The Power of Ideas not Being harnessed Enough
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The Power of Ideas not Being harnessed Enough

Most ideas are never used, or even remembered. They come, flash brightly, and are gone again. The neural connections that generate new ideas are fleeting, electrochemical sparklets easily lost in the flow of conscious thought and unconscious churn. New ideas are formed in the high pressure zone between the known and certain, and the unknown and unpredictable — when we allow our minds to wander freely while attached to some point of reference residing in what we know; anchored, as it were, in the ordered while perusing the disordered.

Creativity is in part about connecting what is in our heads with ideas from “the edge” and seeing patterns and vectors which may not be apparent to anybody else at the time. This is an entirely subjective process, so any framework designed to capture the ideas of those around you needs to take into consideration the simple fact they all those people will probably work in different ways.

“The problem is that the broad world of ideas has become largely separated from the world of business.”

That new ideas are vital and that there are not enough of them may seem self-evident. Unfortunately, as with many things in life, just knowing the problem does not necessarily get us any closer to solving it. A study by the eminent recruitment consultancy Robert Half found that a third of Chief Financial Officers in the US see lack of new ideas as the biggest barrier to their companies becoming more innovative. It would be too easy to giggle smugly at that statement as being obvious, but let us consider its heft for a moment. Top managers believe that their companies are not innovative enough because their people do not have enough new ideas. This is after we have had decades of creative thinking training, long yardage of shelves filled with creativity books by top notch specialists, and study after study pointing to the economic importance of innovation. Rick Wartzman of the Drucker Institute has been quoted mirroring that sentiment: “The problem is that the broad world of ideas has become largely separated from the world of business.”

An ideation workshop at an e-commerce company.

Part of the problem lies not in there not being enough ideas, but in not enough ideas being captured. Jennifer Mueller, with Cheryl Wakslak and Viswanathan Krishnan, in their 2013 article “Construing creativity: The how and why of recognizing creative ideas” in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology put it simply: “the bottleneck in innovation is increasingly in the recognition of creative ideas as much as the generation of ideas.” The Robert Half study, with understatement typical of high-end consultancies, adds “Getting your staff to think creatively isn’t always easy.” Indeed. Can it be fixed? Well, Robert Half put “give your employees a reason to care” as the number one way to “encourage creativity and innovation in your team.”

This is an indication that creativity grows out of engagement and we know that engagement grows out of having a purpose — a purpose beyond showing up, going through the motions and collecting the pay. Interestingly, the №2 on that list is “Empower your employees to make decisions and take action.” Empowerment, engagement and creativity are, evidently, all to be imbibed from the same vessel.