Innovation Agility: The Constant Shift Between Creativity & Logic

By Anthony Vengrove

Miles Finch Innovation Agility

It’s like pistons in an engine.  A spark creates an explosion that drives the piston but friction eventually slows it down — requiring more combustion to keep it in motion.  Ideas are like a spark that ignites creative energy but the friction created by logic often slows things down to a halt.

I define Innovation Agility simply as the act of repeatedly shifting between creative and logical thinking.  From the birth of an idea all the way through to commercialization, innovation benefits from this rhythmic competency as it helps teams solve problems quickly, identify or invent solutions required to make an idea feasible, and create a culture of patience so that ideas have time to incubate and transform from good to great.

Most companies, however, are built upon a cultural foundation that values and rewards  logic and analytical mindsets.  Processes, policies, and business models — all analytical, left-brain systems put in place to help promote compliance and predictability while mitigating risk.

And just when everything seems under control, along comes the innovation agenda!  In the midst of all this logical infrastructure, employees are suddenly encouraged to use the right side of their brain and share their collective creative genius!

The result?  An inevitable tug of war!  One side clings to the known while the other side embraces the unknown.  One side digs into the past while the other side attempts to pull everyone toward the future.

This tension has existed for centuries and was born from a debate about the source of creativity.  The debate manifested itself into two groups of thought: rationalism versus romanticism.  Each were described as follows:

  • Rationalism:  Creativity is generated by the conscious, deliberating, intelligent, rational mind.¹
  • Romanticism:  Creativity bubbles up from an irrational unconsciousness; rational deliberation interferes with the creative process.¹

Sound familiar?  The implication is that the strained relationship between creativity and logic is not just a real phenomenon, it’s here to stay.  Therefore, not only do we have to get accustomed to it, we’d better learn how to lead through it.

Idea Climate Equation®For those familiar with our Idea Climate Equation®, we talk about this tension frequently.  If you look at the illustration of the equation, you might recognize this conflict through the thoughtful placement of each variable.  Logic is in the denominator for two key reasons: 1) to acknowledge that it is necessary and must be present (i.e., can’t be zero), and 2) the more that logic dominates, the more it “cuts into” and inhibits creativity.

I find this simple equation helps leaders visualize the relationship between creativity and logic which often leads to two realizations:  1) how the predominance of logic in their organization has the ability to crush fresh thinking, and 2) that both mindsets, while critically important, don’t necessarily have to show up to the same meeting.  At the end of the day, this is the key lesson about Innovation Agility.  When it’s time to be creative, be creative.  Don’t let logic creep in too early and bombard your creative thinking discussions with questions that no one will have an answer for.  There will be a time for critical thinking.

Similarly, when due diligence identifies a problem, don’t give up too quickly.  Your ideas are your intellectual property — don’t dismiss them as unattainable at the first sign of a roadblock.  Given them a chance to sprout and take hold.  Provide objectives or specific constraints and, most importantly, time so that your team can creatively problem solve and develop solutions that keep your concept alive.  That’s another big benefit of Innovation Agility — ideas tend to stay alive longer.  And when ideas hang around longer, you increase your odds of someone on the team having a big, breakthrough ‘aha’ moment.

The more you can cultivate Innovation Agility across your organization, the more likely you’ll be able to jump over the barriers that otherwise would have killed promising ideas.  And when you build an army of Creative Leaders who are comfortable shifting back and forth between creative and logical thinking — you’ll create an innovation engine that’s got the horsepower of a V12.

¹ Definitions adapted from Explaining Creativity, R. Keith Sawyer (2006), Oxford University Press, p. 15


Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation.  We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges.  We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership.  Email us or call us at 203-788-2665 to learn how we can help you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

Related Posts:
The Components of an Idea Climate
The Seven C’s of Creative Leadership
Leading Innovation with your Change Management Hat


How to Influence Your Creative Culture When You’re Not in Charge

By Anthony Vengrove

Proactive Creative Leadership

I’ve said it many a times, any company that commits to the pursuit of innovation is essentially contracting to become more creative.  The implication of this statement is that the transition, most often than not, involves cultural change — which ultimately requires senior leadership to craft and communicate vision, then lead by example. (Also read: Leading Innovation with your Change Management Hat.)

But, not everyone sits at the top.  Nor is everyone employeed at a company where management feels completely comfortable welcoming creativity with a warm embrace.  The good news is there are ways to proactively foster fresh thinking and innovation in your organization even if you’re not sitting in a position of authority.  Here’s how:

10 Tips to Influence Your Creative Culture When You’re Not in Charge

Ask for a problem to solve:  If your company lacks a vision (or the one in place is not very inspirational) or tends to treat bold ideas very conservatively, try asking a senior leader for a specific challenge to solve.  This does two things:  1) it grounds you both in an objective, and 2) it makes you look proactive and eager to think beyond the normal day-to-day activities.  When the leader engages, he or she is effectively opting-in for a creative exploratory and will feel compelled to listen to your solutions.

