Innovation can come from anyone, anywhere – that’s because all human beings are creative. We lose sight of that fact as we progress from childhood through to adulthood and it gets buried, especially when we hit the workforce. Yet there are countless examples of everyday workers using creative thinking to resolve business issues.
The three biggest innovations at McDonald’s came from people who were flipping burgers. The Big Mac, the Egg McMuffin and the Fileto- Fish all came from the front line, not the head office. The worker who invented the Filet-o- Fish realised that Catholics would not eat hamburgers on Fridays. He suggested an alternative might be a burger containing fish. The idea went up the chain, and a new product line was born.
“Ideas come from where problems exist,” suggests Jason Clarke, founder and lead ‘mind worker’ at Minds at Work. “Go where the problems are. You need to empower people where the problem is and say to them, ‘What would you like to do about this?’ ”
Creativity and innovation
First, it’s important to recognise the close, interconnected realms of creativity and innovation. Clarke suggests the relationship is similar to the one between bread and toast; in other words, the two are one and the same.
“Creativity is one of the fundamental mindsets you need – you cannot have innovation without creativity. Innovation is simply when you say, ‘Let’s take those ideas and turn them into things which will deliver outcomes or progress or whatever else’. Innovation is the application of creativity.”
Clarke confirms that everyone is born creative, but this particular trait “goes into hiding” as we get older. “If you think about people who are anxious, they are actually expressing creativity; they are imagining something that might not be a problem. People who dream – dreams are creativity while you’re asleep. It’s there. Our ability to invent and create is hardwired into us – you can’t stop it.”
Even empathy, he notes, is a form of creativity. Whenever we’ve felt for someone or wondered how it would be to be someone else, we’re using our imagination and creativity.
So, what happens to that creativity?
“I think part of the problem is people aren’t given the confidence to be creative,” Clarke says. “A lot of that happens in early childhood. It’s a bit like sport. When kids are encouraged to be sporty when they are little, they become comfortable with that as part of their personality. But if you’re one of those kids who was never picked at sport, you tune that part of you out.”
What goes wrong?
Most businesses, consciously or not, then proceed to squash that creativity even further. But it must be remembered that, like McDonald’s, creativity can actually be used to enhance and improve business outcomes. It’s just a matter of drawing it out of people.
“Organizations will ask, ‘Have you got any ideas’? People will generate ideas and the organization will say, ‘That doesn’t address any of the problems we’re dealing with. I was hoping someone would come up with an idea to solve problem F, not A, B, C’,” Clarke says.
The first step is to identify whatever the organization is not happy with, something that isn’t working as best it could. It could be a loss of market share, or bad customer experiences, or too much time being wasted in meetings. Once the problem is established, it’s time to tap into the minds of employees.
“This is where creativity becomes innovation – it becomes targeted. Very often the creativity doesn’t have a target,” Clarke says.