The Art of Innovation: Talent

What drives innovation in organizations?

Talent is an essential innovation driver. We define creative talent as the set of skills required to imagine something new or make it happen. In our context it is not about having an exceptional gift for music or mathematics. It is not about Mozart and Einstein. It is about you and me. Yes, we are all creative! But… how creative are we? How do we score on each of these distinct creative competencies (originally defined by EP Torrance):

Fluency – the ability to produce a large quantity of ideas on a given topic

Flexibility – the ideas produced fit into many different categories

Originality – the ideas are rare or even unique (ie not generated by others working on the same topic)

Elaboration – the ability to develop ideas in some depth

Each person has and uses all of these skills to a greater or lesser degree. And every human being can become better at each and all of these skills with good practice. Like physical exercise and body fitness, mind gymnastics make us more fit to creatively deal with big challenges as well as everyday situations. Here are some personal actions you can take to develop idea generation skills:

1. Ask questions – lots of them – to explore your issue.

Why? – questions asked and answered ten times in succession will allow you to gain depth in understanding your challenge.

What’s stopping you? – questions asked and answered in succession will allow you to probe the obstacles you are likely to encounter.

2. Develop your powers of association – find relations between your issue at hand and other things.

Take a picture from a magazine, any magazine. Study it. Find associations between your challenge and the picture. Stretch your mind. Find more similarities. Check for emerging solutions to your challenge.

Take a random noun or verb from a dictionary. Find associations between your challenge and the word. Stretch your mind. Find more similarities. Check for emerging solutions to your challenge.

Take a random animal or object. Note its features. From those derive associations with your challenge. Check for emerging solutions to your challenge.

3. Develop your powers of provocation – ask questions related to your challenge that go beyond all logic.

What if? – types of questions are always mind-stretching. Find alternative responses to your provocative questions. Check for emerging solutions to your challenge.

Seek magical, impossible ideas to address your challenge. Then transform these into feasible, creative solutions.

4. Develop your powers of dreaming – just place yourself inside, near or around your challenge and let your mind go… Once again, check for emerging solutions

5. Keep your notebook alive, with words and pictures that capture your ideas at all times. Many solutions come at fleeting moments and disappear into the haze. Only when you look at them again in more tranquil moments, at a different pace, in a different mood will you begin to make them look like viable alternatives.

Of course creativity is not only about the generation of ideas, but also about defining problems, evaluating solutions and implementing them. And people deploy their creativity in different ways. So … how are you creative?

A number of researchers have examined people’s preferences in applying their creative competencies notably Min Basadur’s Creative Problem Profile, Gerard Puccio’s Foursight, Robert Alan Black’s MIND, Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation model. Assessing people’s styles is particularly useful in setting up diverse, multi-talented teams to confront specific challenges. Preferences can change over time.

To make creative talent a personal trait ask yourself: What am I doing to develop my creative aptitudes? What is my own personal creative style?

To confront a challenge creatively in a team ask: Do we have people of all creative styles working on this?

To foster creative talent in your organization ask: In what ways are we helping people develop their creative skills? Are we recruiting people of different problem-solving styles?

Remember: we all have creative talent.

Based on The Art of Innovation – Integrating Creativity in Organizations – a book by Dimis Michaelides with art by Umit Inatci and introduction by Constantinos Markides. It is available at