When it comes to innovation, there are two types of people in this world. Here’s why businesses need both to get things done.
A research study tested American and Japanese students on innovation and discovered there were some striking differences. The study found that Americans typically link innovation to ideation. This means they outperformed their Japanese counterparts in the sort of original and open thinking that characterises wild imagination. The Japanese students, on the other hand, excelled in systematic follow through to implementation.
In comparison to the US, Japan is considered one of the most innovative countries in the world, yet the Japanese often interpret it as a process of gradual adaptation and implementation through prototyping. This is where the Japanese students were found to excel.
Seeing from different perspectives
These different perspectives could be related to different cultural traits. Openness to new ideas, for example, requires the ability and desire to seek new experiences. It involves being unconstrained by social expectations – to live with ambiguity and think divergently.
On the other hand, adaptive innovation, which works on building incrementally on existing ideas, is typical of a more conservative approach than the sort of creative thinking that seeks original, breakthrough ideas.
There are plenty of stories about how Asian businesses are great at finding more efficient and effective ways of doing things, building on existing ideas rather than starting from scratch with new ideas. Yet it is by applying both of these modes simultaneously that innovation is best fuelled.
The creative tension that can fuel innovation
Both parts of the innovation process – creative thinking and innovation implementation – are integral to the concept and can work together for maximum effect. Rather than having to choose one approach, isn’t it possible that these different elements could both be a part of the innovation process?
Here we would like to focus on the specific dichotomy between the creative thinking side of our model, which includes curiosity, imagination and ideation, and the innovation implementation side, which includes solution finding, testing and prototyping, and searching for structured applications.
Managing both modes simultaneously
Here are some clues on how to manage both modes simultaneously.
To develop creative thinking:
- Open up to search out all possibilities; brainstorming as many ideas as possible in order to identify the best possible ones;
- Diversify with creative courage and a desire for novelty; and
- Practice ideas and knowledge generation (divergent thinking, eg with brainstorming).
To develop innovation implementation:
- Focus on the best solutions and the best applications for implementation;
- Harmonise principles into an integrated system; and
- Practice ideas and knowledge integration (convergent thinking, eg identifying specific solutions, testing and prototyping).
This is a fascinating paradox that in itself demonstrates an important principle: innovation requires acknowledging and accepting ambiguities or contractions and working through the tension they create to come up with superior solutions.
Working together to cross cultural boundaries and utilise the best of both worlds will ensure that the innovative process continues to develop into useful strategies for the future.
Gaia Grant and Andrew Grant are the co-authors of The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game (Wiley August 2016) along with a number of other international bestselling books and resources.