The Creativity Dilemma

Entrepreneurial innovation typically comes from an individual’s creativity and also often from their rebelliousness (rejecting the norm).  We usually think of the entrepreneur as having a light-bulb moment and then growing a company to fulfil their idea.   Much as it is worth remembering that it doesn’t always work that way, these entrepreneurs tend to rely on their own judgement for decision making.  They are typically the type of people who are less bothered about what others think and they follow their own path.

As a company grows it becomes impossible to continue to rely solely on that single point of entrepreneurial inspiration.  If the CEO is the only decision maker and creative thinker, then the whole company can grind to a halt waiting on the CEO’s next moment of decisiveness – not a sustainable model.

So the next step of growing a company often goes in one of two directions: either you look to the collective wisdom of the population by engaging in market research and analysis, or you encourage creativity from your own staff.

Market research is often very helpful to refine a product.  It will tell you whether your packages should be bigger or smaller, if the price is too high, or if you should produce a variant on the product for a niche market.  But it can only take you so far.  The well-known Henry Ford quote “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” illustrates how the creative leap of invention will never come from market research.

Encouraging creativity from staff is a harder path to follow.  Firstly, the atmosphere needs to be right – staff must be confident enough of being listened to so that they can express their creative ideas without fear of ridicule.  But even if you get the ideas flowing, you still have to create an atmosphere where it is OK to be able to reject some ideas and embrace others based on their potential for success, and it must be possible to do that without crushing those whose ideas were rejected.

And yet in the larger organisation it is hard to stake the company’s future on the inspired hunch of a creative employee.  We have to remember that many entrepreneurs’ hunches end in failure.  The individual inventor is staking their own livelihood, along with maybe a few around them, on a manifestation of their idea in the world, but in a large company there are many mouths to feed and so the stakes are higher and the price of failure is greater.

So the dilemma and the challenge for the growing company is to balance the influences of market research and creative thinking for the best success of all.