Don’t rush ideas up the ladder:  When inspiration strikes, our excitement often urges us to share immediately for instant feedback or approval.  I urge you to take a breath and give your idea a little space to take shape – even if it’s just a day or so.  Plan and schedule a time (either formally or informally) to present your idea once you’ve had a chance think it over, rehearse a pitch and anticipate challenges.  When we’re smitten with an idea, we tend to be blinded with optimism — only seeing what’s great about it.  Your audience, on the other hand, will likely be searching for reasons why it’s not so great.  You need to be prepared.

Walk in their shoes:  Be mindful of the pressure and deliverables of those above you when sharing your concept.  Ask yourself how your idea will either make their job easier or more difficult.  If it’s the latter, explain how your leadership of the project won’t interfere with the broader deliverables they will be focused on.  Also, consider what is the right time to meet with someone.  If you barge into a colleagues’s office during a time they value (eg., morning is their alone time to think and write), you’re essentially taking something away from them — and they won’t be too happy about that.

Start with the objective:  Never pitch an idea without first grounding your audience in the previously agreed upon objective.  I can’t stress this enough.  Your objective is terra firma.  It is the tool you use to keep the conversation on a strategic plane versus a subjective one.  Of course, be sure you conclude your pitch with at least three rationale points that support why your idea fulfills the objective.

Bring ideas to life & choose language wisely:  An idea is just a mental concept.  Your job is to use whatever resources are at your disposal to bring it to life:  sketches, photographs, screen shots of inspiring technologies, videos — whatever it takes to help people see what you see.  The brain is much more adept at understanding information it can visualize.  Also, carefully choose the words and/or claims you include in your presentation.  I’ve seen many a good idea veer off-course as a result of people getting hung up over one ‘controversial’ word.

‘Help me understand why it’s not on strategy?’:  This is a question to keep in your back pocket at all times.  When an idea is struggling to be accepted and your audience seems intent on killing it, ask why it’s not on strategy.  For example, you can say, ‘We feel this idea addresses our agreed upon objective for reasons X, Y and Z – help me understand what you see differently.’ This will compel them to articulate a strategic and rational answer.  Dialogue at this level has multiple benefits:  1) it can actually help save an idea that’s a victim of pre-judgement, 2) it fosters employee engagement as people will feel that they were listened to and that their idea got a fair shot, and 3) it provides constructive feedback that can serve to inspire continued idea shaping.

Anticipate the tension between creativity and logic:  As we describe in our Idea Climate Equation® work, a natural tension exists between creativity and logic.  This friction has existed for centuries (i.e., the debate between rationalism and romanticism) which means it’s likely not going to go away any time soon.  Therefore, you must accept it, plan for it, and adapt to ICEanticipated issues and challenges that will arise because of it.  I believe that the more disruptive or bold a creative idea is — or the more it challenges the status quo — the more a group is subject to using logic to explain it away.  Both logic and creativity are essential during an idea’s journey, of course.  Your job as a Creative Leader is to be mindful of the climate and to encourage people to use the appropriate side of their brain based upon what is required at the present moment.

Don’t just sell the idea, sell the first step:  For many who sit in idea receivership it’s hard not to jump ahead and calculate an idea’s complexity or cost.  Many ideas won’t have the benefit of existing manufacturing capability or a strong confidence level for feasibility and cost projections.  Rather than allow leaders to conclude your idea is too costly or complicated, be prepared to sell the first step you’d like to take to test and learn. The cost to obtain a prototype piece of equipment that will allow your R&D team to begin experimenting and testing will be significantly less than the cost to build the final line for commercial production.  I’ve seen amazing things happen when companies simply take a first step and start learning.

Invite leadership to participate:  It is in your best interest to engage the key players involved in your company’s innovation coalition.  This means encouraging them to play outside of the formal new product presentations.  You can invite them to a brainstorm, research event or simply ask to have lunch every other week so that you can bounce ideas and thoughts off them.  The more they participate, the more vested they’ll become — which will help shift your creative culture in the right direction.  For when employees see and hear senior leaders engaging with innovation, they’ll believe there is commitment to change at the top.

Start small & create a success story:  Most academic definitions of innovation essentially describe it as capturing value from an idea.  This means most anything can be innovated.  Don’t get trapped into thinking innovation has to be some huge, game-changing concept.  If you’re sitting in a junior role, don’t be afraid to a find small but relevant opportunity that you can influence and make better.  Quite often these proactive success stories are celebrated at employee meetings and can serve to inspire others to join the relentless pursuit of better ways.

When you proactively implement these tips into your daily routine, you can help your organization shape new behaviors and values associated with creative leadership and with the evaluation of new ideas.  The world of innovation and change requires much input and involvement from senior management, but that doesn’t mean you should sit and wait for instructions.  Remember, most CEOs claim they recognize the need to cultivate creativity in their organization (source: IBM Global CEO Survey).  You just need to package it up in a way that doesn’t scare them away from the table.

Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation.  We’re strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges.  We also love to train and speak on the subject of Creative Leadership.  Email us or call us at 203-788-2665 to learn how we can help you unlock the creative potential of your employees.

Related Posts:
Leading Innovation with your Change Management Hat
The Seven C’s of Creative Leadership
The Toyota Jump & Power of Objective Based Leadership