The Demand for Curiosity, Creativity and Innovation

Curiosity, Creativity and Innovation have become sexy topics in the business community, business schools and the business press over the past decade.  Following are a handful of examples from some recent articles:


“Innovation.  These days, there’s hardly a mission statement that doesn’t include it, or a CEO who doesn’t promote it.“

What Innovation? Stop Trying So Hard (Goman, Carol Kinsey. Forbes, 2/21/2012)

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“The qualities that set [successful] people apart” are “Passionate curiosity. Battle-hardened confidence. Team smarts. A simple mind-set. Fearlessness.”

Distilling the Wisdom of C.E.O.’s (Bryant, Adam. New York Times, 4/17/2011)

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“For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining” in part due to a “focus on standardized curriculum, rote memory and nationalized testing.”

The Creativity Crisis (Bronson, Po and Merryman, Ashley. Newsweek, July 10, 2010)

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“Innovation and creativity courses were slow to catch on but have spread like wildfire…. students are learning all sorts of techniques to help them think outside the box.”

Creativity comes to B-School (Gangemi, Jeffrey. Businessweek, March 26, 2006)


There truly is a lot of public ‘buzz’ surrounding Curiosity, Creativity and Innovation.

Why? Because there is real need in the market for Curiosity, Creativity and Innovation.

As Gary Hamel states in a recent Forbes interview conducted by Dan Schawbel,  (Forbes, February 17, 2012),  “If you look at management as it’s been built and developed over the last hundred years, it was essentially developed around the ideology of control. How do you make sure people are conforming to work standards to quality standards to budgets and process rules and so on and there’s enormous value in that.”

In essence, the past several decades saw many companies maniacally focused on inward-looking cost containment initiatives.  As Hamel points out, the benefits of Continuous Improvement (CI), Total Quality Management (TQM) initiatives are undeniable and well documented.  But as these initiatives approach maturation (meaning the significant benefits have already been had), executives are seeking a more balanced approach, whereby leveraging CI in conjunction with a renewed focus on growing the top line.  The problem is that the management and leadership skills needed to implement and execute CI or TQM programs don’t necessarily lend themselves to innovative top line growth.  Innovation is the engine of organic top line growth and today’s businesses want talent with innovation skills and competencies.

It does seem as though we’ve truly entered a new era where Creative and Innovative talent is being sought and highly valued.  However, I feel there is confusion, or at least a lack of clarity about what the terms Curiosity, Creativity and Innovation actually mean.

The balance of this article will take a look at what business leaders mean when they use these terms and how that can vary from what people think they mean, and what they actually mean.  My hope is that the following discussion will provide some useful understanding and valuable insight to these important topics.

Creativity wanted:

A 2008 study by The Conference Board, (Ready to Innovate), set out to understand how important “Creativity” is to today’s business leaders and find out what skills or traits these leaders were seeking in the new leaders and managers.  Prior research by The Conference Board had revealed that business executives felt that new managerial talent was lacking in “desired creative skills.”  97% of the 155 business executives surveyed in the 2008 study, “agreed that creativity is of increasing importance in the workplace.”

The executives in this study were additionally asked to rate the traits and skills they felt best demonstrated creativity. The top three skills or traits that employers were:

1) Problem identification or articulation (47%),

2) Ability to identify new patterns of behavior or combinations of actions (46%), and

3) Integration of knowledge across different disciplines (42%).

In essence, from this data, it seems that business executives want people who are perceptive, and have the ability to connect the dots.

These results are curious to me (pun intended), in that the top three skills might not actually lead to an outcome of any sort – and I would have thought that was what business leaders were looking for out of creative people.  It is important to note however that the respondents were asked to check the top three (out of many) skills they felt best demonstrated creativity.  So perhaps, the respondents feel that creativity is more of an “internal” trait or characteristic.

Maybe it’s just me…

As I began to think about these results more, something just wasn’t sitting right with me; but I wasn’t sure why.  I had this bothersome thing in the back of my mind simmering on low; that bothersome thing just kept nudging me.  Finally, I had to admit that the reason this kept bothering me was that I wasn’t entirely clear myself on how I defined curiosity and creativity.

Curiosity:

OK, I admit it. I’ve never really spent much time thinking about what curiosity actually meant.  Which I guess is a bit ironic given that I tend to think of myself as being a naturally curious individual.  It’s just one of those words I’ve used over the years, without much serious thought regarding its true meaning.

