High-value ideas are not necessarily created. More often than not, they are already out there, waiting to be spotted and then shaped into an innovation. Business ideas come to those who are in the habit of looking for such ideas—all around them, all the time.
In the emerging global knowledge economy, ideas are the raw materials out of which we are forging our future. Those organizations and nations that are able to generate more and better ideas than others, and do it faster, will have a better chance at sustainable success than those that are, for whatever reason, disadvantaged in the economy of ideas. This much is understood and accepted more widely now than in the past.
What is less understood is how the challenge of ideas applies to individual managers and other professionals. Most of them realize that finding and developing innovative ideas has become an essential task for their organizations; some would see it as a simple matter of survival in a hyper-competitive environment. Many leaders, however, are stymied by misconceptions about idea work. Or they are not sure how to carve this work into their professional routines.
One set of misconceptions revolves a round the whole question of creativity, which has drawn increasing attention among senior executives. Last year, IBM asked more than 1500 CEOs what leadership qualities they valued most, and more than two-thirds of the corporate chiefs named “creativity.” Rating fairly low in their estimations were such conventional attributes as dedication and “influence.” In other studies as well, creativity has begun to outshine other presumed pillars of leadership such as hard work and even integrity.
These findings point up the extent to which innovation has become a life-and-death matter for corporations. Leaders know they have little choice but to “Think Different,” more imaginatively, as the Apple slogan professes. Still, most people have only a foggy notion of what creativity means in a corporate milieu, and this notion does not lend well to the idea work that needs to be done. For example, it is easy to conjure up images of a brilliant person sitting alone in an office with the door shut, finger pressed tightly against forehead, mustering all the brainpower to hatch a thoroughly original notion.