February 2017

Innovation Killers and the Four Tenets of Creativity

Ken LizotteBy Ken Lizotte, CMC

Everyone talks about ramping up innovation at their companies ... but what if you want to destroy it? Memorize these surefire ways to stop creativity in its tracks:

  • "We tried that before."
  • "It's a good idea, but we really haven't time to implement it."
  • "You're joking, of course."
  • "That's all very well in theory, but practically speaking . . . "
  • "Top management will never go for it."
  • "Hey, we've never done it that way before!"
  • "You're way ahead of your time ... heh-heh."
  • "Has anyone else ever tried it?"
  • "We just don't have the money, sorry."
  • "We should form a committee and study this idea further."

You’ve heard at least one of these before, yes?

Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with caution. Actuaries understand risk more than most. But all too often, caution and fear of what could go wrong is used as an excuse to never venture outside an organization’s comfort zone. And such complacency can be deadly.

Thought Leaders in times past have had other ideas:

  • "In the long history of humankind (and animal kind too), those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed." — Charles Darwin
  • "There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only those with unexpected outcomes." — Buckminster Fuller
  • "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." — Henry David Thoreau
  • "Think wrongly if you please, but in all cases think for yourself." — Doris Lessing
  • "If you can dream it, you can do it." — Walt Disney
  • "Imagination is more important than knowledge." — Albert Einstein

Every business faces a choice every day in terms of which path it will take when attempting to drive sales and revenue and beat out the competition. Most, unfortunately, choose the wrong path, which is to rely on what they already know, what they have always known, what has enabled them to sell their wares for perhaps decades.

How can entrepreneurial actuaries fight back against the innovation killers and the closed mindset they carry? Below are what I call the four tenets of creativity. Take a look, and ask yourself how you might integrate these tenets into your own company culture. 

  1. Let ideas fly. Managers and even colleagues must learn to resist the temptation to blurt out, “That’ll never work!” during a meeting, and especially during a brainstorming session. The essence of creativity is to let all ideas fly, no matter how wild, impractical, or outrageous they may be. Even putting totally wacky ideas on a white board for all to see could end up opening the discussion to an ultimately practical solution. No idea should be considered unworthy.
  2. Failure is desirable. Yes, yes, yes. Many companies give lip service to the idea that it’s OK to fail, that making mistakes and that getting things wrong is par for the course. But then, if you really do mess up? Look out!

    Instead, actuaries who are committed to innovation will invite open discussion of mistakes and failures on the theory that there’s always a lesson to be learned from them. Failure must be understood as only one possible outcome in the overall game.

  3. Be intentional with color, music and quiet. The first things to go when budgets get tight in our schools, it seems, are such “nonessentials” as art and music. Yet many brain studies indicate that creativity is amplified when such traditionally “peripheral” educational activities are included in the curriculum.

    Thus, creative firms find ways to allow music in the work environment, maintain a colorful décor, and encourage teams to take downtime and space to think.

  4. Travel roads not traveled.If a company intends to truly transform itself into one that routinely practices innovation, it must take risks as a culture. That means choosing unknown directions, attempting grand experiments—leaping off cliffs! Step out of your traditional business practices when they seem not to be working and try something unusual, or even whacky. 

    Thought leaders don’t simply regurgitate age-old notions. They turn them on their ears and examine them from new angles. Every individual on our planet has a unique perspective, and when thought leaders commit themselves to ongoing inquiry, fresh thinking results and the thought leader’s knowledge, interpretation, and practices evolve. This permits true thought leading and innovation to take place.

Ken Lizotte, CMC, is chief imaginative officer (CIO) of emerson consulting group.  He can be contacted at www.thoughtleading.com.