Innovation & Creativity

Why Innovation and Creativity is still a Distant Call in the Corporate World

On the outset, let me contextualize three terms for the purposes of this article.

As defined by Sir Ken Robinson, creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value. Imagination is the ability to bring to mind things that aren’t present to our senses thus making it the root of creativity. Innovation is putting new ideas into practice. Riding on these definitions, it is obvious that any forward-looking organization ought to embrace creativity and innovation every day in its operations. Yet this is not the case as we will often see and in this article, we explore why.

Operationalized Silos

This is a major issue with companies that were set up in the years before 2000. In the history of the corporate world, we had the agricultural era, the industrial era and today we have the knowledge-based era where success is based on knowledge more than it is on mechanization and industrialization. That is why forex traders will make more money with the gold than the miners who are extracting it from the ground or the jewelry shops selling it.

The pre-2000 organizations largely see innovation and creativity as a preserve of a ‘research and development (R & D)’ department which should be well funded and staffed with engineers and professors qualified in a certain field. So, the rest of the company depends on these elite people exposed to high tech technology and a plethora of information to give guidance on the next big product that will take the company to new heights.

As long as this model is adhered to, then corporates will continue to drag behind post-2000 companies that are moving at the speed of light because the roles are reversed. R & D departments have now been made Concept Developers of the product. They produce the prototype of what the market has said it wants. They don’t produce what the market should take from the company. To some extent, the silos have contributed to the total collapse of firms.

Uncertain Employment Future

Due to uncertain economic environments, tight labor laws and high levels of competitiveness, many corporates are resulting to put employees on contracts. No matter the length of a contract, it simply says to an employee that they are not on a sure ground as far as being employed is concerned. That is enough to fuel the thought that there is no need to innovate. “What’s the point if I will not be there to see it succeed and reap the benefits?”

Unless a contract out rightly declares that one of the key deliverables of an employee is to generate innovative and creative ideas to grow the business every week, there is no way one can be penalized for “not being creative”. One will deliver on the specific roles, within the parameters laid down on black and white. Unfortunately, it’s a ‘What-In-It-For-Me’ (WIIFME) society that we live in and that we are getting employees from.

Without jeopardizing the financial stability of a company, management teams need to identify ingenious ways of encouraging creativity and innovation for the betterment of the company and its operations. How?

  • Bonuses can be paid even if the contract is not renewed
  • Royalty for sales directly related to an idea or creation by a contract employee
  • Franchising for businesses that can be franchised

These are just some of the ways that corporates can deal with the holdback by employees on contract employment.

The Sower, The Reaper & The Eater

People riding on other people’s sweat is as old as human history. There is always going to be that person who takes the time to put the seed into the ground. Someone will always be looking over the fence to see the growth of what was planted so that they can go and harvest it or harvest from it. Then there are those who will just be comfortable saying, “Thank God for the one who had this idea. Where would we be without it? They should give us another one like that one.”

Allow me to make some controversial observations: Artists, painters, musicians, authors, teachers are sowers. Corporates and lawyers are a perfect example of reapers and eaters.

Closer home to the corporate section that we are talking about, your young generation X, Y, millennials, and Z are your sowers who will have nothing to do with people who sit back to wait for them to generate the idea, morph it with so much enthusiasm then watch some random manager and board of directors’ pocket all the bonuses and profit from their idea because they are reapers and eaters. They will sooner walk away!

The posture of reapers and eaters is a put off to this current generation which is surrounded every day by the WIIFME phenomenon. That is why open source software and free money-making technologies are becoming quite popular.

Companies are made up of people like you and me. They exist to produce products and offer services to benefit people like you and me. So why should they be structured to wait for an idea to be generated by someone in the organization and then some high-ranking manager or section/ department head takes all the glory and when the innovation is working successfully for the organization, the person who initiated the idea is nowhere in the picture?

