Should creativity in innovation be a disciplined and well-defined process?

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Answer: it depends!

Imagine a child in a safe play area full of toys and colourful paraphernalia of every age-appropriate description.   Do you limit them with discipline and a well-defined process for how to play? Most of you will say no, and you allow that child to do what they like within the safe space of that play area. The child just needs a few items of anything safe and the space and time to be creative.

That child grows up and becomes an innovation executive. Their toys are thousands of published toolkits and resources available out there for the innovation process. Maybe each of these qualifies as a well-defined process, but an innovation specialist will not use any of them in textbook style. They will pick and choose which bit of which tool to integrate into their own ideas and flow with where the process takes them. 

In their article ‘In Conversation: The CFO’s critical role in innovation‘, Matt Banholzer discusses a CFO’s support for innovation and describes their need for a disciplined and well-defined process that they can understand and mitigate the risks. Thus the question begged itself, are “discipline and well-defined processes” compatible with innovation?

Each team, each client, and each case is different – understanding the limits that exist and allowing creative problem solving within them is the key.

Sawsan Khuri

Innovation is based on creativity, understanding the problem, and generating ideas for solutions before converging on one or two to test. There are messy parts of the innovation process before a plan emerges. It is clear that there is a need to have some limits and boundaries that define the scope of the problem and the capacity of the team and the organisation at hand. Yet, these limits should be seen as external to the process of innovation, not intrinsic to it. In other words, it should be possible to innovate within these limits – whether in a disciplined and well-defined process or not.

At Collaborative Capacities, we have helped individuals and teams navigate through the innovation ‘mess’ and allowed them to arrive with clarity and purpose on the other side. Problem-solving is a creative process, and some teams might need to give themselves permission to unlock and untether from their constraints in order to arrive at meaningful and sustainable solutions. We spend however long it takes with a team so used to their constraints that they have forgotten how to think creatively beyond them. We also spend the same amount of time with clients so creative they need limits in order to achieve any progress at all.

In conclusion, it is hard to think of innovation and discipline in the same sentence without adding ‘it depends. As with everything else, there is a continuum; some teams need more framing than others.  Each team, each client, and each case is different – understanding the limits that exist and allowing creative problem solving within them is the key.

About the author

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Sawsan Khuri is a professional facilitator of collaborative innovation at Collaborative Capacities. Get in touch if we can help you sift through your ideas and work with others to make them happen. Known for going beyond traditional boundaries and allowing solutions to emerge from the collective intelligence at the meeting. She energises, enlightens, and enables you to unleash creativity, boost innovation, and accelerate outcomes. Her work is inclusive, creative, and focused on outcomes, using a systems-based, human-centric approach. Find more about her work on her website or through LinkedIn or Twitter.