The importance of creativity in business

The blog post on 30 May, talked about creativity being at the heart of scaling up, but creativity is also at the heart of developing and building any business, as Dr Leonie Baldacchino, Director of the Edward de Bono Institute for the Design and Development of Thinking at the University of Malta, explains in this interview.

At the SME Assembly in Luxembourg last November you explained how everyone can be more creative. Could you give a brief overview of how this can be achieved?

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I view creativity as a skill.  Since a skill is an ability that is learned through practice, I believe that everyone can be more creative by engaging in regular creative thinking exercises.  

Let’s take swimming as an analogy.  Human beings are born with the potential to learn how to swim but, in order to become competent swimmers, they must first acquire basic swimming skills, followed by many hours of training in the pool to enhance their technique, strength and endurance. Similarly, human beings are born with the potential to be creative, but attaining this potential requires skill acquisition followed by regular practice to internalise creative thinking skills and develop expertise.  

One of the simplest exercises that one can carry out to enhance creativity is the application of divergent thinking to everyday objects. Divergent thinking refers to the generation of multiple responses or solutions to a particular stimulus or problem. This is regarded as a key skill in creativity as it enables individuals to generate many different ideas. Getting into the habit of generating alternatives by, for example, thinking of many different (and unusual) uses for common items like a sock, a wheel or a piece of paper, enhances one of the most basic skills in creativity.

Many tools and techniques are available to help us be more creative. Some may seem awkward or difficult to the uninitiated but, just like swimming becomes effortless to the swimmer who glides through the water after mastering the relevant techniques, creativity becomes second nature to individuals who make use of creative thinking tools on a regular basis.

A great deal has been written about innovation and its importance for entrepreneurs. How does this differ from creativity and how do you see the role of creativity in business?

I view creativity and innovation as overlapping constructs at two ends of the creative process.  Creativity is the first stage in the creative process and occurs when an individual has an idea that is both new and useful. Innovation is the last stage of the process and refers to the implementation of a creative idea in order to derive value. Innovations can take various forms, including products, services, processes and technologies. The defining feature is that they must be different from and better than what is already available in a particular context. Therefore, before ideas are implemented, they are generally screened to determine their novelty, added-value, feasibility and compatibility with business objectives to ensure their appropriateness for particular settings.    

It has become widely accepted that creativity and innovation are crucial for business success, especially in the ever-changing and uncertain world which we live in today.  Creative thinking is required to regularly come up with new ideas to solve problems that may arise, and to address the challenges brought about by changing customer requirements, market structures, or competitive fields.  However, the reactive function of creativity in the face of change is only one half of the picture.  Creativity is also concerned with instigating change on the basis of a new idea or concept, not because there is a problem to solve, but because an opportunity for improvement has been recognised.  Entrepreneurs who run high-growth businesses do not simply adapt to changes in their environment, but are actively involved in disrupting and creating new markets, i.e., they are trendsetters, not followers.  This proactive side of creativity is especially important in today’s highly competitive business world in which players are constantly striving for that added advantage, thus rendering the mere maintenance of one’s current position insufficient.  

Some businesses outsource their R & D and their product development but it seems likely you would not suggest this solution, but would, rather, encourage the business to build their capacity for creativity. Can you offer some guidance on increasing creative capacity across a business as a whole?

There are many ways in which entrepreneurs and managers can increase the creative capacity of their businesses.  First, they must realise that they have a very important role to play in providing top-down support for creativity and innovation as their beliefs, attitudes and behaviours invariably lay the foundations on which their organisation’s practices and policies are built.  Second, they should appreciate that, if given the opportunity, each and every member of an organisation has the potential to contribute to the creative capacity of a business, as they often have ideas that could lead to an improvement in some aspect of the organisation.

Business leaders must therefore walk the walk by creating a climate that is characterised by a high level of trust and open communication across all levels to foster creativity and innovation.  Furthermore they should actively encourage idea generation, risk-taking and experimentation, and they should treat failures that are made in the pursuit of innovation as learning opportunities.  Furthermore, a system must be in place to facilitate the generation, communication, evaluation and implementation of employee ideas. Such systems, which are generally referred to as idea management or innovation management systems, are a set of procedures that dictate what should happen when employees have ideas that they would like to propose to their organisation.  Many people believe that structures and procedures are detrimental to creativity and innovation, but without such a system, ideas are likely to fizzle out and die before they can ever be implemented.

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You’ve already described the creativity process and how to build and develop creativity as a skill set, could you now give a brief outline of the academic programmes in this field that you run at the University of Malta.

The Edward de Bono Institute for the Design and Development of Thinking at the University of Malta offers a Master in Creativity and Innovation, a part-time evening Diploma in Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, as well as a PhD programme in these subject areas.

The Master in Creativity and Innovation is an interdisciplinary programme designed to assist participants to expand their perception, employ creative skills, develop ideas individually and within teams, sustain a creative climate and manage innovation.  This programme attracts professionals from a broad base of disciplines from the local and international scene.  

The Diploma in Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship is aimed at individuals who would like to further their education and improve their career prospects but are not in a position to attend full-time day courses due to other commitments. Students shall develop knowledge, transferable skills and attitudes concerning creativity and idea generation, innovation (including innovation management), and entrepreneurship.  

The PhD programme is aimed at individuals who would like to undertake research at a Doctoral level in one of the Institute’s subject areas, namely creativity, innovation (including innovation management), entrepreneurship, or foresight (futures studies).

For further information:

 

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