Skip to content

Could Creativity And Innovation Be Holding You Back?

Can you be too creative or innovative? People with excellent ideas might find themselves penalised for their uniqueness, new research shows
People with excellent ideas might find themselves penalised for their uniqueness, new research shows
  • Creativity and innovation are encouraged in some environments, yet challenged and feared in many others
  • New research finds innovative patent applications are often rejected for being too different
  • Ideas with the potential to change lives, or increase business profitability may well be unique, but leaders shouldn’t let their fear of the unknown deter them

Creativity and innovation are two of the most valuable assets for growth – both in business and society. And as such, arguably, they should be heavily invested in if we are to enact change. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way.

Whilst career gurus and business experts promote the value of an innovative or creative personality in professional progression, in reality creativity is sometimes shunned. Often workers are expected to simply follow the grain.

The idea of conforming is certainly not a new one. From being forced to wear a uniform or particular style of shoe into school, to employers basing hiring decisions on the visibility of piercings, tattoos or unnatural hair colours rather than capability, self-expression and individuality are often squashed.

The fear factor

Why? Often it is about maintaining a wider image, or instilling a degree of control, but perhaps much of this attitude comes as a result of a fear of change, which holds people back. A survey conducted by Free Agent found that over 80 percent people admit to having major regrets about not adapting to new things in the past, and nearly 75 percent confessed that life would be better if they were more open to change.

These sentiments ring true when considering recent research conducted by Assistant Professor Pooyan Khashabi at ESSEC Business School that focused on patents. The study investigates the extent to which innovation is disclosed in pre-grant patent documents.

Professor Khashabi found that the more innovative and creative the patent is, the less likely it is to succeed. This is due to the fact that, when a patent is unique and innovative, it is harder for financial analysts to gain a clear or accurate understanding of its likelihood to succeed.

The same old ways

When reading the research, I couldn’t help but associate it with my own brief stint in recruitment. We have likely all experienced the feeling of being micromanaged and forced to do things a certain way. Whilst the work was not creative by any means, I soon developed my own ways of doing things which, steadily brought success.

However, in a meeting with my manager, upon him seeing my way of taking notes, I was met with disapproval. He claimed that the way I took notes was incorrect.

I asked if the notes were inaccurate, or had perhaps negatively impacted my work or caused any wider problems and he said no, but claimed my question was insubordinate. From then on, my every move was watched. I began to use the systems that suited my manager, my emails and other communications were all vetted before I could send them. As a result, my success rates declined.

This, along with many other aspects of the job, was my first understanding of why creativity is important. From note taking to exploring new business ideas, the fear of the unknown or doing things differently can have significant repercussions.

Measuring success

In order to develop his research, Professor Khashabi made use of the American Inventors Protection Act (1999) which ensures that the pre-grant public disclosure of all information is available within 18 months of the initial filings. He found that, on average, the pre-grant patent disclosure of corporate inventions can significantly improve the accuracy of analyst forecasts.

Yet this cannot be said for more original and ‘out-there’ ideas. Interestingly, the findings indicate that the disclosure of patents is more common in firms with better legal protection, alluding to yet another layer of fear; that their idea may be stolen.

Professor Khashabi’s research acknowledges that by having a more accurate analysis and forecast, a business idea could be much more successful. It makes it easier to plan if the person behind the patent knows what to expect or what to avoid.

For those with a straightforward idea, these forecasts can prove extremely helpful. However, for more unique ideas, the forecasts or lack or, would not prove to be useful.

“Companies risk getting penalised by analysts for high quality research and development work,” Professor Khashabi says. “While new ideas suggest that financial analysts increasingly have a scientific background and can digest the information, if they make errors, it’s a problem. Investors like predictability and, as soon as a company is not predictable, stock prices fall and the company suffers, so analyst accuracy is key.”

Unfortunately, the consequence is that ideas with the potential to change lives may not see the light of day for quite a long time.

Can you be too innovative?

Whilst this is certainly more serious than my differing opinion with my recruitment manager, my anecdote shows just how much creativity can be pushed down by the people in charge. Financial analysts undoubtedly have an important role to fulfil, but does the caution present in their analysis make it possible to be “too innovative”?

Such sentiments contradict the teachings of business schools and universities all over the world, which champion innovation, dedicate countless hours to teaching and fostering such skills and pushing students to shake things up.

However, as Professor Khashabi’s study shows, people with excellent ideas might find themselves penalised for their uniqueness.

It is widely known that companies who embrace innovation perform better, so how can we move forward and ensure those innovations pass muster with analysts and those in charge of the purse strings? As well as highlighting the challenges, Professor Khashabi’s study outlined a set of six processes and strategies, all of which provide companies with a much clearer outline on how different departments can work together to successfully foster creativity and implement new ideas.

The strategies all have different steps, but the backbone of each is effective communication. If staff, departments and stakeholders communicate more, they can collectively manage the implementation or new ideas and processes, helping them to overcome the fear of change.

It is easy to forget that with change comes progress. Once upon a time, publishing this article would have been a much longer process, involving a typewriter, ink and far more work to do in the event of a typo being discovered! The internet was feared at first, and now most of us cannot get through daily life without it. Whilst a degree of caution when approaching the unknown is healthy, it should not stop us in our tracks. Whether an action as small as taking notes, or as big as approving a patent for revolutionary idea, innovation and creativity matter.

Want to read more on this topic? Why not try this…

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: