Boost your creativity – and you will move mountains. Here’s why and how.

In a troubled time, powerful creative new ideas pierce the darkness and paradigm shifts happen. It seems creativity plays an important role here and helps us to create meaningful change.

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Powerful ideas need world changing views

A great and well-known example of such a powerful idea is the in 1905 published relativity theory of Albert Einstein. It wasn’t until that 1919 physicists proved his theory (during a solar eclipse) – and in the middle of one of the worst pandemics in history, with the devastation of the Great War still gripping the world.

Albert Einstein with reason said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Because he looked at his existing business model – classical physics – and knew that classical view on theories and methodology would never explain how to bend light.  Other physicists apparently needed a world pandemic to move away from that classical view

Einstein’s theory eventually influenced the world in ways he could not even have foreseen with implications far beyond science, greatly impacting our society.

Meaningful lasting change

So in order to create meaningful change, you need the ability to see the world outside of current conventions. A pandemic like COVID-19 creates these big paradigm shifts, as it brutally forces us to refocus on current conventions and ideas. This means the first basic ingredient to trigger out of the box thinking is here.

And indeed in times of crisis we get creative in finding new solutions.

  1. Only a few tech companies were considered fully distributed – with a fully remote team without a brick and beam office before covid-19. After: Businesses everywhere quickly implemented a remote first work policy during covid-19 and few will go back to brick and beam only. Small and larger companies that service remote infrastructure saw a spike in their demand and business results.
  2. Schools & Universities in lockdown quickly responded with home schooling programs – some schools will continue to offer these.
  3. Local shops and restaurants added home delivery to their distribution channels. Food delivery services saw a spike on their platform demand and business results.
  4. Museums that were closed during the pandemic started offering online exhibitions.
  5. Bands that could not perform in concert halls started giving online studio concerts and shows.

We can already see some innovations in healthcare accelerated by the pandemic that will live beyond its end. For example, remote care and telemedicine will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic more attractive than they were prior.

But we have yet to see more profound solutions from this crisis that have long term big impact and will create meaningful change.

And the big question is, can we nurture this unlocked creativity and awareness towards even greater potential and have it survive past the stages of a world pandemic?

Do more than challenge the status quo

There’s those wanting to go back to normal after the crisis – to the status quo of before – and those who are looking for a new normal – seeking a new status quo. Does this sound familiar to you? That is probably because it is a well known challenge when innovating. It is what real entrepreneurs do – they challenge the status quo every day.

To give a simple example:

  1. Airlines are desperate to get back to the time before covid-19, and expect (maybe with some extra safety precautions) to be back to the same level of business within 2 years time, at the same time..
  2. ..Businesses now have experienced the benefits of remote work and online-meetings and have invested quickly in supporting software and personnel to work from home. Businesses with international relations now see the cost saved on their balance sheet of the saved airline tickets and will cut back on airline travel.

A clear example of how one sector of the economy seeks to innovate – in this case by increasing the efficiency of its established business – and affects another profoundly in doing so.

In an earlier post I described this efficiency objective and two other objectives of innovation. But only one objective leads to real innovation. Although saving costs can be a trigger and a good crisis makes businesses reflect on any unnecessary expense – it is hardly groundbreaking.

You might say, “yeah – but the difference this time is the scale of things – a lot of companies moving towards optimizing efficiency and cutting back on unnecessary air travel will have a big impact on airlines worldwide”. True, but still it is not considered real innovation.

Simply challenging the status quo is not enough.

Real innovation comes from changing business models and new value propositions. In the combination of the right value propositions and business models, new technologies create new growth engines according to Alex Osterwalder – CEO of Strategizer.

So in our example, fresh businesses with new business models and value propositions – stepping in this growing niche offering new services to businesses working remote – will however be considered real innovators.

Let’s take a deeper look at this creativity that fuels the drive to create these new growth engines, and what it takes to foster creativity long term – crisis or no crisis.

Creativity as fuel for real innovation

Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile stated, “innovation is the successful implementation of creative ideas within an organization.”

Amabile defines creative thinking as “how people approach problems and solutions—their capacity to put existing ideas together in new combinations,” not just come up with new ones all together.

In business, originality isn’t enough,” says Amabile. “To be creative, an idea must improve a product or open up a new way to approach a process.” 

And Osterwalder adds “When you innovate to create new growth engines historical data is often useless and you might need to question the value propositions and business model(s) that worked marvelously so far, but might not be a fit for the future.

Remember Einstein? He stated that the theory of relativity belongs to a class of “principle-theories”. As such, it employs an analytic method, which means that the elements of this theory are not based on hypothesis but on empirical discovery.

No aha moments or single flash of brilliance. The problem with the “Eureka Myth,” as termed by Burkus author of The Myths of Creativity, is that it provides a convenient excuse for procrastinating while waiting for the aha moment to strike. In reality, creativity involves weeks (or months) of idea incubation.

How to support creativity

Creativity or unconventional thinking is essential in just about every aspect of business. 

study by Adobe and Forrester found that 82% of companies believe there is a strong link between creativity and business results. According to the report, companies that actively foster creative thinking outperform their rivals in revenue growth, market share, and competitive leadership.

So how to continually support that creativity and not wait for a new crisis to question your business, your value proposition or any of your business objectives for that matter?

My thoughts on the matter. A creative process is iterative and often kind of messy. But the creative process enables us to freely try out things, test things, build and rebuild, draw, erase, write and rewrite, redesign, play around with various angles until we think we got it all just right.

So it is important to foster an environment that supports that creative messy iterative process of empirical discovery.

There are quite a few proven methods to follow – from initial simple mind mapping techniques to business methodologies like Value Proposition Design. These help you organize the process, test and learn, set up the new business and monitor results.

Also most successful entrepreneurs I know have an insatiable inquisitive mind. When you broaden your knowledge base by learning something new you foster new ideas and divergent thinking.

The thing is – there is just never a straight line to success. But when you are able to combine the creative messy process that dominates your daily train of thoughts with a structured approach, at those moments you can move mountains.