Creativity and re-usability
“Creativity and innovation are overrated, misunderstood and imbalanced”
From many channels, I see and hear a lot of focus on creativity and innovation lately. Blogs, workshops, opinions, … While I agree that innovation and creativity are highly important, I think most of the opinions on these topics are highly one-sided, consider innovation and creativity the ultimate recipe for pretty much everything, don’t see the bigger picture and sometimes even consider “the opposite” of creativity and innovation to be kind of evil (e.g. the word ‘processes’ is very often connected with lots of negative emotions). I want to give a complementary, more balanced perspective.
1. Creativity and innovation are imbalanced
Sure, you want to invent the wheel, but you don’t want to reinvent the wheel over and over and over again. You want a balance between creativity and innovation on one side and re-usability on the other side. Let’s take a look at both to understand the differences and synergies.
Creativity and innovation are necessary to come up with something new. That’s highly useful, for example, when starting a new business or for the sustainability of the business – you could have the best methods and tools for … well, whatever … in the 20th century, but those methods and tools would be most likely outdated today. The result of innovation and creativity is something new, something unexpected, something unpredicted and you cannot control it much. The process of innovation and creativity is very hard to control as well. And since you have a limited amount of control over innovation and creativity (either process or result), it’s quite hard to work with it, try to improve in it, try to get the most out of it.
Re-usability is the complementary quality in many aspects. Re-usability is highly useful for efficiency and productivity. For reoccurring activities, re-usability decreases the price and costs, provides the result faster, in higher quality, with less risk and uncertainty and often, it even increases the enjoyment we have in the process. The result of re-usability is something expected, predictable and you have control over it. The process of re-usability is also quite easy to control – checklists, templates, processes, best practices, automation, … And since you have significant control over re-usability, it’s quite easy to work with it and try to improve in it, try to get the most out of it.
2. Creativity and innovation are misunderstood
Let’s say you are the CEO of a software company. Do you want your product managers to have a semi-random, creative, innovative process of roadmap creation or do you prefer your product managers to use effective, time-proven processes for roadmap creation? Wouldn’t you be afraid that if your product managers use only creativity and innovation to generate possible feature ideas, they would forget on many great channels to come to ideas? Would you like your product managers to choose between possible ideas only based on their feelings, intuition, random thoughts (and maybe, consciously or subconsciously, personal incentives) or would you be rather they also include some good, time-proven criteria in the decision making? E.g. expected user value, strategic value, financial value, agreement with the company’s vision, price, risk?
Let’s say you are a customer of a software company. Would you be rather if the quality assurance process of new features is primarily creative and innovative or would you be rather if the quality assurance process includes following some good, properly designed, time-proven standards, best practices, checklists, templates, and processes?
Do you want to live in a house build creatively and innovatively? Wouldn’t you be afraid that it will fall down on you and kill you? And what do you think the price will be if the quality is sufficiently high and somehow reasonably guaranteed?
If your knee hurts, will you prefer to go to a creative and innovative doctor who might use some creative and innovative solution like stabbing your eye to save you from knee-related pain? I guess you will forget that your knee hurts if you suddenly miss one eye.
My point is… Maybe – just maybe – the activity where you try to improve is better to improve by using re-usability rather than innovation and creativity? Or at least, use more balance between creativity, innovation, and re-usability?
3. Creativity and innovation are overrated
Creativity is like happiness.
Many of us consider happiness and ‘emotional well-being’ the holy grail of all our effort. Good life equals a happy life. However, it is quite a well-known opinion supported by many research studies and personal experiences (including mine) that focusing on happiness often increases misery. The reasoning is simple. Focus on happiness -> me, myself and I thinking -> separation from others -> disconnection -> fear, envy, anger -> frustration and depression. Happiness is easier to achieve as a byproduct of focusing elsewhere – focusing on cultivating one’s humility, loving-kindness, helping others, compassion, thankfulness, patience, …
Maybe creativity and innovation are like happiness? Maybe we get more creativity and innovation if we focus elsewhere than on creativity and innovation? For example on a purpose, vision, customer needs, market needs, delivering value? Was the airplane invented as a result of ‘let’s be creative and innovative’ effort or as a result of the desire to satisfy specific human needs? If you don’t trust my intuition or your intuition on this topic, there’s also some research supporting I might be right. The article by Chad A. Hartnell, Amy Yi Ou, and Angelo Kinicki in “Organizational Culture and Organizational Effectiveness: A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Competing Values Framework’s Theoretical Suppositions” was testing several hypotheses including a hypothesis that “Adhocracy cultures have a significantly stronger positive relationship with innovation than do clan and market cultures.” Result of testing this hypothesis was that market cultures (oriented on competition, fulfilling market/customer needs, results, getting the job done) seem to have stronger relationships with innovation than adhocracy cultures (oriented primarily on creativity, innovation, and change).
Conclusion: Hope this article increases your understanding of creativity and innovation and that it gives you a more balanced perspective to look at creativity and innovation.