Zoe Aitken27 April 2018

Three ways to drive greater creativity in innovation

It seems logical to think that the more resources you have available for creativity (be that time, money, people, scope etc.) that the more creative you will be. I mean, why wouldn’t you be more creative without limitations? That’s what blue-sky thinking is all about, right?! Interestingly, research tells us that the opposite is actually true; that creativity thrives under constrained conditions. So basically, the fewer resources we have, the more creative we become. This is because a ‘constraint mindset’ is activated which in turns leads us to think more creatively with what we have.

This finding was supported by a study conducted by the University of Illinois where it too concluded that having abundant resources has a negative effect on creativity. The researchers observe that this is a phenomenon that can be seen in many poor parts of the world.

“If you look at people who don’t have resources or only have limited resources, they actually end up being more creative with what they have. When times are tough, resource-poor people become more creative in their use of everyday products.”

Given creativity and innovation go hand-in-hand, essentially we can come up with more creative and disruptive solutions by placing constraints around our innovation. This might feel counter-intuitive but the research tells us it works!Equipped with these learnings, I’ve identified 3 ways for you to introduce constraint into your innovation process to drive greater creativity….

1) Innovation Strategy and Challenge Constraint

The first step in any innovation process is to set your innovation strategy and identify where you want to focus your innovation efforts. Here lies the first opportunity for constraint. Rather than just leaving innovative ideas to chance, try to be crystal clear on the priority areas for innovation within your organisation so everyone is on the same page. Many of the most successful organisations that I’ve seen are laser focused on where they want to direct their attention for innovation.

Similarly, when you’re crafting your innovation challenge, you can add in limitations. This is where you can get quite specific on the innovation or customer problem that you’re solving and importantly outline what’s ‘in’ and ‘out’ of scope for your innovation ideas. Don’t be afraid to make things ‘out of scope’ as this won’t only lead to more feasible solutions but, the research tells us, also more creative ones!

2) Experimentation Constraint

Once you’ve identified a handful of potential innovation solutions, the next step is to go out and experiment….which is your next opportunity for constraint! ‘Experimentation’ is all about de-risking your ideas as much as possible by testing them with customers, before you jump into implementation. We’re huge advocates of the Lean Start-up Methodology at Inventium, where ideas are tested as quickly and leanly as possible to get validated learnings. When we’re helping design experiments for clients, our mantra is always, “can we learn the same for less?”. This seemingly simple question triggers a constraint mindset, which lends itself to far more imaginative and lean experimental designs. You’ll be surprised how cheaply and creatively you can run an experiment if you set yourself the challenge.

3) Implementation Constraint

Once you’re set to launch your innovation you have one final opportunity to trigger a constraint mindset, by limiting your launch budget. There might be a temptation to throw everything at your launch in order to reach as many customers as quickly as possible. But sometimes the most successful launches are those that have had extremely small budgets, where the team has had to think far more creatively about their launch strategy. Think about Facebook, who didn’t do any marketing or promotions at launch and yet managed to sign up three-quarters of Harvard undergraduates in under a month! Or Dropbox, who launched online with a low-cost video and increased their beta testing group from 5,000 to 75,000 people overnight. Sometimes a smaller budget can lead to far more creative launch ideas.

So the next time you’re feeling resource constrained, challenge yourself to use it as an opportunity for creativity. Rather than submit a case for more resources, try to work within your constraints and see what creative solutions you can come up with. And if you’re so fortunate as to have unlimited resources (does this really exist?!), try applying your own constraints around your strategy, experimentation or implementation…and you might just be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.


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