Nurturing Innovation II

Part 2: Supporting innovation in all areas

Can you imagine being part of an organisation that pays for employees to spend time working on new ideas? An organisation that ensures all ideas at every level are welcomed and supported, one that does not simply pay lip service to the idea of innovation?

The people who work at The H. J. Heinz Company know exactly what this feels like. Famously known as Heinz, the company makes tomato sauce, pickle relish, baked beans, and thousands of other food products in plants located on six continents, marketing them in over 200 countries and territories. Heinz belongs to a new generation of future-focused organisations that sees the need to go beyond productivity and efficiency to higher-level innovation.

The long established American company, which has been around since 1869, has implemented a number of initiatives to support creative thinking and problem-solving across the organisation. In fact, its Heinz Global Innovation and Quality Center in southwestern Pennsylvania – situated near its headquarters in Pittsburgh, US-is designed with exactly that in mind.

This 100,000 sq ft facility has test and research kitchens where chefs have scheduled work time to experiment with ideas and concoct new products. It has a feedback centre that allows for direct connections with customers, who can personally give their input. To boost its marketing know-how, the company set up a simulated environment that also lets them observe consumer behaviour.

By investing in such a state-of-the-art facility, Heinz has given a strong signal that innovation should no longer be considered a luxury. Many other organisations around the world are also recognising this reality. This year alone, has listed 170 published books with titles that include the word “innovation”. Indeed, the topic has rapidly jumped from the “Would Be Nice To Have” to the “Must-Do” category of many organisations.

The first step to take is to embrace the fact that innovation is not simply about focusing on creative products or output. It must also be integral to how organisations operate internally.

Innovation in all areas

According to Teresa Amabile, the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration and a Director of Research at Harvard Business School, while creativity is “the production of novel and useful ideas in any domain”, innovation is “the successful implementation of creative ideas within an organization.” (from her 1996 book Creativity in Context).

By identifying the creativity capability and potential within an organisation, it should therefore be possible to be able to predict the potential for innovation and assist with providing the right environment in both areas.

In a 1961 article titled An Analysis of Creativity, James Melvin Rhodes identified the 4 Ps of Creativity, which has since become a classic interpretation. To nurture innovation, therefore, it is important to address the needs in all of these areas:

  • 1. Person
    It is important to evaluate the creative thinking skills of individuals in the organisation. This will help them spot employees’ strengths and challenges. One useful tool is the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI), one of the world’s leading measures for problem-solving, teamwork and creativity. KAI’s associated psychometric instruments are designed to provide insight into how people work out problems and interact during the decision-making process. The results can be used to develop workshops and other training opportunities aimed at helping organisations improve its staff dynamics and cohesion.
  • 2. Process
    Introduce systems and processes that will support the deliberate development of creativity and innovation. For instance, certain organisations may benefit from introducing Design Thinking Process as a model. Because it is a type of solution-focused thinking, it begins with a goal – improved future outcome – instead of addressing one particular difficulty. By considering conditions in the both the present future, the specifics of the problem and potential solutions may be explored at the same time. Another well-established process is Creative problem Solving (CPS), which provides a deliberate process for analysing and solving problems and coming up with superior solutions. Tirian’s Strategies for Innovative Development (SID) model also provides a comprehensive process for innovative development, considering both the organisational environmental and individual psychological factors that will support the success of the process.
  • 3. Product
    Creative strategies are all very well, but the proof is in the organisation’s output. The organisation’s products themselves therefore need to be assessed to identify where improvements could be made. Measures should include both originality and usefulness.
  • 4. Press (environment)
    Analyse the environment and look for ways creative thinking could be bolstered. There are several tools available that can help organisations do a “climate check”, or evaluate its capacity to foster innovation, such as:
    a. Team Climate inventory (TCI) – Pinpoints likely points of team dysfunction for further intervention
    b. Situational Outlook Questionnaire (SOQ) – Evaluates the atmosphere and context for change within an organisation
    It is critical that the optimal climate and surroundings for innovative development are identified. Not only will this spark the necessary change, but progress can easily tracked using these assessment methods.

Is your organisation nurturing innovation in all of these areas?

Andrew and Gaia Grant are the Directors of Tirian and authors of “Who Killed Creativity?… And How Can We Get It Back?” . This article is an excerpt from an article soon to be published in Human Resources Magazine.

Comments are closed.