Hide out in any brainstorming session and listen carefully. Hear that grinding noise? It’s the sound of corporate brains cranking out ideas that will never see the light of day. Too much of that goes on in organizations, according to Jeffrey Govendo, president of The Innovative Edge, a consulting company in Hopkinton, Mass. Govendo specializes not just in getting ideas out but in teaching people to accept them and turn them into viable business options. For more on innovation, watch for the CIO-100 special awards issue on Aug. 15.
CIO: Do most people think of themselves as creative?
Govendo: I think the majority of people don’t consider themselves particularly creative. But creativity is an inherently human trait that we all have. It’s the ability to make connections between things that seem dissimilar, to put them together in a new way. We grow up in environments that reward getting it right the first time, so we learn to play it safe and stop exercising our more creative side.
What usually happens to new ideas?
The newer the idea, the less likely we are to receive it favorably, because new ideas are going to have flaws. Left to their own devices, most people will zero in on what’s wrong with an idea. That’s when a brand-new idea gets killed. We must not only accept ideas others are offering but actively listen for parts we can build on. I also teach a technique that I call the “side trip” in which seemingly irrelevant stimuli jog thinking into new directions.
Tell me more about side trips.
Once I was working with a group from a large German company attempting to come up with new business opportunities in open enterprise computing. We were meeting in an old country mansion outside Munich. When the group seemed to be running out of ideas, I asked people to find an interesting object in the inn and bring it back to the group. People brought statues, plants, a soup tureen?objects that had nothing at all to do with the subject we were working on. The idea was to focus on these objects and do some free associations. The effect was dramatic; they generated dozens more ideas in areas they hadn’t even touched on. At least one of these led to a product that was eventually commercialized and spun off as a new company, which has been very successful. The key to this technique is getting people to listen approximately, rather than literally, to each other’s ideas.
What’s the difference between creativity and innovation?
An innovation is a creative concept that you’ve figured out how to use. Creativity is the raw material for innovation.