Words of Wisdom (WOW) from Ajaan
On Creativity and Innovation
The subject of creativity and innovation has been a popular topic of discussion in business, academe and government circle for many years now – not only in Thailand, but also in many parts of the world. For instance, a Google search leads one to more than 800,000 sites. A common way of differentiating the two words, albeit complementary – just like two sides of the same coin, or better still – the yin and the yang, is that creativity refers to new ways of thinking, while innovation is defined as new ways of doing. Many writers have authored books and articles on the subject of creativity and innovation.
A popular buzzword related to the concept of creativity is “thinking outside the box” to denote creative, non-conventional, non-traditional, unique, never-before-imagined or conceived, and even zany and crazy ways and ideas to identify problems and create options. It is so popular that a Google search leads one to some 85,000 references. The phrase may have been coined in connection with the puzzle or brainteaser 9 Dots where solution to the problem can only be obtained if one draws two lines outside the imaginary box to connect the nine dots without lifting the pen.
Books have been written carrying the subject as its very title, among them: “Think Out of the Box,” by Mike Vance and Diane Deacon (the book is available in our FEU library), “Thinking Outside the Box,” by Yochanan Kirschblum, and “Managing Complex Systems: Thinking Outside the Box,” by Howard Eisner.
The opposite of thinking outside the box is thinking inside the box which means being satisfied with the status quo. This frame of mind has been criticized as idea or solution “killers.” There are many phrases that describe this negative attitude. Among them are: “we tried this before,”, “we have been doing this way for years,”, “it’s so risky and uncertain,”, “it’s bound to fail,”, “why rock the boat?”, “we are satisfied the way things are,” etc. In life and in business, complacency is dangerous.
Complacency may be the result of the euphoria of success or people’s refusal to leave their comfort zone and try uncharted waters. It kills creativity and productivity as it stifles attempts to find new ways of thinking and doing and to try something new, different, and never-heard-of-before possibilities. As Walt Disney used to say, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Brainstorming sessions need a large dose of creativity and cannot thrive in a closed, restricted and evaluative mindset and critical environment.
One of the famous authors on the subject of creativity is Dr. Edward de Bono, who developed and published “Six Thinking Hats” as a method of lateral thinking vis-à-vis the stereotyped, conventional horizontal thinking. De Bono stipulated that a person has six modes or direction of thinking designated as metaphorical hats, namely: white, red, black, yellow, blue and green. Each hat represents a specific direction to think, such as white hat for facts, figures and information; red for intuition, emotions and feelings; black for judgment and caution; yellow for logical thinking; blue for a holistic viewpoint; and green for creativity.
Another popular authority on the subject of creative thinking is Tony Buzan who developed Mind Mapping as a means to stimulate creativity via Mind Maps. He has written over 80 books that revolutionized thinking about the brain. His other innovations include Radiant Thinking and Mental Literacy as brain enhancing techniques.
Various trainings and workshops around the breakthrough ideas of de Bono and Buzan are widely conducted in different parts of the world. They come in different attractive titles. For example, the Singapore Institute of Management University (SIM U) regularly conducts the following training programmes, under the heading Creativity & Innovation: New Accelerating Business Results with Megacreativity and Megainnovation, Edward de Bono’s Creativity Course: Lateral Thinking Applications, Making Innovations Happen, Team Creativity – DREAM to Innovate, Buzan Techniques – Building Brainpower, Tony Buzan on PowerLearning, Braindancing, and Tony Buzan: Good Thinking.
Management guru Drucker agreed with the French economist who coined the word “entrepreneur” that innovation means changing the yield or value of resources. It was the same Drucker who proclaimed that entrepreneurship without innovation is not entrepreneurship. In the same book, Drucker gave some useful prescriptions on how to approach innovation in terms of do’s and don’ts.
Some of the do’s are: a) purposeful, systematic innovation begins with analysis of opportunities; b) innovation is both conceptual and perceptual, meaning one has to go out to look, to ask, to listen; c) innovation, to be effective, has to be simple and focused; and d) effective innovations start small. Among the don’ts are: a) don’t try to do too many things at once; and b) don’t try to innovate for the future, innovation is for the present!
Companies and organizations are joining the bandwagon in the creativity and innovation mania. They tout their offerings, products and services as innovative to give them a competitive edge. One can easily see these in newspapers, magazines and televisions. In our own FEU environment, the University has its Entrepreneurship Innovation Research and Development Center (EIRDC).
In the discipline of innovation, change is the common rubric; thus, innovation means creating change. Drucker, advised that to be a successful change leader, an enterprise has to have a policy of systematic innovation. He cautioned the readers, among other things, that innovation is not ‘flash of genius,” but hard work; that readers should not confuse “novelty” with “innovation.” For him, the test of an innovation is that it creates value, while novelty only creates amusement. He emphasized that while core competencies are different for every organization, every organization – not just businesses – needs one core competence: innovation and that every organization must measure and evaluate its innovation performance regularly.
Reis, in his article on innovation, cited two surveys conducted in 2006 - one conducted by the IT giant IBM and the other by a leading US management consulting firm, McKinsey. IBM interviewed 765 CEOs, business executives and public sector leaders from around the world, while McKinsey interviewed 722 senior executives and 736 lower-level executives. Reis summarized the two studies’ main finding - that innovation is vital for the success and survival of the firm. Some salient survey findings mentioned are: a) the innovation mix matters; b) external collaboration is vital; c) talent is often not an issue, but proper deployment and motivation of staff; d) corporate culture, especially unsupportive culture and complacency, is the biggest stumbling block to innovation; and e) innovation starts at the top, that is, making innovation a core part of the leadership agenda, and modeling behavior that encourages innovation such as taking risks.
In Thailand, the Science Society of Thailand, under the Royal Patronage of H.M. the King, initiated the annual Thailand Innovation Awards since 2001 in cooperation with several government and private agencies in order to promote creative potential in Thai youths for the country’s benefit. The Innovation Development Fund was approved by the Cabinet in 1998 to provide support to the country’s innovation development. The Ministry of Science and Technology established the National Innovation Agency (NIA) in 2003 as an autonomous organization supervised by the National Innovation Board to undertake a broad-based and systematic approach in building up the National Innovation System, by fostering strategic innovation and enhancing national competitiveness, etc.
Our own FEU participated in the Innovations Exhibition held in Chiang Mai. Our MBA Entrepreneurship graduate’s entry on an instant hot food vending machine won acclaim by the sponsoring organizations and the public as well as recognition from the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion (OSMEP) of the Ministry of Industry.
Dr. Arnold F. Itao
MBA Entrepreneurship Program,