Creativity First, Innovation Will Follow


Alright, I am officially obsessing about creativity.

This has everything to do with the intense interest in innovation.

Discussions about innovation seem to be everywhere — yet, we don’t to fully understand how to cultivate it. Yes, innovation is a critical concept in today’s workplaces. Yes, it is necessary for us to move forward. However, I can’t help but think that we might be putting the cart before the horse.

Which leads me to one crux of the innovation dilemma.

When it comes to innovation — don’t we need creativity to be there to pave the road?

In this regard, it is wise to learn from the masters. I’ve just listened to HBR’s interview with Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios. Undeniably, the folks at Pixar seem to have a handle on the creativity realm and the innovative results which follow. Catmull explains that the dynamic they have built to foster innovation at his studio isn’t perfect. However, the employed creative process has successfully contributed to quite a few incredible game-changing outcomes. (Consider Toy Story for a moment).

The ideas Catmull proposes to encourage creativity may initially make us uncomfortable and against the grain of how we might usually work. But, the dynamic has undeniably been proven to be a winner.

Here are a few of Pixar’s strategies to consider:

  • Banish perfectionism. There is a misconception that an idea has to be perfected to share it. Throw that rule out the window — and take a leap of faith to trust your team. Share your ideas earlier and gain useful input to build on its strengths.
  • Don’t let risk dictate. Give ideas enough time to “flesh out” before the looming possibility of risk snuffs out the possibilities. Evaluate risk as time goes on, and address those risks one step at a time — after the true potential of the idea is presented.
  • Don’t focus on just one idea. Becoming creative isn’t about locking in on one idea and never letting in another creative thought. Look to accumulate a number of ideas, and group them to help catapult a project forward. If you work in a group (as they do at Pixar), let a number of ideas from different contributors co-exist for a time. See what develops.
  • Not all ideas are instant money makers. Sometimes the process of following a creative path is simply good for the soul. Even if the idea doesn’t prove lucrative, it might pave the way for other ideas which have a much greater payoff.
  • You can give up. Not every creative endeavor deserves long-term attention or resources. If you have the feeling that you’ve entered a dead-end, offer yourself permission to move on. File the work for a later date —  it may become more relevant down the line.

How do you stoke innovation in your team? Share your strategies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a worklife strategist, consultant and speaker. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.