In today’s knowledgeable world, knowing that you will be taken advantage of is enough for you to reserve your creative energies in a corporate setting. No matter how much the culture says that it welcomes creativity and innovation, as longs as there are more reapers and eaters, the traditional corporate world will always be playing catch up with the idea of creativity and innovation.

The Instant Future

We live in an age where everything is to be provided on demand. It seems that even waiting for the sun to rise is a waste of time and an app should be developed to make the sunrise at one’s preferred time. In an era where people put up a live self-coverage while buying coffee and they watch as comments from their friends come in, the corporate days of in-trays and out-trays are long gone.

Marketing managers no longer have the comfort of time to go through a 28-page document from someone who wants immediate feedback on whether they did the right thing. Unfortunately, traditional corporate managers and office politics require protocols to be observed, minutes to be written in a certain format, meetings to be called with 5 days-notice to ensure everyone is in the room, among many others. Failure to embrace trust, concepts like video-conferencing, and telecommuting is a major drag for corporates.

I worked for a multinational company whose representatives from one of the most advanced economies made the following dumb-founding comment about a product they were trying to push down consumers’ throats, “Our Research and Development team can only implement the suggestions made by the market in another 2 years!”

I was dumb-founded because of two things – one, this was a statement being made in 2014 about a product that is in demand by a mass market. Two, this is a company in one of the most developed (technologically) advanced economies. Well, for sure they did not make the changes for another three years but by then, the market had already moved on to other product demands because the competition moved faster.

One more thing I would like to highlight here is this. With the demand for immediate results as opposed to the long-term effects of innovation and creativity, people become restless and dismissive about ideas whose success requires time to mature and penetrate the market. Corporates are yet to figure out (or apply) modalities of keeping their innovations alive and engaging while they build traction. The best advice I have come across for this is from T.D. Jakes in his book, “Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive”. I will summarize this article with that advice.

The Battle of Aliens-Natives-Migrants War

Earlier I mentioned generation X, Y, Millennials and Generation Z. Each are unique and very important in the cycle of life and in the corporates that many of us find ourselves working with and in. But there is another generation called the Baby Boomers and they are still in the current corporate world.

These generations are engaged in a battle that is fueled by digital advancements. Baby boomers and the generations before them are aliens to Facebook, Instagram, and Periscope. They don’t understand why it is such a big deal to take photos of yourself and share them with the world. Then there are those who grew up with Pen Pals and Airmail with postage stamps affixed only for them to graduate from university and find that Mark Zuckerberg had just spared their saliva. Then there are those who were born and the first thing their little eyes noticed was a smartphone in their face! No pointing fingers, but you know where you fit.

Digitally speaking, there are those in the corporate world that are alien to digital technology. A friend of mine whose father was into printing and publishing tells us that the old man just doesn’t understand how he (my friend) can edit, prepare a book for printing send it off for publishing and receive it less than a week later without ever leaving his home office.

Then there are those others who have been forced to grow into it otherwise they will become redundant. Millennials and Generation Z are not only digital natives, but they are also pioneers of digital innovations and creativity. It’s a battle framed around fears, inflexibility, and corporates that posture themselves as a battleground, are bound to lag in implementing creative and innovative solutions, strategies and methods of work.

As a member of this distinguished sector of any country, you and I in the corporate world need to sincerely relook at the works of Sir Ken Robinson on this issue. Hotels need to look at Airbnb, Car companies need to review Tesla, Marketing firms need to be students of Google, Exhibition Organisers need to start thinking about how to innovate around exhibitions.


T.D. Jakes, says this: builders and bankers are needed for the healthy growth and advancement of companies. While builders (always creative, sometimes spontaneous) are motivated by challenges or things that give them quantifiable results, bankers (great at putting critical systems in place, savers, trainers, multipliers) feel a sense of achievement from sustaining and maintaining what someone else built. You can’t put a banker in charge of a new product launch but you definitely want him/ her in that team. The day the corporate world handlers will understand the symphony of the builders and bankers, is the day they will begin to explore the benefits of creativity and innovation.

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