What’s in a word?

During my recent thesis research — investigating the barriers and drivers to ‘resilience to failure’ and ‘enhanced creativity for innovation’ — I spoke to many individuals and organisations. The more people I spoke to, the more it became apparent that the words ‘failure’ and ‘creativity’ were themselves acting as a barrier to resilience and innovation.

Due to the sensitive nature of the word ‘failure’, I was unsuprised by the cautious and candid reactions that I got when it was used. It is a word that most take very personally and for some it holds connections with self-esteem and shame. In the words of Kathryn Schulz “We learn from a young age that… getting something wrong means that there is something wrong with us”. It is a word that needs re-framing in the context of innovation — but that’s for another blog.

More surprising to me was the reaction that the word ‘creativity’ evoked. Although organisations across the board are more than happy to talk about innovation, fewer are keen to discuss creativity and, for some, the term brings confusion and even discomfort. But why?

Innovation has long been seen as a desirable academic and scientific pursuit. Today it is universally sought out by business and identified as central to competitive edge and tangible value creation. Creativity, on the other hand, is not at the top of everybody’s wish list and is dismissed by some as trivial, or a distraction to core functions. Sally Uren from Forum for the Future suggests that this discomfort with and dismissal of creativity is in part due to creativity’s close links to the term ‘Creatives’ — eccentric arty types in jeans and black polo-necks — or worse still to individuals excruciating past experiences of forced involvement in ‘creative’ teamwork exercises involving role-plays and post-it notes!

In reality, creativity is having great ideas and solving problems and it is vital for innovation. To use the words of Sir Ken Robinson, creativity is the process of generating original ideas that have value, and innovation is the process of delivering these ideas to market. The two, then, are heavily interdependent and you can’t have innovation without creativity. However, not all organisations recognise the vital role that creativity plays and there is, I suggest, a disconnect between the aim of organisations – innovation — and the process needed to achieve it – creativity. In order for creativity and in turn innovation to thrive, organisations must rethink resources and incentives to enable valuable idea contribution, capture and development.

Finally, organisations must rethink the ability of their people. Creativity, contrary to popular belief, is not an innate skill to be found only in those individuals who work in the design, marketing and R&D departments. The characteristics of creativity: empathy, collaboration, self-motivation, openness to new ideas, and novel idea generation exist in us all, they just need coaxing. Everyone is capable of contributing valuable ideas to help solve the challenges of an organisation. However, due to misconception of the majority who think themselves uncreative, few venture ideas and this valuable resource is mostly wasted. To shake off these misconceptions, it seems that the term ‘creativity’ must also be reframed.



4 responses to “What’s in a word?

  1. Hello Hannah

    I attended the event last night. Well done for bringing people together to progress thinking about sustainability.

    You and other browsers may be interested in these tools we developed in a EU INTERREG funded project CLIQ, to support local authorities in innovation, more particularly open and citizen led innovation.

    CLIQ-o-Meter self-evaluation tool allows local government and innovation agencies to assess their current system and effectiveness in supporting innovation

    CLIQ Toolkit outlines some practical ideas and examples of how to improve performance and cooperation to innovate. The examples are based on the rich results of the CLIQ Pilot Project and the exchange events.


    Sally Kneeshaw, Aurora Knowledge Capital

  2. Hello Sally,

    Thank you for coming to support us. We had a wonderful evening and are delighted to hear that others enjoyed the event too.

    Thank you also for introducing us to the click-o-meter. It looks really interesting – and its great to see a practical and simple tool that can be used to the enhance understanding and use of innovation.

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