The Journey of an Idea

Creativity is the lifeblood of innovation and cutting-edge business. How can creativity and innovation be developed, enhanced, and amplified in the workplace? Jill Perry-Smith of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School joins to discuss the journey of an idea in the fast-paced world of business.

When CEOs are asked, "What is a skill you most value in your people?" time and again, creativity, problem-solving, and innovation top their list. However, according to Ad Age, 75% of people believe they are not living up to their creative potential.  

It’s easy to see why. It can be a long slog from initial concept to final product. Even in organizations that pride themselves on rapid iteration and experimentation, most truly novel ideas either stall out or lose their originality along the way. How do you defy those odds? 

Jill Perry-Smith joined the Goizueta Effect Podcast to discuss creativity and how businesses can take ideas from the mind to the marketplace. She is a professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School where she has researched the intersection of creativity, innovation, and business for nearly 20 years. She received her PhD in organizational behavior from the College of Management at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has consulted numerous Fortune 100 companies, and has been featured in the Harvard Business Review, CNN, and Fast Company

This episode of the Goizueta Effect was co-created in partnership with Emory student Scott Masterson. 

Can You Learn Creativity? 
Similar to the question, “are leaders born or made?,” creativity may come naturally for some, but everyone has the capacity to develop a creative skillset. Nowadays, the workplace is more flexible than ever before. Creativity is rewarded and encouraged in the most successful firms.  

Harnessing a Broader Definition 

Typically, when we think of creativity, we think of artistic expression. In the workplace we think of breakthroughs in technology, but some of the most important creativity has to do with creative problem-solving.  

The Process of Creating an Idea   

One fundamental way of studying the journey on an idea is categorizing the different phases that an idea goes through from the time the idea is birthed to the time when the idea is implemented.  

The journey an idea takes isn’t always linear: ideas have a bumpy journey. The ideas may cycle backward several steps in the process after months of planning. Creators may get less confident in their idea and be less willing to take the risk and put it forward. They must also deal with an onslaught of input and valuable feedback from others along the way, which lengthens the process. Alongside such a complex process, the novelty often gets snuffed out of the essence of the idea. 

The Phases of the Idea Journey: With Whom Should I Collaborate? 

Each phase of the idea journey is unique and requires specific attention to ensure optimal results. For example, the collaborative needs change across phases. Risk must be considered when developing an idea as well: an idea is original since it has not been done before. As humans, we tend to stick to what is most comfortable and this can combat the innovation process. 

The Generation Phase 

The generation phase is when a concept is born. For this phase, the best people to associate with are acquaintances and strangers. Innovators need inspiration and an open mind. Speaking with strangers is a great tool for spurring this inspiration. Since people that are close to us tend to be more like us and potentially over supportive, going outside our comfort zones and talking to people in different social spheres will facilitate open-mindedness.  

The Elaboration Phase 

During the elaboration phase, creators need support and encouragement to develop their ideas. It's risky so friends and close peers are extremely beneficial to the process. Typically, managers are not the most helpful as they can be viewed as evaluative.  
Deeply analyzing the idea with one or two other people as opposed to sharing it with a larger collective is most valuable.  

The Promotion Phase 

During the promotion phase, influence and reach are critical due to the risk associated with the idea and lack of precedent. This phase can entail the acquisition of resources and the selling of the idea to others. It's not always easy to get decision-makers to understand or buy into an idea, because of these inherent characteristics of creative concepts or ideas. At this point, we want to seek network brokers: people who are linchpins connecting otherwise disconnected people across the organization. They provide access to people and exposure.  

The Implementation Phase 

Shared vision and trust are what's needed during this phase. A cohesive team with a shared north star can drive success. 

Tips and Best Practices for Facilitating Workplace Creativity  

You don’t have to hire a Chief Innovation Officer to encourage creativity and innovation in your workplace. You can make simple changes to the way your organization and teams operate.  

The first tip is to make creative problem-solving a priority. This means always asking for more problem-solving alternatives: the more alternatives, the more likely there is to be variety and creativity.  

The second tip is to be collaboratively flexible and reduce conformity processes: think of teams as a tool that is helpful when necessary. 
Companies that are experts in facilitating workplace creativity are Apple, Google, and 3M. Apple and Google are likely not surprising choices, but 3M is a case-study in its own right.  3M has weathered economic storms and existed for a long time in part due to its creative decision-making practices. They were at the forefront of understanding the value of providing time for people to work on what they want to work on, because people are very intrinsically motivated when they can make decisions about how to spend their time. They have also made it possible for workers to see the end results of their innovation. 

Innovation and the Pandemic 

While the pandemic created many challenges, it also opened up new opportunities for unique problem-solving. The pandemic pushed us to put our creative problem-solving skills to the test as the world of business has drastically changed.  

The negative effect of the pandemic is the reduction of valuable network-building and face-to-face communication: people are working at home now more than ever. It’s important to continue having in-person communication to allow for creative inspiration and the facilitation of ideas: you can’t have those valuable talks with acquaintances as easily in an online setting.  

We also need to consider who is most likely to work from home - more junior employees, women, parents – and the effects of that shift on innovation and career progression.  

To learn more about Goizueta Business School and how principled leaders are driving positive change in business and society, visit goizueta.emory.edu.  

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