So, what is curiosity?

I guess I’ve casually thought about curiosity as inquisitiveness, a desire to understand, or even a drive to learn.  Curiosity does strike me as something that is innate; something internal.  Curiosity is something that… is just there.  However, due to the motivation of my nudge, I began to wade into some research on “curiosity” – it wasn’t long however before I took a full-on swim in the ocean.

Curiosity, has long been a subject of inquiry and study with references dating back prior to the times of Aristotle.  Lowenstein in “The Psychology of Curiosity” (Psychological Bulletin, 1994), starts out by stating that “curiosity has been consistently recognized as a critical motive that influences behavior in both positive and negative ways at all stages of the life cycle.”  Kagan in “Motives and Development” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1972) describes curiosity as the “motive for cognitive harmony.”  Or put another way, “the need to know.”  Thomas Gilovich in How We Know What Isn’t So (Free Press: 1993), states that humans “are predisposed to see order, pattern and meaning in the world and we find randomness, chaos and meaninglessness unsatisfying.”

I absolutely love how Clarence Leubna in “A new look at curiosity and creativity” (The Journal of Higher Education, 1958), underscores now how innate curiosity really is by stating that “examining, investigating and exploring – [are things] we label curiosity, and they are very evident as far down the animal scale as the rat and perhaps even farther.”  So, curiosity is actually something that is just there – not only in humans but also in animals.

After more thought, I’ve come to the point where I think about this trait in terms of creatures utility seeking in an intrinsic economic decision framework.  That is, creatures seek benefits derived from understanding, discovering and exploring.  Curiosity’s utility is innate or instinctive, and is likely however motivated through two pathways.

The first motivation pathway of curiosity is associated with a nature’s primal defense mechanisms – more instinctively driven.  This curiosity’s utility is protection and safety.  It is a preparatory device for coping with and/or avoiding adverse outcomes to external changes.

Curiosity’s second motivation pathway is more proactively exploratory and seeking in nature.  And while there may be traces of the first motivation pathway underlying the second, I feel this pathway is quite different.  Meaning, that this curiosity’s utility is expansionary.  The motivation is a prospective “gain” to be had by knowing more through examining, investigating, exploring and discovering.  I consider this to be a higher-order level of curiosity – which has greater linkage to creativity.  This higher-order level of curiosity is a necessary (but not sufficient) ingredient for creativity.

Creativity:

I think about creativity as a trait (i.e., she has an amazing amount of creativity).  I also think about creativity as being a process – (i.e., that widget is the result of a lot of creativity).  According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, creativity is “the quality of being creative or the ability to create.”  But, the challenge is in how you describe the quality of being creative – without using the term “creative.”

Robert Franken in Human Motivation (Wadsworth Publishing, 2006), does it brilliantly in my estimation, and defines creativity as “the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.”  How cool is that!

Thus, the trait creativity involves one’s abilities to perceive, assemble, synthesize, envision, generate and leverage stimuli and ideas in unique ways.   This however is only part of the creativity equation.  As noted earlier, Creativity is also a process.

Creativity the Process:

The creative process, as originally detailed by Graham Wallas in The Art of Thought (Harcourt, Brace, 1926) entails the following four steps

•           Preparation – Time spent actively learning, synthesizing and hypothesizing

•           Incubation – Time spent disengaged but subconsciously processing

•           Illumination – The aha moment

•           Verification – Testing, refining and finalizing the solution

Paul Torrance (the father of creativity) in “Understanding Creativity: Where to Start?” (Psychological Inquiry, 1993), elaborates upon Wallas’ above notion of ‘creativity as a process,’ as follows:

“First, there is a sensing of a need or deficiency, random exploration, and a clarification or pinning down of the problem.  Then ensues a period of preparation accompanied by reading, discussing, exploring, and formulating many possible solutions and then critically analyzing these solutions for advantages and disadvantages.  Out of this comes the birth of a new idea – a flash of light, illumination. Last, there is experimentation to evaluate the most promising solution for eventual selection and perfection of the idea.”

It is worth noting at this point how much alignment there is between Torrance’s description of the creative process, Wallas’ first three Creativity steps and the top three creativity traits identified by executives in The Conference Board’s study.

