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In the days before Trainers’ Library, I facilitated a lot of training around creative thinking, helping organisations equip their people with the skills to generate and develop ideas.

I loved delivering this training because it allowed me to challenge the myth that creativity is something you’re either born with, or not. 

In my opinion, creativity is something we are all capable of, but it’s also a skill that is suppressed by pressures to conform and fit in, and risk avoidance. In reality, I think creativity requires just five things. The first four are a dusting of Bravery, Inquisitiveness, Receptiveness and Drive (BIRD). 

The fifth is Method. This might be controversial to those who want creativity to be all mysterious and other worldly, but there are numerous tools and techniques that anyone can learn that will help you make unusual connections, explore problems in new ways and see challenges from new perspectives. And those connections and insights invariably lead to creative ideas. 

So, if it’s so easy to learn to think creatively, why aren’t more organisations truly innovative? 

The answer lies in a formula that someone shared with me many years ago, which explains the difference between creativity and innovation:

Creativity + Implementation = Innovation.

In other words, having the idea is all well and good. It will only result in innovation if we do something with it.

The hardest part of the creativity and innovation process isn’t generating ideas; it lies in that middle section, where ideas are developed, tested, refined and eventually implemented. 

One reason it’s difficult is that there are always forces opposing innovation. They may not be visible, or obvious, but they’ll be there, because real innovation means shaking things up and upsetting the status quo, and a lot of people are going to feel threatened or unnerved by that. Often people in quite senior positions. 

But another problem is well-meaning managers who encourage and then take responsibility for the implementation of ideas generated by their team members. Often this transfer of ownership is almost invisible and based on assumptions. 

I’ve been reminded of this recently. As some of you know, during the pandemic, Craig Worcester and I created a community website for writers called Pen48. We wanted to encourage people to share their creative writing (rather than hide it in a drawer somewhere as I had done for years) and get feedback and support that would encourage them to write more and develop their talent.

We have a core of about 15 contributors to Pen48 who I know really value our regular virtual meetings and the encouragement the club has given them. So, when a few of them suggested publishing an anthology of our stories and poems on Amazon, I welcomed the idea with every intention of following up on it – eventually. 

But, of course, in the same period, I’ve been busy writing new training materials for Trainers’ Library and starting a new life in France with a whole new language to learn, amongst other things. Like everyone, I’ve got a lot of stuff going on.

‘Eventually’ came and went, along with ‘tomorrow’, ‘soon’ and ‘when the time is right’. It’s fair to say we were well on the way to ‘never’ when something changed – the Pen48 members who’d originally pitched the idea took back ownership of it. In the past few weeks, they’ve chosen a title (Unexpected Journeys) and shortlisted stories and poems for inclusion. They’ve benefited from the previous experience of one of the team who has designed cover and typescript options. It’s not been an easy process and there have, I know, been concerns (including some about the colourful language in one of my short stories), disagreements and challenges, but the energy is palpable and the progress unstoppable; the anthology will be published.

Too often, ideas die in the difficult process of development as the enthusiasm for them withers. And a contributing factor is that too often the people who had the idea, who were most excited by it, who had the ‘dream’, are removed from the process by well-meaning managers who believe it’s their responsibility to take ownership of all change. 

Perhaps the most important lesson for organisations that want to be innovative is to keep those who have the ideas and the greatest passion for them involved in the process. 

Empowering people who are most excited about an idea to see it through to fruition with the support and resources they need, might just be the key to success.

Over the years, I’ve written loads of training activities and material for Trainers’ Library on this topic, and you’ll find a selection here

Until next time…

June 14 2022Rod Webb

Rod Webb

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