How do you turn creativity into innovation?

Creativity at the individual level doesn’t guarantee innovation within your work group, function, or organization. Think of it this way: Creativity is the ability to generate novel and useful ideas, and innovation is the successful implementation of creative ideas.

The work environment — the management practices, organizational motivation, and resources — will either promote or undermine innovation. You probably know this from your own experience. If you’ve been part of a creative or innovative team, it wasn’t just the specific people involved — the work was interesting and challenging, your manager was confident in the team, new ideas were encouraged, and roadblocks weren’t always in your way.

To help organizations understand and evaluate whether they have the type of work environment that will produce more innovative results, we use the KEYS® organizational survey. KEYS also measures how creative and productive the workforce is — 2 outcomes that correlate with the work environment.

KEYS was developed by CCL and Harvard University’s Teresa Amabile based on research that ties innovation to 8 factors in 3 areas that affect the work environment.

1. Management Practices. Specific actions and practices on the part of management that impact innovation include allowing freedom and autonomy in the practice of work, providing challenge, specifying clear strategic goals, and forming work teams comprised of individuals with diverse skills and perspectives. Consider which of these practices is part of your work environment:

  • Freedom: Deciding what work to do or how to do it, and a sense of control over one’s work.
  • Challenging Work: A sense of having to work hard on challenging tasks and important projects.
  • Managerial Encouragement: A boss who serves as a good work model, sets goals appropriately, supports the work group, values individual contributions, and shows confidence in the work group.
  • Work Group Supports: A diversely skilled work group, in which people communicate well, are open to new ideas, constructively challenge each other’s work, trust and help each other, and feel committed to the work they’re doing.

2. Organizational Motivation. What ‘s the basic orientation of the organization toward innovation? How would you rate your work environment in terms of:

  • Organizational Encouragement: A culture that encourages creativity through the fair, constructive judgment of ideas, reward and recognition for creative work, mechanisms for developing new ideas, and an active flow of ideas and a shared vision.
  • Lack of Organizational Impediments: A culture that doesn’t impede creativity through internal political problems, harsh criticism of new ideas, destructive internal competition, avoidance of risk, and an overemphasis on the status quo.

3. Resources. Does the group have what it needs to do the work? Or is a lot of time and energy going toward fighting for or juggling too-limited resources? Look at 2 areas:

  • Sufficient Resources: Access to appropriate resources, including funds, materials, facilities, and information.
  • Realistic Workload Pressures: Absence of extreme time pressures, unrealistic expectations for productivity, and distractions from creative work.

As you think about the connections between innovation and your work environment, take an informal approach to another element of the KEYS survey: Ask yourself and others in your group, division, or function these 3 questions:

  • What do we do that best supports creativity and innovation?
  • What do we do that most inhibits creativity and innovation?
  • What could we do that would improve creativity and innovation?

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