Foundation of Building Creative Teams and Innovative Products

Creativity Is Massively Important

When working in a corporate environment, I would joke, “Innovation is the business safe term for creativity.” It’s funny when it’s true. Creativity is that human ability that both artists and companies want. Companies seek to replace the unknown exploration bits associated with the artists style of creativity, with profits promised from innovation. Innovation and creativity are not at odds, creative minds make innovation possible.

In the 1970’s the American GDP started to dip from an average of 1.2 to .07 by the 2000’s. Some studies point to a slowing pace of innovation. Others said that GDP dip is because the economic value being measured had shifted to digital space and GDP had become a poor instrument. Whatever the cause of the GDP dip, innovation remains a major factor for economic growth. Again and again innovation is seen as something that can generate more value in companies, and in turn the overall economy.(1)

The value of creativity in an innovative economy raises some questions:

  1. Are ideas that don’t make it to market innovations?
  2. How does a creative skill set grow in the limitations of organizations?
  3. How can creative skills be part of daily work not depending on inspiration?

Killing The Jargon of Innovation

The truth is, innovation is a key driver of our economy, linked to innovation is creativity; the result is that creativity is massively important.

A statement like this can quickly become jargon.

Here are some quick definitions to make sure we have set the stage:

A.) Economic Value
Economic value is a measure of the benefit provided by a good or service to an economy.  According to reports by the World Economic Forum, Stanford University, Goldman and Sachs and many others, innovation is a key drive of the economy.(2,3,4,5)

B.) Innovation
Innovation = Invention x Commercialization.(6)
Or said another way innovation is an idea realized that generates value.

C.) Human Capital
Human capital is the value of an individual’s skills, knowledge and experience.(3) In the age of automation, human capital enables new inventions and bringing inventions to market.

D.) Creativity
Creativity, regardless of domain, is a skill which enables humans to generate innovative ideas.

The Misconception of Doing Creative Work.

Creativity in the artist’s world is thought of as an inspiration, something born out of intuition, a quality that depends on the gods of genius. Ideas are something that float around. Ideas come and go. As Elizabeth Gilbert describes them in Big Magic, “Ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners.”

Creativity in theory summons images of pondering artists inspired.

In practice to be creative means to create.

When I hear stories about famous bouts of inspiration creating some magical work of art, I don’t disregard it but I know that waiting around for this kind of manic episode is not productive. Those narratives omit the moments of toll and refining. Omitted in narratives of genius moments are all the prior failed attempts to create something.

Tom and David Kelley are the famous brothers that founded the design firm IDEO. I balance the notion of creative spirits with their practical description “Creativity is using your imagination to create something new in the world.”(9)

When creative inspiration comes I grab onto it and enjoy the ride. Yet if creativity is your job, your craft, your value, your vocation, then you can’t wait for inspiration.

There is a tension that resides in the creative skill.  Creative skill pulls between making work that is inspired from seemingly unknown subconscious place and the process of generating work consistently.

Leaders who want to foster creativity need to make room for both inspirations and consistency

Art In The Machine.

Teams have scores of limitations whether organizational or resource constraints and from inside these limitations teams and leaders can feel suffocated. Ideas are not per se the challenge. Testing, implementing and executing ideas or turning ideas into products in the market is challenging.

More and more teams have room to make art, experiment and fail. The value of this effort is lost if a there is no path to bring teams’ ideas to market and make ideas into innovations.

Ideas that don’t make it to market are not innovations.

My experience leading innovation products and teams has resulted in having dozens of ideas that don’t make it past the prototype stage. This is okay as long as there is a way for ideas to move forward. The graveyard of ideas is filled with prototypes. Killing ideas is part of the innovation process.

To keep teams working inside the organizational machines limit there has to be a path to bring the right ideas to market.

Ideas that don’t make it to market have no path to be innovations.

Foster a Team Culture of Massive Creativity

If we want to enable other people to create we need to leave room for them to create. We can’t always have the best ideas. I’ve worked with leaders who ask a team to create and solve hard challenges, then when the team comes back to the leader they  respond with, “Oh, I had that idea a long time ago, it will work well here.”

As a good friend of mine said, “leaders give all the glory and take all the heat.”

How I’ve seen leaders grow their teams creative muscles:

  1. Empower the team and let go of your ego.
  2. Lead by being willing to learn from your team.
  3. Creative leaders challenge the status quo.
  4. Allow other team members to share ideas first.
  5. Change the team language to focus on challenges not ideas.
  6. Connect a team to the impact of the work they are doing.
  7. Try ideas you think won’t work.
  8. Build prototypes.
  9. Have a culture of, ’why.’
  10. Mix designers and engineers (and other makers).
  11. Build relationships so teams can communicate better.
  12. Make limitations known, make path to market clear.
  13. Be bold.

Creativity is the personal skill that leads to innovation.

The core to fostering massive creativity is digging to find problems more than ideas. Allow teams to be creative and make the path to market clear. Construct teams with the intent of combining diverse skill sets, shared map understandings and common goals.

Reap the value of innovation and commercialize ideas by allowing teams to break out of limitations.

Consistently creating is how a team will innovate.


  1. World Economic Form
  2. Innovation and Economic Growth by Nathan Rosenberg, Professor of Economics (Emeritus), Standford University (GDP and innovation key drives)
  3. Golden and Sach, Private Weather Forum
  4. National Governors Associations, Innovation America: A Final Report
  5. Internation Monetary Fund, R&D, Innovation and Economic Growth: An Empirical Analysis
  6. MIT What is Innovation:
  7. Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic, Page 35, Page 72
  8. Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, Page 117
  9. David M. Kelley and Tom Kelley, Creative Confidence, Page 3

Also published on Medium.