Something in the air – Holistic Innovation and Creativity

Derek Cheshire and I share something rather special.  We have both tutored for the flagship MBA Creativity, Innovation and Change programme from the Open University Business School, which occupies a space on the shelves of many of the top universities in the world.  Like myself Derek is a specialist creativity and innovation facilitator and consultant.  This puts him in front of senior people from many different cultures and climates and therefore gives him an immensely wide palette of experience and skills to work from in helping companies and organisations to innovate.  Derek kindly agreed to do an exclusive interview.

Tell me about what you do.  

I promote ‘holistic innovation’ i.e. I do not believe that innovation is a methodology or a process. It is a set of attitudes and behaviours that pervades an entire organisation but which has objectives such as capturing, storing and replaying knowledge as well as generating ideas and building upon them.  Ultimately it is about making money (or else we would simply be playing) and ensuring that the organisation is greater than the sum of the parts.

What ‘business innovation demons’ do you want to purge?

The demon that I would like to purge is the idea of the innovation department.  The more entrenched it becomes, the more difficult it seems to be to promote innovative behaviour throughout the rest of the organisation.  If I had enough explosives I would also ban trainers who claim to be able to inject creativity into an organisation by virtue of a simple workshop. Also on my hit list are brainstorming and crowdsourcing as buzz words.

Buzzwords are dangerous because they lull people into a false sense of security. People talk about brainstorming or crowdsourcing without experiencing them or understanding how they can use them. They then make sweeping statements like ‘brainstorming does not work’ when they dismiss creative techniques or more dangerously they hear/read success stories about a particular tool and then enrol their staff on courses. Afterwards they wonder why their new initiatives are not working. When buzzword usage becomes common, staff often convince themselves (or at least managers do) that they are actually doing what they are talking about.

Editor’s note:  At last a consultant with decent ethics.  A rare breed!

What can managers do that is genuinely innovative?

Unless something really extraordinary comes along then innovation is probably only relative. What is every day for Google would be rocket science for the UK Revenue and Customs agency.  Editors note: Strongly agree – see OK Computer.  What managers should do is watch and listen.  Just as an innovative organisation is chameleon like, so they must adapt too.  The list is huge but promoting innovative behaviour in others, ensuring that the workplace permits creative behaviour and banning any structures/meetings/reports which are just there for the benefit of those that cannot tolerate ambiguity.

What do you consider to be the future in creative thinking?  

There are two answers to this 1) what I would like to see 2) what will actually happen.  I would like to see more importance attached to intuition (simply decisions based on knowledge that is not tacit) and also the importance of serendipity.  I have a natural aversion to planning everything to the nth degree, just get stuck in and learn from your mistakes.  What I fear will happen is that the ‘creative movement’ will at last register with the business community in a big way and they will take creativity on board but only in a structured way.  People will be sent on brainstorming or facilitation workshops and creativity will be treated like a repeatable process with little thought to the environment or how to deal with ambiguity etc.

I see that is already happening and confess that on occasion I have signed up to the idea of having ‘rules for creativity’ if that is the only way it can be made to work in a particular setting.  Is structure totally the enemy of creativity for you?

I believe that rigid structure is the enemy of creativity and imposing such structure is often an attempt by those who cannot live with ambiguity to rationalise things and ‘manage’ it in the same way as they might manage more tangible aspects of their organisation. We do however require some guidelines for setting up an appropriate environment, setting objectives and managing expectations, giving staff the right creative tools for the job. Most importantly whatever system we create must permit learning in an organic fashion. What we cannot have is a scenario where people have to put in change requests to change their creative processes.

What part do techniques for creativity and innovation play in your repertoire?  What else matters to generate an innovative enterprise?

Creativity and innovation are tightly linked. I have my own model, the ‘Innovation Equation’ that links such factors as need, desire, resistance, creativity (coming up with ideas) and know how (the stuff we already know).

I = α F (C, K)n

It simply states that Innovation is a function of Creativity and Know-how which is multiplied by a constant alpha and raised to a power n where:

  • Creativity is simply the methods and frameworks that we use to create new ideas and knowledge.
  • Know-how is the things that we already know e.g. company history, libraries, employees skills.
  • Alpha is composed of two components, a desire or need to innovate and resistance. This can make the results negative!
  • The power n is a representation of the maturity level of the frameworks that have been put in place to exploit innovation. This includes culture, leadership & management behaviours. The more we practice, the higher this value can be and hence the more effective our innovation programmes.

Adopting this pseudo equation/model has far reaching consequences, it allows us to home in on the individual components of Innovation and measure them, telling you where money and resources are best targeted for maximum impact.

Innovation output depends heavily on these things. Without creativity and creative techniques we will simply rehash old ideas and without know how we have no context and are replicating a play group rather than a business enterprise.  An appropriate mix is good.

Derek Cheshire may be contacted via his website  Creative4business


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via


4 responses to “Something in the air – Holistic Innovation and Creativity

  1. Brainstorming: Both a great way of finding new ideas and destroying the souls of your most creative employees. How many times do you feel the results of brainstorming were already decided before you start?

    Get stuck in and learn from your mistakes: Great advice in today’s world you can prototype 100 ideas in less time than it takes to develop a perfect product that nobody wants. You can even advertise products before they have even been built, just don’t take peoples money… of course!


  2. “What we cannot have is a scenario where people have to put in change requests to change their creative processes.” That’s funny because it’s so true. And the idea that creativity only lives in the marketing or R&D departments misses the whole point of innovation: innovation is the the production of brilliant ideas, it’s the execution of those ideas in the real world.

    You say you have a great idea that will change the world? Sorry, but it’s not enough. Because while you’re perfecting the idea, someone else out there is perfecting the execution. They’ll bring your same idea to market faster, cheaper and better than you.

    That’s why holistic innovation resonates. Because it recognizes that innovation in process is as important as innovation in process and that the end result depends on everyone getting in on the game.


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