Creativity and Innovation in Business

Why is WD40 called by that name? Because the first 39 formulas did not work. The company just celebrated their 50th anniversary of the winning formula – and it attests to the idea that a willingness to try, fail, and try again is a critically important piece of innovation.

This was just one of the interesting insights offered by Tom Kelley, General Manager of IDEO, #5 on the Fast Company 2008 list of the top 50 most innovative companies in the world, at the 25th annual Institute for Emerging Issues forum, North Carolina’s annual conference that brings business leaders, policymakers and the public together to talk about the top issues facing the state.

The conference, held in early February, focused on “Creativity,” a theme that blended nuts and bolts strategies to promote innovation, economic development, and entrepreneurship with artistic performances and presentations from thought leaders.

A number of high-profile speakers, like Kelley and David Pink, a best-selling author on innovation, offered nuggets of wisdom that readers of this employee engagement blog may benefit from:

Daniel Pink:

  • Any kind of routine work is becoming obsolete -- accounting, engineering, information technology, law – if it can be put on a spec sheet with one right answer, it is routine, and it is cheaper to have it done in India or by a computer.   For example, 1 million U.S. tax returns were done in India last year; 23 million were done on TurboTax.  The prescription: the U.S. must increase the creative content of all jobs.
  • The world belongs to the "Ts" – people with both depth of knowledge and skills and breadth as thinkers – the engineers and scientists who think like artists and vice versa.

Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto:

  • We are exalting analytical thinking over creative thinking. No new ideas ever came about via analytical thinking (inductive or deductive logic).  They come from creative/intuitive thinking (adductive logic).  Both are important.  We need a nexus of the two which leads to design thinking, which is the basis of a creativity-oriented economy.
  • People are paid more in creative jobs because they use more of their brain. One solution is to increase the creative content of all jobs.
  • In the worst of times, unemployment in the creative-oriented jobs doesn’t even reach 4%; there is usually a shortage of skilled workers. In routine jobs unemployment rarely gets as low as 4% but is generally much higher.
  • Don’t conflate creativity with high tech – high tech is only 1% of the economy or 1 in 56 jobs.

Tom Kelley:

  • Sony, the electronics giant, slowed their pace of innovation, allowing Samsung to outpace them in electronics in 2004.  Samsung remains dominant. One reason? Samsung did “listening posts” where employees from any level contributed ideas and older people listened to younger people.

John Denniston of Kleiner Perkins; listed in 2009 by Fast Company as one of the 100 most creative people in business:

  • The U.S. is home to only two top solar, two top wind, and one top advanced battery maker. We have only 17% of the global market share in Cleantech.  We must not take our technical dominance for granted.

--Anne Claire Broughton and Christa Wagner contributed to this post.