How to make creativity and innovation levers for performance in your company?

November 21th, 2023
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In a rapidly changing society, companies need to be able to transform themselves and rethink their strategy over time. It is only by enabling each individual’s creativity to express itself and by innovating that they can continue to develop with no hitches. Creativity and innovation are therefore increasingly valued in corporate strategies. These two concepts, although different, are intimately linked. Key roles, such as management or procurement, means they can be stimulated and turned into levers of efficiency in companies.

How can creativity and innovation be defined?

Creativity is an intuitive human capacity. Although it is often associated with being artistic, it is actually found in all fields. It is related to imagination and the ability to think outside the box. Applied to business, creativity is the individual or collective capacity to work together to create new concepts, transcending the company’s usual habits. Employees must therefore be allowed to question certain existing codes within the company.

Innovation is also about going beyond existing limits, but by providing tangible benefits and finding concrete solutions. Innovation is a process that adds value to the company. This concept extends to all kinds of areas which have one thing in common: the company is looking for a significant improvement over what existed previously; it is making its development a priority. Creativity and innovation are valued by the United Nations, which established a World Creativity and Innovation Day in 2017. According to the UN, creativity and innovation have the power to ‘[...] provide new momentum to economic growth and job creation’. Above and beyond the economic aspect, the organisation sees these concepts as solutions to major current problems, such as poverty, world hunger or climate change.

What are the differences between innovation and creativity?

Creativity generates ideas and abstract concepts, which are the product of imagination only, without considering their applications. On the other hand, innovation fills an existing need and therefore implies the existence and identification of a specific problem to be solved. An innovation is tangible and has positive externalities. For example, not every new product is an innovation. Its users must derive a new benefit from it for it to be recognised as one.

In reality, creativity is the first, most indispensable step in the innovation process. In order to switch from creativity to innovation, the idea has to grow by being confronted with different points of view. These points of view can be separated into three different approaches, which can be contrasted with each other either in a think tank or in the creator’s mind:

· Dreaming consists of generating ideas without considering constraints;

· Realism focuses on the possibilities of practical implementation;

· Criticism looks at flaws in the implementation.

How do creativity and innovation improve business performance?

Creativity and innovation have an essential role to play in the sustainability of companies, which are constantly faced with societal changes they must adapt to. Some of these changes have disrupted consumption in its entirety.

For example, mass consumption, which gave everybody access to products and services previously reserved for a very small number of people, is gradually giving way to a desire for thoughtful and responsible consumption. Consumers now focus a lot on the ethics of products, as well as the ethics of the companies that produce them and their partners.

At the same time, competition is increasing in many sectors, technology is introducing spectacular innovations, and environmental commitments are creating new constraints. Organisations’ budgets also have to cope with recent inflation.

To remain competitive in this changing environment, companies must innovate. As explained in this video showing how the procurement function has evolved, buyers respond to this imperative by creating strong relationships with a strategic supplier panel. But creativity and innovation are not just found in the end product or service; they can also be find in overall performance. They are one of the key ways to reduce costs by optimising processes and internal organisation or to improve CSR performance (Corporate Social Responsibility).

What are the levers of creativity and innovation in companies?

What techniques and roles should the company use to ‘liberate’ creativity and generate innovation?

Management plays a key role in stimulating creativity and innovation in companies

Innovation and creativity management allows each employee to develop their own creativity in a work environment that is conducive to innovation. This type of management can follow several paths. Companies could:

· Provide an expression space for all employees, regardless of their position or hierarchical level;

· Create situations where ideas can be shared and confronted in a friendly environment;

· Encourage experimentation with these new ideas;

· Set up tools to record experiments;

· Promote the pursuit of creativity inside teams.

Innovating through design thinking

Design thinking is an innovation process that uses collective intelligence. It has undergone several conceptual evolutions, but its 7-phase process, as defined by Professor Rolf Faste, remains the best known. This method enables companies to develop goods and services that meet users’ needs by following this process:

· Define the problem or user needs to be addressed;

· Research the problem and study existing solutions;

· Brainstorm to generate ideas in the team;

· Prototype the ideas using, for example, visual representations or staging;

· Select a single solution through team discussion;

· Create a strategy for implementing the project;

· Get the client’s opinion on the project and its suitability for their initial needs.

What buyers bring to creativity and innovation

Innovation is becoming an increasingly important part of the procurement function. By 2030, it will be an integral part of the department’s essential skillset. The procurement function must be capable of sourcing innovation, i.e. anticipating developments, by building up a portfolio of suppliers ready to commit to this quest for novelty.

Buyers are also central to the company’s CSR approach via the sustainable procurement strategy. To apply this strategy, they must encourage suppliers to commit to this approach by devising new solutions (alternative materials, circular services, innovative business models, etc.).

Finally, a number of procurement processes can be automated thanks to digital solutions (Procure-to-Pay, for example). These are currently time-consuming and repetitive tasks, but tomorrow they will help buyers in their forecasting and strategic decision-making. This approach will free up their time for higher value-added tasks.

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