Before I expand on this dilemma, let me first acknowledge the artist’s work that I have been sharing over the past few weeks. Pat Rawlings’ images have inspired me for many years and have been the source of many of my creative views about the future. Most recently I used his images in a conversation with a TV network about space travel 50 years from now.
Of the many definitions of creativity that I have heard over the years my favorite comes from author Dale Dauten. It is best captured in a quote from his book, Better than Perfect, “He brought together two ways of thinking that usually don’t go together, so his own brain got stretched. That’s one way to be creative – to force together ideas that normally don’t go together.” So creativity results from holding simultaneously in your mind two thoughts that normally don’t go together. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to bring together individuals with different view points and to hold the differing perspectives simultaneously in the room and discover the creativity that is beyond just the sum or compromise of the different ideas. A few years ago Dale Dauten introduced the Innovator’s Lab to bring together leaders from different industries to find creative solutions that resulted from the different perspectives within the Innovator’s lab community. It is a great concept that we we were fortunate enough to introduce to JSC a few years ago.
Personally I like the distinction that John Kao makes in Innovation Nation between creativity and innovation. Creativity is the rich source of ideas. Innovation is the ability to take an idea and turn it into something useful. The trick is not to throw out the creative ideas because they don’t fit into predefined criteria of usefulness. It is easy to allow for the possibilities while brainstorming but it is more difficult to allow for new solutions to what at first glance may appear to be a familiar problem.
Which leads me to the Innovator’s Dilemma captured by Clayton Christensen. At the heart of the dilemma is the concept that the success achieved by organizations from their original innovations makes it difficult for it to be innovative and creative in the future. If we applied the dilemma to Human Space Exploration it would state that what made us successful over the fifty years has focused the realm of possibilities within the context of our experience. Therefore, how do we allow for alternative ideas in support of human exploration while simultaneously holding our 50 years of success? Or stated another way, how do we bring together the multi generations for creative new solutions. Can we hold both perspectives at the same time and find a creative path that is beyond the multiple generational perspectives? How will the multiple creative perspectives come together when we move from creativity to innovation?
Yet, there is another more subtle challenge that results from the Innovator’s Dilemma that is captured so well from Steve Boehlke from SFB Associates. In his recent publication, The Politics of Creativity™: Four Domains for Inquiry and Action by Leaders in R&D, he discusses the cost of creativity to the leader, which applies to anyone in the organization. The successful organization defines creativity and innovation within the context of what has enabled its success in the past. What happens to the individual that offers creative and innovative ideas that don’t fit within the organization’s definition? What happens to the individual that truly believes in his “out of the box” idea and continues to push it forward when it doesn’t fit within the historical norms of the organization? I highly recommend reading Steve’s examination of this cost for the creative leader. Is the tag “out of the box” thinker a badge of honor in your organization? Is a “trail blazer” encouraged to come to the creativity and innovation table? How is the creative individual rewarded and acknowledged? Going back to Dale’s Innovator’s lab where different perspectives are brought together for creative new solutions, how do we bring together the “out of the box” thinkers with those with the tried and true perspectives?
Finally, all of the above authors agree that innovation requires failure. If you don’t fail in the process then are you really being creative and innovative? The dilemma occurs after success is achieved and the organization no longer has a stomach for failure. Do the systems in place in the organization allow for discovery through failure? Is failure encouraged or discouraged? What would you or your organization do in the classical management example of a senior leader making a million dollar mistake? As the story goes, the leader was called into the CEO’s office and was expecting to be fired by the CEO. As he handed his resignation to the CEO, she asked “What is this?” He said “I know you are going to fire me for my mistake and so I figured I’d save you the trouble by turning in my resignation.” Amazed, she responded, “Why would I do that, I just spent a million dollars training you. I know that you will never make that mistake again.” Mission failures aside, what is your appetite for failure?
Sharing the Vision,
Steven Gonzalez, Deputy, Advanced Planning Office