The last two months have been very busy from an MBA perspective – in addition to studying three content-heavy modules, I’ve also undertaken the group assignment for Innovation & Creativity, plus written my project proposal (hence the lack of blog posts recently!). However, the latter two have been submitted now, and I’m currently in the process of writing the TMAs and studying the final few lessons for all three modules, before starting the assignments. In a previous post I’ve outlined the Strategic Advantage and Strategic Marketing modules, so I’ll now share an overview of Innovation & Creativity in Organisations.
Innovation & Creativity in Organisations
The module started by defining Innovation as “Creativity + Commercialisation”, and classifying innovation in different ways, such as:
- Business Model vs. Technology innovation
- Incremental, Semi-Radical and Radical innovation
- Product, Service, Process or Technology innovation
Although the above are straightforward categorisations, they did prompt me to question my own perceptions of innovation, particularly around what is true innovation vs. standard product evolution. We also looked at some whitepapers that discuss how innovation affects other business issues such as competitiveness and ethical behaviour. The next few lessons then discussed in more detail how innovation can bring returns to an organisation, as well as the wider social and global groups, and explored how different countries/regions treat innovation – for example, some take a focussed approach (eg. innovation ‘parks’), others attempt to leverage scale economies, and others embed innovation into large country-wide ecosystems (see here for the whitepaper on this).
The first few lessons were supported by set reading from the book “Making Innovation Work“, which is very different to most of the previous modules’ textbooks. It is written as a business book rather than an academic book, and hence is far easier to read and comprehend; I’d definitely recommend it to those interested in leveraging innovation in their own organisations. We were also directed to read a number of whitepapers for each lesson – a similar distinction appears here, with some being academic research whitepapers in excess of 20 pages, whereas others were more succinct, practical articles from journals like the Harvard Business Review.
Following the initial introduction to Innovation, we moved to the more abstract topic of Creativity. There was some initial reading from the above textbook, to explore how an organisation can cultivate creativity in individuals, and we were also referred to the book, “Times Present”. The target audience for this is photographers, but it was included in the set reading to encourage us to think about business scenarios in a more creative manner. The lessons looked at the psychological aspects of creativity as well as how to encourage creativity in a group environment. A topic that I found particularly interesting was Blue Ocean strategy, which suggests that organisations should look for uncontested market space instead of just competing head-to-head in current markets, and provides some useful concepts to support the identification of such markets.
The module then returned to the topic of innovation with a look at R&D and innovation. This introduced the concept of Absorptive Capability, which raises the point that an organisation needs to do more than just produce innovative ideas; it also needs the capability to absorb (i.e. “identify, assimilate and utilise”) innovative ideas that come from both inside and outside the organisation, in order to actually benefit from them. Another interesting concept is that of knowledge brokerage, which is about facilitating the sharing of knowledge between different parties – this can take many forms, such as individuals within an organisation that are used for cross-functional activities, to consultants and venture capitalists. The whitepaper supporting this topic also suggests that when searching for innovative ideas, an organisation should look to weak ties, rather than organisations with which it has strong ties (such as strategic partners), as the former are likely to provide more novel information that will be valuable in the innovation process.
I&C Group Assignment
In addition to studying the individual lessons, I have recently completed the groupwork for this module, which accounts for 30% of the overall grade. This involved us being separated into groups of four students, with each group to produce a 3,000 word assignment based on an activity that relates to innovation and creativity. The activity itself involved us choosing an innovation, and then identifying a piece of artwork to represent that innovation. Initially I was slightly apprehensive given the ambiguity of the request, but the tutor assured us that feeling “uncomfortable” was common at the start of this exercise, and was in some ways intentional. This was also alleviated by the fact that the marking scheme of the assignment was weighted toward the process of finding the innovation and artwork, rather than the end result itself, i.e. the exercise was designed to assess our learning when building creative teams.
One of the challenges we had to overcome with this exercise was creating a productive team in a virtual environment, with little time to move through Tuckman’s stages of group development: forming, storming, norming and performing. This proved difficult at the start as none of us had previously met, we had no time to establish relationships, and our first group conference call highlighted that we all had very different ideas and perspectives on innovation. However, as the calls progressed we got to know each other better, understand our individual strengths & viewpoints, and felt more willing to challenge and debate with the group. By the end of the exercise I believe we had produced a report that accurately captured the journey our group had taken, as well as providing us all with some insights into how to effectively run “creative teams” – although we’ll need to wait a few weeks to find out if the assessor feels the same!
So that’s a summary of my progress with Innovation & Creativity; in addition to this I’ve also made significant progress with the other two modules over the last two months. With less than six weeks left to go until the assignments are due, I have a busy month ahead of me, but hopefully will have time for another blog post as well.