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A pioneer in mobile technology, Motorola Mobility was acquired in 2012 by Google for $12.5 billion (around 75,000 crore). The search engine sold it to Lenovo for less than $3 billion within two years, but retained the vast majority of Motorola’s patents. Clearly, Motorola had been doing something right. Then why did it go on sale in the first place?

Slow in transitioning to new technology and customer demands, it’s the latest prey to what Austrian-American economist and political scientist Joseph Schumpeter calls “creative destruction"—other companies that have famously succumbed to this are Kodak, a technology company focused on imaging solutions and services, and Blockbuster, a movie-rental company. Creative destruction is the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one".

Like digital photography proved to be the nemesis of Kodak, a failure to adopt the smart mobile early enough seems to have rocked the boat for Motorola.

According to technology firm IBM’s 2010 Global CEO Study, which surveyed 1,500 chief executive officers (CEOs) from 60 countries and 33 industries, “More than rigour, management discipline, integrity or even vision—successfully navigating an increasingly complex world will require creativity."

Leading teams with bold creativity, connecting with customers in imaginative ways, and designing operations for speed and flexibility are imperative to position organizations for 21st century success, says the study.

The journey begins with an unbridled and free flow of ideas, is funnelled through the constraints of benchmarks or criteria, and chiselled to meet the desired goal or vision. Each of these phases calls for a distinct mindset and environment to thrive.

Fostering creativity

Mumbai-based Chandrashekhar Mukherjee, vice-president and head, people management, National Stock Exchange of India Ltd, says creativity and innovation thrive in an environment where people feel safe asking questions, expressing a minority viewpoint, experimenting, and taking risks.

By asking questions like “What will render a product or process faster, better, cheaper?" or “What are the alternatives?", the leader encourages employees to look beyond the first obvious solution. Creativity flourishes when people have fun, feel valued, and when out-of-the-box thinking isn’t considered the prerogative of a particular department, says Mumbai-based Kris Gomes, vice-president of human resources at integrated infrastructure finance company IDFC Ltd. Building an environment where “it’s okay to make mistakes" needs to be backed by a concomitant budget in terms of time and resources, says Gomes. The leader sets the tone for this culture.

As the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso says about the role of the leader: “A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow."

Questioning assumptions

Legend has it that when typewriters were first sold by Remington in the 1870s, there were some complaints about the keys getting jammed. Engineers at the company responded by reconfiguring the keyboard, so that the more commonly used letters (like “a", “o", “s") would now have to be struck by the relatively weaker ring and little fingers. Thus emerged the Qwerty configuration, created with the intent to slow down typing, which continues to be in use even today.

Knowledge

An idea is ignited by knowledge—not just subject knowledge but knowledge of topics as wide ranging as sports, horticulture, science, wildlife, history and tea making.

Ideas are stoked by a disposition for finding hidden patterns and connecting the dots between dissimilar phenomenon. Creativity entails looking at things like everyone, but thinking of something different.

Mumbai-based Sumanto Chattopadhyay, executive creative director, South Asia, at advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather, recalls a campaign for an non-governmental organization for breaking the social taboos around adoption. Doodling for an appropriate idea, his eyes fell on a toy kangaroo with a baby in pouch sitting on his table. He was quick to see a link. A kangaroo with a puppy in its pouch became the cornerstone of a successful campaign on adoption.

Moving away from the familiar

Creativity entails eschewing the well-trodden path, which requires an appetite for risk-taking, a propensity for experimentation, and courage to step ahead of the precincts of the familiar. Creativity researchers George Land and Beth Jarman did an experiment to assess the creativity of children compared with grown-ups—they gave a test to Nasa engineers, and then used the same test on children. They found that 98% of children aged 3-5 and only 2% of adults made it to the creative genius category. They went on to track the children and found the creative genius percentage dropped to 30 by the time they were 10 years old, and 12 at 15 years. This suggests an inverse correlation between age and creativity. The 1968 study was published in their book Breakpoint And Beyond: Mastering the Future Today.

Chattopadhyay says that creative thinking is borne out of a childlike attitude where the mind enjoys the luxury of wandering beyond barriers, unfettered. It thrives in an environment that offers fun and tolerates, even encourages, ideas that might be seemingly silly or counterintuitive. Our conditioning as a result of education, knowledge, assumptions and beliefs imbibed during our formative years stifles our propensity to be imaginative, playful and non-judgemental. We are lulled into becoming creatures of habit. And those among us who dare to think differently are often ridiculed, like Alexander Graham Bell when he first presented the phone and was told that “England has plenty of small boys to run messages" or when the Wright Brothers demonstrated their flying machine and a newspaper ran an article with the headline “Flyers or liars?"

Charu Sabnavis is a learning and organizational development facilitator and founder director of Delta Learning.

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