Finally, Torrance goes on to explain that the potential outcomes of this process could be the creation of new, novel or improved things ranging from ideas, to works of art, to physical items and processes.  In other words, the Creative Process may lead to an innovation!  In fact, the creative process is very much how people describe various steps of the innovation process.  Much in the same way that curiosity is a necessary ingredient for creativity, Creativity is a necessary (but not sufficient) ingredient for innovation.

Innovation:

So, what is innovation?  Similar to creativity, Innovation has two meanings; it is a thing as well as a process.  While Innovation is showing up in the media left and right, there is still a lot of confusion about what innovation is and how it happens.  C. K. Prahalad from the University of Michigan drives home this point as well.

“Many people talk about innovation, but few really have a deep understanding about how it works.”
(enterpriseleadership.org , July 23, 2008)

“How it works” underscores the fact that innovation is a process.  And, this is the point I feel people miss and simply don’t understand.  My definition of innovation is the following:

Innovation is the process of creating and delivering new, and differentiated consumer value in the marketplace, which can create a competitive advantage.

In order to create an innovation (a new thing which creates new consumer value), you have to employ the process of innovation.  I think most will stipulate to the notion that innovation is an engine of economic (business) growth, and that it can create a competitive advantage, so I won’t spend time belaboring these points.  I do however want to conclude by discussing the process of innovation.

In a prior article of mine entitled “Continuous Innovation and Continuous Improvement,” (brainzooming.com, Feb. 2, 2012), I outlined my notion that innovation is a three step process:

1) Identify -  Find opportunities for new products or services,

2) Innovate – Create new products or services, and

3) Implement – Adopt the solution, rollout and scale.

In order to create a new innovative product, service, process or business, which creates new consumer value, one must employ each and all of these steps.

If one only identifies an opportunity (step one), they’ve exhibited curiosity and some steps of the creative process previously noted. But all they would have at this point is a thoughtful idea (perhaps not even a good one).  That is it!  An idea is not innovation.

If one were to identify an opportunity and create a prototype in their garage and stop there (steps one and two), they’ve exhibited curiosity and all of the steps in the creative process.  They perhaps have something that might be an invention.  But, they’ve not created any consumer value at this point.  There are tens of thousands of patented inventions, which produce zero consumer value. For something to be an innovation, it must create or deliver new consumer value in the marketplace.

To create value through innovation, the right product needs to be selected, it needs to be produced and it needs to be distributed into the marketplace; where it is sold and reordered due to consumer demand.  It is only after the creation of consumer value however that we can say we truly have innovation. And, not coincidentally as we’ve already pointed out, we also have benefitted from curiosity and creativity.

image credit: dceventjunkie.com

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Learning Culture and InnovationBradley (Woody) Bendle is Director, Insights & Innovation at Collective Brands, Inc. and formerly a VP of Marketing, Customer Analytics & Strategic Systems at Blockbuster, and a consulting economist. His focus areas are: Brand & Market Strategy, Product & Service Innovation, Consumer Behavior, Quantitative & Qualitative Research Methods, and Applied Econometrics. (twitter – @wbendle)

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16 Responses to The Demand for Curiosity, Creativity and Innovation

  1. Alok Asthana says:

    Good stuff. Appreciate it.

  2. Bradley (Woody) Bendle says:

    Alok-
    Thank you for the note!
    I appreciate it as well!
    Cheers!
    Woody

