The ROI of Creativity

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Creativity has always been at the heart of innovation. Businesses, organizations, and societies that understand this link can drive innovative growth for a more prosperous future. Below leaders can learn the benefits of innovation and how to foster an atmosphere of creativity in their teams.

What is Creativity? 

Creativity is a phenomenon where something somehow new and valuable is formed. This can be found in disciplines to form an idea such as scientific theory, musical composition – or in a physical object like an invention, literary work, or a painting.  

“Creativity is the process of bringing something new into being. Creativity requires passion and commitment. It brings to our awareness what was previously hidden and points to new life. The experience is one of heightened consciousness: ecstasy.” – Rollo May, The Courage to Create (1994) 

Creativity is a crucial part and discipline of business and organizational innovation. The ability to view things in new ways or from a different perspective allows for the generation of new possibilities or new alternatives. This balancing of perspectives then allows one to implement an improved product, service, or product that creates value for businesses, government, or society. 

What are the Economic Benefits of Creativity?

In Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, he argues that the left-brain linear and analytical thinking is being replaced by the right-brain empathy and understanding skills most needed by businesses. 

Creativity gives you a competitive advantage by adding value to your service or product and differentiating your business from the competition. In other words, creativity with innovation gives you a competitive edge in the market. 

As ex-CEO of IBM, Sam Palmisano said: “Either you innovate or you’re in commodity hell. If you do what everybody else does, you have a low-margin business. That’s not where we want to be.” (2004) 

Organizations that understand that the root of innovation and business performance is creativity, actively nurture this in their employees will win in their respective marketplaces. 

Examples of the benefits in Creativity Training include:

  1. The Wall Street Journal reported that a two-year in-house creativity course at General Electric resulted in a 60% increase in patentable concepts
  2. Hewlett-Packard invested over $2 billion in R&D in 1999 and generated more than 1,300 patent applications. Net revenue: $42.37 billion
  3. At Sylvania, several thousand employees took a 40-hour course in creative problem-solving. ROI: $20 for every $1 spent.
  4. Participants in Pittsburgh Plate Glass creativity training showed a 300% increase in viable ideas compared with those who chose not to take the course
  5. 85% of U.S. respondents from Adobe’s Global Study on Creativity in Business say creativity makes them better leaders, parents, and students

Can Creativity be Taught?

Can creativity be retaught and nurtured in adults? Yes. PhD scientist, George Land’s work reveals that we are naturally creative and as we grow up we learn to be uncreative.

Creativity has been buried by rules and regulations, the system teaches us that to be a good employee one must follow precisely defined instructions. It’s a skill that can be developed by experimenting, exploring, questioning assumptions, using imagination and synthesizing information. 

In Clayton M. Christensen’s book The Innovator’s DNA, he shares that your ability to generate innovative ideas is a function of five key behaviours that optimize your brain for discovery:

  1. Associating: drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields
  2. Questioning: posing queries that challenge common wisdom, being curious 
  3. Observing: scrutinizing the behaviour of customers, suppliers, and competitors to identify new ways of doing things
  4. Networking: meeting people with different ideas and perspectives
  5. Experimenting: constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge

“Creativeness is the ability to see relationships where none exist.” — Thomas Disch, author, 334, (1974)

Regardless of industry, creativity thrives with leadership support. This nurturing, funding and promotion of creative ability can lead to national economic benefit. Learning to be creative is like learning a sport. It requires practice to develop the right muscles and a supportive environment in which to flourish.

To create this type of environment in your business today plan a dialogue around these questions:

  1. How will leadership nurture, fund, and promote programs to increase creative capability
  2. How will you overcome the barriers that stifle creativity at work?
  3. How will you close the gap between creativity and standardized productivity?
  4. What goals will you set for creative outcomes?

Creating a Future of Innovation  

Often the belief that only special, talented people were born creative geniuses diminishes our confidence to be creative. When in fact, figures such as Shakespeare, Picasso, and Mozart did not reach high levels of achievement in their field without hours of serious training, nurturing, and encouragement.  

Mozart trained for 16 years before he produced an acknowledged masterwork. Moreover, many high performers today achieve levels of excellence today that match Mozart’s, whether it be in science, business, art, or athletics through discipline, hard work, and support. 

One can hope for a future where government and business leaders actively promote investments into arts and creativity education which in turn supports society with more whole-brain integrative thinkers. For art and science have always informed and inspired each other – it’s time to unify them as one again. 


Tolu Aibana is a 2018 Venture for Canada fellow, who believes in creating positive change through...