The words innovation and creativity have become meaningless buzzwords. I’ve seen the word innovation used indiscriminately to make practically anything sound more sexy or interesting than it actually is, from political policies to mortgage deals and even a new flavour of soup.
To be clear, creativity is about the use of imagination or original ideas to create something. Creativity is about inventiveness, it’s about having ideas, and most importantly it’s about solving problems.
The Oxford English Dictionary describes innovation as: the action or process of innovating a new method, idea, product, etc
Put another way, creativity is having the ideas and innovation is making them happen.
In addition, innovation is not about making any idea happen, it’s about taking action to make the good ideas happen that get you or your organisation closer to achieving its goal, for example developing new products that customers want or a process that makes employees’ or customers’ lives easier, or a system that helps the organisation operate more effectively. If an idea is new to you or your organisation, even if it has been done elsewhere, it still counts as innovation.
Over the last 10 years I’ve been helping clients turn their product ideas into reality and creating team cultures and environments where creativity and innovation can thrive.
The biggest barrier to innovation (and creativity) isn’t lack of ideas, it’s not lack of strategy or direction, it’s not even lack of budget.
In my experience the biggest barrier to creativity and innovation is lack of confidence.
And dips in confidence can happen at every stage of the creativity and innovation process.
To start with, all human beings are creative. We are capable of making new connections and coming up with new ideas and concepts. You don’t have to have ‘creative’ in your job title to be a creative thinker. Human beings are creative it’s just that most of us don’t have the confidence in ourselves to believe it.
Then, say you’ve worked on your confidence and you’re at the point when you have those first delicate seedlings of an idea. You need the confidence to say your untested, perhaps not fully formed idea out loud. It might be unlikely, new, unheard of and therefore open to criticism or ridicule. Responses like ‘that’ll never work’ ‘we won’t get budget’ destroy confidence and creativity in a heartbeat. That’s why I do so much work with individuals to help them be brave to share their ideas, and with teams to create safe spaces where those ideas can develop. If you’ve had your idea killed and your confidence crushed, you might choose not to be brave and share your next idea. And what if that next idea is the game changer? The idea that has the potential to make a positive impact on people’s lives? Creating a supportive environment where people feel confident to share their ideas is critical to creativity and innovation success.
Moving from creative idea to action, and development (the innovation bit).
You’ve been courageous and introduced your idea to others, that’s just the first step. There is so much work to do to help people understand the new idea and then to buy into it. Getting all the stakeholders you need to make your idea a reality on board is hard work. You worry you sound like a stuck record and doubts can creep in. It shouldn’t be this hard. Maybe it’s not a good idea. Maybe you’re wrong. These doubts niggle away and erode confidence. That’s why I coach people to manage their internal narrative, build their self-belief and to stay focused on why they started. I help them maintain their confidence to prove the difference they have the potential to make.
Launching your idea.
By the time you’re at this phase you’re already exhausted. You’re sharing your idea with the world, it feels vulnerable. When you’re tired out it’s even easier for your confidence to take a knock, yet you need stacks of confidence to overcome this feeling. What if it fails? What if I look bad? what if the organisation looks bad?
Confidence is a personal and individual feeling. We’ve all felt the sinking rock in the pit of our stomachs when we’re scared, or something goes wrong. We’re all affected differently and have different tolerances for confidence. When we’re feeling relaxed and well rested we’re more resilient and confident then when we’re exhausted and stressed out. By the time your idea is launched you’ve been through a lot and you’re exhausted. That’s why I coach people through all stages of the innovation process and give them practical tools to maintain their confidence levels and use them when they need them.
Confidence also affects teams and even whole organsiations. The strength of leadership and clarity of organsiaional strategy impacts on organisational confidence. It’s easy for a team or organisation to think in the same way, biases can take hold and we can be quickly convinced that it’s better to stick to what we know, how we’re always done things and stay safely in our team or organisational comfort zone. I often hear the words ‘We want to innovate but we want to be sure it will work.’ That’s why I work with whole organisations helping them to build their capacity and confidence for creativity and innovation.
Creativity and innovation are never guaranteed to be successful. It’s almost always a case of testing, learning, failing and adapting. It will always feel a bit scary and uncertain. An absolutely key skill for any sort of creativity and innovation is to be able to manage your confidence and support your team and your organisation to manage theirs. You need to spot the signals that confidence is taking a nosedive, understand what is happening in our physiology when confidence dips, have tactics to manage your confidence, your inner critic and that of your teams and even your whole organisation.
The biggest barrier to innovation is confidence. Individual, team and organisational. If you’re serious about creativity and innovation invest time to work on the skills to build and manage confidence.