  3. Good call but we are looking at the wrong way to create a meaningful future in the West. For that is what education should be all about. It depends ultimately for a nation if higher intelligence or higher innovative thinking is the driving force of Humanity. The two are totally different.
    For there is a great misconception in the minds of many business and education Gurus, through lack of understanding what innovation really is, that innovation is somehow linked to higher intelligence. This misdemeanor is thrown at all and sundry. Unfortunately intelligence in itself does not lead to major global breakthroughs as the history of S&T shows. Indeed some people may be highly intelligent in solving problems but can never come up with an idea that revolutionizes the future. For solving existing problems is not the same as creating a totally new concept or idea. This thinking comes from people who in the main were not excellent scholastic students but were different in their thinking and had the ability to link things together to produce something new and really outstanding.
    What we have not learnt in the West yet is that it is not the so-called highly intelligent people that we have to find but the creative individuals who are the primary asset in creating the successful tools of the future, whether they be better education systems or revolutionary technologies. The two again are very different indeed. That is why the World Innovation Foundation has been saying for the past decade and a half to western governments that the West has to create the ORE-STEM complex so that these special individuals can have a place to flourish and work. In this respect it is estimated that there are between 500,000 and 1million of these ‘special’ average-intelligent people in the West who have the capacity to change ‘Our’ economic fortunes.
    But, no-one is listening and especially in western governments where the intelligent people reign there supreme also. The reason of course is because these people are perceived as being highly intelligent also, but where they lack the main ingredient to why a country will be economically dynamic in the future; that little known seed in the certain individuals that transforms nations through totally new revolutionary thinking. Not to bore people but Newton and Einstein are clear examples of poor to medium quality scholastic students. In fact in the case of Newton his contemporaries stated at the time that nothing would ever come of Newton after he lost his ‘grouts’ and was awarded the lowest BA degree at Cambridge. No, it is those illusive individuals that we have to concentrate on in finding within our western society, who are not seen as highly intelligent people, but engage and provide vast wealth through their innovative thinking, not highly intelligent thinking. The two are totally different animals. For this is the ‘golden’ secret of creating a future dynamic environment for the West and where through such thinking, the West would recapture its pre-eminence in wealth creation.
    Unfortunately western politicians have lost their way because they are possibly too intelligent and therefore we look in part at the decline that we now see. For an example here, bankers are supposed to be one of the most intelligent species within humanity and where they usually come with the highest degrees passes possible and top-of-the-class honours from such establishments as Harvard, Berkeley, MIT, Cambridge and Oxford et al. Therefore the question has to be asked, how did they and their highly intelligent government counterparts get is so horribly wrong globally and locally? The reason is that intelligence does not guarantee for a better world and where the opposite has been the case with the West reeling from trillions of accumulated debt that the people in the west now owe.
    We have therefore to stop concentrating on the misconception that high intelligence is the best driver of humanity but where others have the real answers to our dire problems. Therefore the sooner we get such vast concepts as the ORE-STEM under way, the sooner the West will stop the inevitable decline of our nations and its people. For in another 30>40 years if we do not start thinking differently, the West will be totally reeling from a state of our economic affairs which will mirror many of the dire problems associated with some of the emerging economies now. This future situation to counter-balance the economic forces building in the East will not emerge from high intelligence as history has shown us, but from special and unique individuals who are not seen as highly intelligent at all. But what they possess is of far, far more important that just mere high intelligence, for they hold the golden key of our economic redemption!

    Dr David Hill
    Chief Executive
    World Innovation Foundation

    • Susanna Rahkamo says:

      Good comment, David. I feel that very many are trying to solve the challenge of being innovative in a way they are solving other problems. I doubt this is bringing any success in identifying creativity or being creative. You highlighted this very well.
      Bradley, good sources and points.

    • Keith Everett says:

      Dr. Hill,
      Thank you for bringing forward a key point that is unfortunately nearly systematically overlooked in typical business discussions around innovation and creativity. The definitions of curiosity and creativity are constanly muddied by the pundits; applying trappings and criteria that derail the definition of “what is innovation, creativity, etc.” an impart a lot of trappings that have nothing to do with creativity–such as implementation. I think part of this observed need to box in or categorize innovation results from the the almost desperate, more trendy, desire of some to quantify and categorize business related functions so they can be ranked and added to the “valuation” discussions about key (and often C-level) individuals, or departments, divisions, even whole companies.

      There is a great subtext in your comments that implies that everyone might not be a creative powerhouse waiting to burst forth and make their employers rich. The thought process behind this current trend in managment seems to be something along the lines of “All you have to do is send them to the right off site training and they will bloom in to an army of rainmakers.” After all, they are all so smart, surely they’re creative powerhouses….

      Working in pharma for the last 20 years I have also seen the tendency of managment to try and prove that everyone can be an innovator (this year), an efficient time organizer (last year), a stellar communicator, etc., etc. And, of course, this way they can apply the same measures to everyone without regard to the subtle personal attributes of those individuals that actually are creative. I belive that creativity is difficult to teach and very difficult to evaluate or measure before the fact. If you find someone with a creative track record and can hire them, quite often their success in your particular environment/ business has more to do with these individuals finding your business interesting than with all of the perks you can throw at them, salary included. This is the kind of soft and ill defined nonsense that drives managers into a frenzy.

