working in the arts. It appeared that only those whose roles officially required or condoned creativity consider it an important aspect of everything they do. The issue, it turns out, is that little creativity is not always seen, understood—or welcomed.
The next big thing is little
At Koda, we often value little creativity more than big creativity, but notice that many companies and organisations don’t. We know they’re missing a trick. All companies prize big innovations–those game-changing ideas, disruptive technologies, new products or services springing from the R&D or Innovation department. There’s great willingness to invest resources into big creativity. And often those that don’t have the resources for it assume all innovation is out of reach for them, and simply give up.
And worse, those small but important contributions to continuous improvement are often seen as irksome, disruptive interventions from people who don’t have ‘creative’ or ‘innovation’ in their job description.
This can create an impenetrable wall of silence between the specialists and the rest: both sides appear to have come to believe that those who aren’t ‘qualified’ to contribute shouldn’t interfere. At its worst, this contributes to a toxic culture of ‘them and us’, a rejection that separates ordinary employees from the core of the business. It erodes trust and blocks creative energy and value at the most fundamental level.
Big things start small
Stop for a moment and consider how rare breakthrough innovations really are. Consider too the reality that big departments aren’t necessarily where the most profound innovations are generated. The small things and changes that can really improve our lives often come from little spaces.
We believe it’s everyday creativity that holds the key to solving many companies’ problems and effects the most profound and long-term improvements. Little creativity increases engagement, unlocks energy and unleashes innovation from unexpected places. It reduces waste and builds value throughout your organisation.
In our experience, big things usually start small, so by investing in everyday creativity you can begin to create a culture where continuous improvement and innovation flourish.
Coming next: Beware the Creativity Killers… They’ve become so much a part of 21st century working life that we often find these energy sappers difficult to overcome. We explore three factors that are guaranteed to stifle creativity and continuous improvement.