Can Innovation and Creativity Be Learned?

Lately, I have read a lot about how innovation is considered critical to success in business and a top reason why an executive was chosen for a position [i.e. William Perez, formerly of Nike and SC Johnson was chosen to replace Bill Wrigley Jr. as CEO of the William Wrigley Jr. Company].

I started thinking: are senior executives trained in how to think creatively? Can you be trained to think creatively or be innovative, or are you just born with ‘it’?

Apex Performance recently surveyed over 100 senior executives and found that creativity was cited by 92 percent as a key part of their job. But, only 76 percent of these people reported that they receive little, if any, training to help them to be creative. Similarly, while 89 percent are expected to be innovative, 70 percent get no related training.

No question creativity and innovation are critical for business success. Today, so many people are responsible for it, not just technical positions or functions like research and development. While it is not clear to me that formal training is really the answer to helping people become more innovative or creative, I think organizations lose out by not helping their people to develop these skills.

One simple idea to help get the creative juices flowing? Brainstorming…with preparation. Brainstorming can be a really effective technique to generate new ideas, some of which may be breakthrough ideas – if people are first prepared. While brainstorming is a common practice used to generate ideas in the workplace, only a minority of companies provide any specific preparation for the people involved in brainstorming sessions. If people are not prepared in advance of a brainstorming session, then you run the risk of getting the same ideas reordered or rephrased.

Get people “out of the box” by preparing their creative imaginations in advance of a brainstorming session by establishing some guidelines to increase your likelihood for success:

  • Prior to and during the session, engage in some mental training and play some creative games that allow people to move from using the left brain to the right brain. This is a lot of fun and can really get and keep those creative, innovative juices flowing!
  • Bring in new people from outside the core team
  • Encourage everyone to participate
  • Do not allow for any evaluation during the session. This is quite important
  • Capture all the ideas in writing
  • Exhaust every thought; then, start to assess each idea against pre-established evaluation criteria

Creative, innovative results can be achieved if people are prepared in advance. Have fun getting as many ideas as possible so that the gleaning process can be fruitful in the end. Here’s to using the simple idea of brainstorming to power your creativity and innovation engines.

Adapted from Apex Performance, Inc.

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Sandra Schwan

Sandra Schwan

Managing Partner at Evolving Strategies LLC
Sandra is the Managing Partner of Evolving Strategies LLC, a consulting firm helping companies and people learn, adapt and perform. Sandra holds a Master of Science degree in Adult Learning and Strategic Organizational Change from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Arkansas. Previous employers include the Corporate Executive Board, Lante Corporation, Kensington International, and Accenture where Sandra was awarded mentor of the year.

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Sandra Schwan

3 Comments

  1. Tap Into Your Creative Side: Set an Idea Quota

    We know that leaders are not trained in innovation and creativity. Michael Michalko, author of Cracking Creativity (Ten Speed Press) explains how you can unleash some of your innovative ideas that are lurking just around the corner. Set an Idea

  2. Regarding the article: Can innovation be learned? My personal viewpoint is that too few companies reward innovation. I think Brainstorming is probably a universal, get the juices flowing technique for the masses, but beyond that, some people seem intrinsically more innovative than others. Can that can be taught? It’s the age old question…is it nurture or is it nature? Those who have this quality seem to get little recognition (read: financial rewards) for it. If companies gave a material bonus (like $10-20K) to the top innovative idea(s), it would send the right message and you can bet a lot of creative energy would come to life.

  3. Nice article!

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