      The more I am exposed to and get to know a variety of creative individuals and begin to understand how, to a small extent, they successfully create; it seems clear that these individuals are often the very ones overlooked in the hiring process because they don’t conform as readily as others generally do, or fit the archtypcal mold. Corporate managment, in an effort to fill their “Procrustean bed” will neuter those that they happen to hire that are creative –if they don’t ignore them completely. The cronieism and difference aversion so prevalent in most established organizations is no more anti-creative than if they were purposefully and deliberately avoiding true, breakaway individuals with the potential to make monumental changes and capture success with truly unique and valuable ideas. It is unfortunate that the univeralization of innovation often marginalizes those with the most creativity.

      I appreciate your point of view Dr. Hill and truly thank you for sharing it with the rest of us.

      Best regards,
      Keith

  4. Bradley (Woody) Bendle says:

    David -
    Love the thinking! I feel the “intelligent” can make a difference – but the question stands, as you point out – will they. I like to think that people will come around to the notions in Richard Branson’s latest book “Screw Business As Usual.” The globe’s future depends on it.
    Woody

  5. Sue Brooks says:

    Great treatment of some key concepts around creativity and innovation. I’d like to use it wiht my university class( Creativity and the Entrpreneurial Process at the University of Saskatchewan College of AGriculture AgBusiness degree). Would you be willing to send me a copy I Thanks,
    Sue Brooks

  6. Sue Brooks says:

    Bradley,
    A great treatment of some of the key ideas around creativity and innovation. I’d like to use it in my university class “Creatvity and the Entrepreneurial Process at the University of Saskatchewan. If you’re willing would you send me a copy I could use ( with all appropriate attributions of course)!
    Thanks,
    Sue Brooks

  7. Bradley (Woody) Bendle says:

    Sue,
    Thrilled that you like this piece.
    DM me on Twitter and I’ll get you a copy of the article.
    Cheers!
    Woody
    @wbendle

  8. Peter Han says:

    Woody,

    Thanks for bringing together a wide variety of sources on this topic. One issue I wish to bring up is the disconnect between what corporations espouse and what they do in terms of cultivating and rewarding creativity and innovation. After having worked for numerous large industrial firms as an organizational consultant, I have witnessed a recurring pattern of top executives proclaiming creativity and innovation as top priorities only to sabotage their efforts when they realize that cultivating such requires a cultural change that can be downright threatening.

    As Gary Hamel discussed, corporations are focused on control, predictability, and operational excellence to meet their fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders first and foremost. Cultivating creativity and innovation requires a tolerance if not encouragement of unpreditability, lessening of control, and iconoclasm. Creative thinkers are frequently not tractable employees. They can be high maintenance and require an inordinate amount of managerial oversight. They threaten the status quo left and right and can be fearless. The usual carrots and sticks have less influence upon them. They can make top executives squirm by pointing out inconsistencies in management policies and acts of hypocrisy.

    It seems corporations want the benefits of creativity and innovation but may not understand the fundamental changes they’ll need to make in their philosophy toward organizational structure and leadership. Humility, selflessness, tolerance for ambiguity and failure, measuring the right things as opposed to measuring that which is easy to measure, etc are not the typical competencies you’ll see in C-suite roles but they are needed to create a culture friendly to creativity and innovation.

    A recent research study reinforces this notion I present above: http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/news/082611_goncaloResearch.html

    Thanks,

    Peter Han

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  11. Thanks Bradley.

    I have read Branson’s book but where he is also a bit in the class of the normal thinkers. He tries but where he has not had enough exposure to ‘real’ innovation at the ‘coal-face’ long enough and at the leading edge of creation. He may be able to make stacks of money (I know someone who knew him when he started his first ‘real’ business, Virgin Records), but he is really a bit illiterate and unknowing when it comes to the real world of creativity in the sense of something really new. It is easy to copy and pick brains as we all know.

    Hopefully he will learn a bit more and hopefully before he resides in another place.Then he will know more of what his own book is all about.

    I have met quite a few billionaires and my assessment is that they are blinkered in their views just to make more money all the time, not to innovate something that creates a great deal of good in this world. Not many billionaires do, not even Bill Gates who’s Foundation wealth grows every year due to investments but where the actual sum that goes to humanitarian and good causes is a mere few percent per year. Therefore his Foundation becomes richer by the year but where the bread crumbs off the table do not increase proportionally. Therefore all philanthropists at heart are intelligent people but not innovative and creative people in the true sense of the meaning. If they were the world would be a far better place. Unfortunately all Foundations are big business and where I have found that their main purpose is corporate and not in the main altruistic in nature, deep down. Sad but that is what I have found. But at least he is trying.

    Best, David

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