Dr Dzingai Katsamba, Dean: Technology and Innovation, On Creativity as being the crucible of sustainable innovation

Creativity, the crucible of sustainable innovation


Organisations have been grappling with applied innovation, yet the starting point is managing creativity. Without creativity, ideas cannot be generated, and the term innovation itself becomes just another buzzword devoid of practical solutions to the growth and sustainability of any organisation. It is, therefore, within the bounds of creativity that ideas are generated, and if incubated, can become implementable solutions that can be commercialised. Creativity can be viewed from the perspectives of creative confidence, creative risk-taking, and creative action, which allow for the emergence of creative outcomes. It is in the creative outcomes that the crucible of sustainable innovation is found.


Creative Confidence

Confidence remains one of the greatest abilities to apply when thinking and generating ideas to solve a crisis. Confidence has been seen to play an important role in migrating from creative potential to creative action. Belief in confidence also plays a key role in moving toward creative action under conditions marked by both heightened uncertainty and heightened awareness of an impending threat like the Covid-19 pandemic. Depending on the unit of analysis (individual, organisational, and societal) creative confidence can be conceptualised as an individual, collective belief, and even some combination of all these factors. 

On the other hand, turbulence and uncertainty are known as disruptors to people’s normal sense of control. However, unless people feel they have some ability to work through the uncertainty by thinking and acting creatively, then the stress and anxiety they experience will most likely be compounded. Moreover, a perceived lack of control when experiencing a stressful event like any crisis has been associated with depression, anxiety, and a sense of helplessness. Therefore, unless people have some sense of agency via creative confidence, then it is likely that people would avoid creative action and move toward deferential action. The latter will not assist in the development of successful innovations.


Creative Risk-Taking 

It is a necessity to take creative risks as the first step towards a creative action, and as a compliment to having creative confidence, people also need to be willing to take the risk of engaging in creative action. The willingness to take risks plays an important moderating role in the link between creative confidence and creative action. Depending on the focus, the level of willingness to take risks can be conceptualised as an individual, organisational, or even broader belief system. During a time of crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, creative risk-taking may be viewed as more precarious given that perceived threats from the crisis are already salient. Against this background, for people to take creative action they will need to take some adaptive risks. This involves being able to make judgments about what risks are worth taking, or what risks to avoid. 

In as much as people may be more hesitant to take risks in a time of crisis, doing so is necessary to move toward creative action. Creative risk-taking will also be required throughout later stages of the process, including in situations in which creative or deferential action does not lead to viable outcomes and thereby demands taking risks to creatively work through uncertainty and move toward the development of outcomes that help people navigate and address the potential hazards inherent in times of crisis and remain innovative. 


Creative Action 

Creative action refers to the willingness to think and act in new and different ways to navigate uncertainty and potential threats during times of crisis. It is a critical component of innovation. Creative actions may manifest in individual and localised efforts to organisational, societal, and even global endeavours. Individual people may, for instance, take creative actions on a more micro or personalised scale (e.g., individual people coming up with their own unique sanitising procedures when bringing groceries and shipped items into their home, and educators finding new ways to engage students through online instruction). However, on a larger scale, organisations may come up with new ways of working independently and together to respond creatively (e.g., restaurants pivoting their business models to leverage partnerships with local farmers to provide food preparation kits; professional sports organisations developing new protocols and procedures to offer sporting events; scientists working together around the globe to share data, findings, and insights to develop treatments).  

Regardless of the scale, however, taking creative action is no guarantee that doing so will result in creative or even beneficial outcomes. 


Creative Outcomes 

During a time of crisis, creative activities may lead to outcomes that may be judged to be new and meaningful.  An individual or group may, for instance, take creative action with the intention of making a positive contribution to oneself or others. The outcome of such an action can result in a variety of unintended and potentially undesirable consequences. The impact of creative action can be thought of as taking on a life of its own, which can be both beneficial (make a positive contribution) or problematic (and result in harm). Outlining the difference between action and outcome highlights the need for conceptualising and evaluating creative outcomes separately from creative actions, including the recognition that different people and groups may evaluate outcomes differently based on their unique contextual, socio-cultural, and historical sources of competitive advantage. 

Creativity remains the embryo of innovation. For innovation to be seen and experienced, creative confidence, creative action, creative risk-taking, and creative outcomes should be some of the building blocks of a sustainable innovation strategy.