Photo Source: Boegh
By PREMA JAYABALAN
Talk about creativity and innovation, and you have entered his territory. Ranked as one of the top management thinkers in the world and profiled for generating one of the best ideas of the year by the New York Times in 2004, Charles Leadbeater is a leading authority on innovation and creativity.
He is adviser on innovation strategy to a diverse group of clientele that comprise governments and companies around the world. These include the Department for Trade and Industry and the European Commission, the government of Shanghai, BBC, Vodafone, Microsoft, Ericsson, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and many more.
Besides that, Leadbeater is also a highly-acclaimed author of best-selling books on innovation and technology.
“Most of the big companies I work with are concerned that they are too slow moving, cumbersome and inward looking. They have an inbuilt tendency to become quite conservative and cautious, which means they can be outwitted by nimbler, fleet footed competitors.
“So the senior leadership of many large organisations often want to find ways to shake them up, to get new energy into them.
“I often say that entrepreneurs are usually ideas in search of assets, whereas large companies are often assets in search of new ideas,” explains Leadbeater when asked on the main concerns of companies today.
This renowned adviser believes that innovation is about coming up with new recipes and new blends of ideas for services, goods and technology, which create better solutions and value for consumers and the wider society.
Creativity, to him is a vital part of most innovation and it is the ability to spot new combinations and ways of seeing things, on which innovation thrives.
However innovation involves a lot more than just creativity. Coming up with ideas is one thing, but making a product work takes technical skills.
Understanding how consumers will use it takes skills in marketing and social understanding. Working out how to make money from a good idea takes innovation in business models.
Context is as crucial as creativity. According to Leadbeater, it is essential to be innovative but it has to be in a way that works for the company and the market. He says that there is no point in trying to be completely innovative in a slow moving market with conservative consumers.
When asked if creativity and innovation can be learned and how, this is what he had to say:
“Obviously, some people are more open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. They are more curious and more open. It is difficult to take someone who is naturally very cautious and not very curious about the world and make them innovative.
“However, I find that if you can create the right conditions, pose the right challenges, get people to collaborate in the right way, give them time and resources to experiment, then most people enjoy being creative and coming up with new ideas.
“In other words you can create the conditions in which people will allow their innovation to come to the fore.
“Employees often have more good ideas that companies realise. It’s just that they do not create the conditions for employees to express and articulate those ideas.”
To create and cultivate the culture of innovation and creativity, Leadbeater says that you have to keep people open to the world. This will trigger them to be curious and inquisitive.
When this happens, you have to create a highly collaborative culture inside the company so that people with different ideas and insights can come together to mix and blend their thinking.
Being collaborative is critical to most innovation, he says. Companies that are very rigid and hierarchical will find it hard to innovate.
Leadbeater adds that just having good ideas is not enough. They have to be turned into products that people want to buy. So innovative companies need a culture of action to turn ideas into products and services.
For all this to take place, there must be good leadership. He defines good leaders as attractors who pull and attract people to take on bigger challenges which they never thought they could handle.