A beautiful aspect of innovation is that it is rooted in creativity and inspires non-linear thinking in a structured environment. While I completely agree that an innovation (and strategy) function should bring creativity into a company, it would also be wrong to think that innovation does not have room for process and analytics. In fact, a successful innovator embraces both as part of the growth equation.
A leader must first lead change while acting as the conductor that balances the left and right brain of an organization. It starts out with understanding the reality of your company. You must understand the culture, where the organization must grow and have credibility with stakeholders at all levels of the company.
Often, companies fall victim to “analysis paralysis” and need an infusion of different and creative thinking, but in a highly analytic culture, you may need to insert analytic proof points to garner credibility. Likewise, highly creative cultures may need to embrace a framework of process and analytics that does not squash creativity and helps convert ideas to action by challenging the thinking and forcing execution.
Leaders must constantly balance (or instigate) the creative and analytic tension, with a clear understanding of how the company operates in that equation. Here are some items to help find the right balance:
Diverse teams. Diversity is fundamental for any innovative process as you get different perspectives to fuel, improve and implement new ideas. The diversity equation requires leaders to surround themselves with the right balance of creative and analytic thinking. Does your team all think alike, or do you have divergent thinkers? Does the team consist of all quantitative and process-driven individuals? Or are they all highly creative with disdain for analytics? You need to find the right balance for your teams and not fear those that think different especially if it different than you. Diverse teams not only consist of the extremes but also individuals that can operate on both sides of the spectrum.
Conflict is good. I have discussed before that an innovator has to be able to embrace risk and conflict in order to fuel innovative thinking. Whole-brain innovation must allow conflict and debate between creative and analytic. You could expand that conflict by injecting non-linear thinking into a linear process or by implementing constraints and process in an unstructured, highly creative session or environment. The conflict and tension is essential to create a unique solution to market problems.
Process & Analytics are critical to innovation (and creativity.) While the topic of innovation in companies usually focuses on the need for more creativity, a successful innovation program needs to embrace and use process and analytics. A creative process is just that, a process. You need the discipline not just to make sure the process moves and is accountable to the broader needs of the company, but to create the tension needed that sometimes create the best innovation. Constraints – applied appropriately – gives creativity a purpose, often delivering the most impactful concepts.
Analytics and data could be used from a couple of perspectives. First and foremost, data is fuel and validation. It anchors the problem and delivers critical insight into how your innovation process performs. Receiving data throughout a project also gives you a necessary feedback loop, serving as a bridge to translate what might be abstract and new to what is important and strategic to the company. How to balance the right amount of process and analytics and when is a fundamental duty of the leader.
Enabling Creativity. Creativity in a company is more than just hiring creative thinkers and having ideation sessions. You need to weave it into the fabric of the organization and the innovation process in a way that it is not rejected. Again, knowing the culture of your company is fundamental to figuring this out but your role is to inject creativity in a way that challenges norms and helps find new solutions to market problems.
Enabling creativity is finding the right moments, the right process and the right people to create the right amount of friction within the company to drive innovative thinking. You need to make sure that creative thinking does not get dismissed as a fad, or you will lose credibility in your role. Likewise, you need to make sure you provide balance to the thinking style of the organization and implement programs that enable creative thinking.
Confusion tolerance helps you become a whole-brain leader. Most people like clarity in what is next and want provided to them a clear solution to the problem. With innovation, the first answer is rarely the best one. Part of your role is to allow some “confusion” to exist as you search for creative answers to market problems. If your team builds a solution purely on analytics, you need to introduce some non-linear or creative methods.
If the solution is entirely from “out of the box” ideation sessions, you should inject some analytics and constraints. Be sure to balance structure with unstructured and vice versa. This may cause some frustration with the “confusion” it creates, but you need to help the organization navigate ambiguity in order to lead it to an innovative answer that is not the obvious one but the answer that disrupts the market and solves problems.
Innovation is not (and should not be) easy, and it is a true multidiscipline process. Innovators need to make room for creativity and analytics to co-exist in order to produce impactful results. Understand the culture and methods of your company and constantly challenge the norms to enable a whole-brain innovation process. Your role leading innovation is about finding the right balance and to embrace the conflict and friction this creates while making sure it yields tangible results.
This article was originally published on Enterprise Innovation, a leading publication for corporate innovation profiles, news and guidance.