Organizations continually strive to be innovative. They set the expectation and desire to innovate, but then neglect the process that leads to innovation–creativity.

By definition, innovation is the implementation of something new. It’s about the application of new ideas and solutions. It’s not the actual process of getting to those new ideas. That’s creativity, and that’s what so many companies let fall by the wayside.

Creativity is the seed of innovation.

Creativity is defined as “the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality.” The problem arises when people feel they don’t have the autonomy or aren’t challenged to come up with new ideas. Or when creativity is only associated with marketing, product, or design teams.

Creativity is about giving your people the agency to think of new and interesting ideas. Unfortunately, this is often at odds with traditional growth goals of companies. When reliable scalability becomes the goal, it’s natural to seek out process for continued reliability. However, process is often the antithesis to creativity.

Except when creativity is the process.

Innovation stems from the ability to think creatively about a problem and solution. It’s the result of creativity. And it’s virtually impossible to be innovative if you aren’t also encouraged to be creative.

When you combine creativity and empathy around an identified problem that’s when you get true innovation.

When most companies toss around the word innovation, they’re focusing solely on the end result. But how often does focusing solely on the result actually yield the desired outcome? The greatest return happens when the process is valued as much as the result.

At its core, creativity is a process. It involves both thinking and producing. As Thomas Disch said, “Creativity is the ability to see relationships where none exist.” It’s not about starting from scratch, it’s about combining pieces of information in new ways to create something of value.

We are all naturally creative. Think about your last interaction with a kid under the age of 12–their whole word is a creative process because they don’t have a way to understand all of our social constructions yet. The older we get, the more we learn to be uncreative.

Creativity is a practice. Anyone can tap into their creative energy by engaging in the process routinely. As leaders, it’s your job to set the precedent that creativity is encouraged throughout your company culture.

Three foundational factors are needed to foster creativity at work:

  1. The expectation to be creative at work.
  2. Having time to be creative (remember, creativity is a process).
  3. Freedom to take the risks necessary to be creative. (Creativity isn’t about getting it right the first time. Often our first ideas aren’t our best).

In a recent analysis of a Gallup study of more than 16,500 employees, it was found that the presence of these three factors within companies is all too rare. Are they present within your culture?

Creating a culture of creativity is critical to being able to remain an innovative company.

What would happen if you started thinking about all of your people as creators? Not just the departments where creativity is in the job title like marketing, design, and product.


We often challenge you to consider “Are your people living up to their potential?” in Thoughtwave. Today, I want you to ask yourself, “Are my people living up to their creative potential?” Begin challenging them to explore their potential through their creative process.

Other resources on creativity

Make it a creative day,

P.S. If you’re thinking that some people simply don’t think of themselves as creative. I challenge you to consider this: Everyone has the capacity to be creative. The people who are most uncomfortable with creativity struggle because they think that the end result of creativity has to be art in the traditional sense, but a painting isn’t the only output of creative thought. Investing in creativity will go a long way in releasing the new ideas necessary for innovation.