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Is your company creative or innovative?


Guest articles > Is your company creative or innovative?


by: Jim Rickard


Perhaps you have heard the old story of the down on his luck friend who approached his successful friend and asked him for some help getting a job. He said to his friend, “Don’t you remember when we were roommates in college and I helped you study to pass that chemistry exam, and the times I lent you money for food because you ran short, and when I introduced you to your future wife, don’t your recall those events?” His friend replied, “Yes I do, but what have you done for me lately?”

We smile at things like this but in the business world we cannot think that just because we had the latest and greatest innovative gizmo that our customers will be “Semper Fidelis” (Always Faithful) to our products if another company comes up with a new more attractive product. Xerox lost out to Canon when they introduced personal copiers, Kodak thought digital photography would never go anywhere; more people take pictures today with iPhones than any other type of camera.

Success is fleeting and creativity and innovation are in short supply in the business world and if we begin as business leaders to slow down and rest on our past successes; then the footsteps we hear coming up from behind us will be the company who wants to win more than rest. Creativity and Innovation are not synonymous with each other although they are usually used together in conversation. Creativity is creating an idea or product, Innovation is about follow through and implementation of the idea or product.

T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) was creative and innovative when he led a group of “untrained and unruly” desert fighters against the highly trained and disciplined Turkish Army during the end of WWI. The fighters under Lawrence knew the desert and where to find water, they could travel 110 miles a day in the desert, with 100 rounds of ammunition and 45 pounds of flour. General Maurice de Saxe, an eighteenth century general, said “…the art of war was all about legs, not arms…” Lawrence and his group did not fight war according to the “rules” they intended to win at any cost by disrupting a superior army and keeping them off balance, and because of their creativity and innovation they were successful.

Thomas Edison still holds the record for most patents at 1,093 and he looked at creativity as nothing more than “good, honest hard work.” He once said that “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

A wise man I know once said, “Things like this don’t just happen, do something.” As a business leader or emerging leader your job for your organization is to “Make it happen.”

Peter Drucker said it this way, “The best way to predict the future is to create it!”

Wisdom literature tells us that “…there is no new thing under the sun.” Michael Michalko lists a mnemonic created by Bob Eberle called SCAMPER that states “…everything new is some addition or modification of something that already exists.”

SCAMPER stands for:




M=Magnify? Modify?

P=Put to other uses?


R=Rearrange? Reverse?

Use the above mnemonic to ask the questions to yourself to generate creative ideas on your organization, a product or a problem. Can I substitute something for it? Can I combine it with something else? Can I magnify it or modify it? Can I…?

Take a subject and change it into something else: petroleum jelly was a waste by-product of the petroleum industry until someone found another use for it and marketed it to the general public as a soothing ointment type of product for skin.

Leaders have a great impact upon the design structure of the organization that they work within. There is usually a good reason why an organization has the structure that it has formed since its beginning; it is successful, it has always worked well in the past, and it has survived when other companies or organizations have failed. Organization comes from the Greek word “organon” meaning “a tool or an instrument.”

If we think metaphorically of our organizations as tools, instruments or machines then those who work within them can begin to think, “I am just a cog in a machine”. When people begin to think in those terms, where every movement is choreographed into the corporate culture then motivation, innovation and creativity of workers cease and no one feels that they can make an independent decision.

One way that leaders can help with instilling creativity and removing the barriers to creative development is to level the walls between departments within the organization by tasking people from different departments to work together on a common problem and the resolution of that problem.

When this process is implemented on a regular basis and individuals from differing departments are selected or appointed to be on the group then cooperative relationships between departments are strengthened. People are more willing to help each other versus those types of organizations that work under a “skunk works” mindset (no department knows what the other one is working on) or the “silo” mentality where only the “command head” or the “boss” knows what is happening.

This is a dangerous scenario for any organization to exist under due to the fact that if something happens to the knowledge base or the “brain trust” of the organization there will be no effective leadership in place. Cross-training is vital in any organization in order that more than one or two people know what is happening at any given time.

Successful leaders know that by empowering employees and allowing independent thought and action on behalf of the organization that these actions will pay back positive dividends; over a workforce that has to ask permission from “the boss” for everything.

Many successful companies now allow front-line employees the permission to resolve customer problems on the spot rather than going up through the management chain to find the right level of authority to make a decision. This does several things, it settles a claim or dispute at the local level and diffuses situations that could escalate through legal challenges, and ends the dispute in a positive manner that may encourage the continued patronage of a customer.

The most valuable asset any company has is found in its employees who have a vested interest in the survival and growth of the organization. When they have authentic leadership who trusts them and empowers them within the company; then the trust factor is reciprocal and it is a win-win situation for all the stakeholders involved.

We started this article with the question “Is your company creative or innovative?”

You are the leader, “make a decision and make it happen!”


Gladwell, Malcolm (2013). David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Little, Brown and Company. New York, New York

Michalko, Michael (2001) Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius. Ten Speed Press. Berkeley, CA

Michalko, Michael (2001) Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius. Ten Speed Press. Berkeley, CA

Morgan, Gareth (2006) Images of Organizations. Sage Publications. Thousand Oaks, CA


A former United States Marine, Jim Rickard has worked with a major international non-profit organization since 1983 and he has earned his BA in Criminal Justice Administration, Master of Public Administration and Master of Business Administration. Jim lives with his family in Brandon, MS and is currently pursuing his Doctor of Strategic Leadership degree with Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Contributor: Jim Rickard

Published here on: 16-Nov-14

Classification: Leadership


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