“There are two types of creativity: the creativity of making zero to one, and the creativity of making one to a thousand,” noted Kazuhiko Nishi, a pioneering software entrepreneur who joined Microsoft in its early days and later became a leader of the ASCII Corporation. Mr. Nishi is right that in business, we can clearly distinguish various levels of creativity that differ in nature and innovation focus. I identified five different levels of creativity that I’m going to introduce to you now.
Creativity at level 1: Making minus two to minus one
Imagine you have to manoeuver a giant vehicle, e.g., a bucket-wheel excavator. It hardly moves at all — if it’s not sliding backwards, however, this bulky, heavy, rigid vehicle burns lots of fuel, oil and money.
The creativity of making minus two to minus one focuses on ideas to save costs and resources; help bulky organizations become leaner, meaner and more agile; simplify processes and operational structures; and raise efficiencies.
At this entry level of creativity, it’s easy to come up with ideas for incremental improvements. Everyone within the organization can contribute. And guess what? Your competitors can easily come up with such simple, practical and rather operational ideas, too. As such, level-one creativity won’t set your firm apart from your competitors — it just raises your odds of survival in a fast-changing world, and helps you to put a few coins into the corporate piggy bank, and .
Creativity at level 2: Making zero to one
Let’s trade your giant vehicle for a car that clearly moves you forward. Typically, it comes with more than just one gear, allowing you to switch gears and move forward at higher speeds.
At this zero-to-one level of creativity, you’re creating ideas for meaningful, new and original value offerings. You may do this through product and service innovation, solution and customer experience design, whereby you shift gears upwards and gain momentum as you move towards the more advanced innovation types. This is because profit margins tend to increase as we move up from product innovation to customer experience design due to a higher perception of value.
Creativity at level 3: Making one to two
Now you swap your plain-geared car for a brand-name sports car. It has a button that activates a turbo booster that doubles your acceleration in each gear. What a joy to see the envious looks of other car drivers when you pass by! What a joy to see their looks of frustration when the turbo kicks in and you speed off!
Creativity on the third level magnifies your value offering through cool marketing and design ideas, such as a clever promotional campaign, sleek packaging, an outstanding brand and an inspirational corporate image.
Just like hitting a “turbo drive” button accelerates your car at each gear, so do ideas for value magnification amplify the perception of value in the eyes of customers, allowing you to charge higher prices and fatten your profit margin.
Creativity at level 4: Making one to a thousand
Are you starting to feel bored driving vehicles confined to the ground? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to fly above everyone else, to own and control empty airspace?
On this fourth level of creativity, you look for ideas that multiply value: for example, you don’t cater only to one group of customers, but serve multiple groups; you don’t sell your value offerings only in one country, but in almost all countries; you don’t use only one channel but multiple channels.
Creativity at this level gives you a giant lever to lift your business into the sky and beyond your competitors. But you need to create ideas for entire new channels, new networks, new partnerships, and new business models. Level four ideas are more conceptual, technical and quantitative in nature. Ideally, they lead to one integrated new platform that you control, one that is the only pathway to gain access to your value offering.
Creativity at level 5: Making minus two to a thousand
Now suppose you dare mentally to depart from all existing vehicles on the market. You imagine how transportation may transform in future. You envision a future where every home has virtual reality rooms and 3D-printers (both of which are likely to lower the need for mobility and transportation) or, in a more distant future, teleportation.
If you’re part of a visionary leadership team that is bold and brave enough to create a new future for a stagnating corporation, then you’re ready for the peak level of creativity. In a true strategy innovation project, you generate ideas on how to make your company become a leader in an emerging market space.
To do this, you play on all lower levels of creativity and integrate all ideas into one strategic roadmap. You will have truly creative value offerings marketed under an avant-garde brand using hip promotional and image campaigns and tied into a state-of-the-art delivery platform that unifies channel partners, networks, modern payment options and business models. At the same time, you structure the operations and processes of your new business unit in a lean, simple and resource-effective way to also keep a cost advantage over the inevitable followers.
Conclusion: The five levels of business creativity cater to different innovation needs and employ different innovation types. At Thinkergy, we employ our awards-winning, systematic innovation method X-IDEA to play on the different creativity levels and cater to the full range of modern innovation types. Contact us to learn more how we may help you achieve your innovation objectives on one of the five levels.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2015. This article is published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 26 November 2015.