Can anyone be creative? For innovation to happen, you may have to be - Philly


Nov. 8, 2018 7:56 am

Can anyone be creative? For innovation to happen, you may have to be

Beth Comstock, author of "Imagine it Forward" and former GE innovator, encourages us all to make room for more creativity by embracing the idea of organizational storytelling.
The Defining Innovation panel: (L to R) Tracy Brala, Beth Comstock, Andrea Agnew, Kip Wetzel and Petar Mattioni.

The Defining Innovation panel: (L to R) Tracy Brala, Beth Comstock, Andrea Agnew, Kip Wetzel and Petar Mattioni.

(Photo by Brian James Kirk) was a media partner of this Arts + Business Council event. This coverage was not reviewed by the partner.

Do you believe that everyone has the capacity to be creative? Can everyone navigate change?

These were the critical debates that took place on stage at October’s Arts + Business Council “Defining Innovation” speaker series event, which featured Beth Comstock, who once led GE’s business innovations unit.

Comstock told the crowd of more than 200 at World Cafe Live that business leaders have to mind the “imagination gap,” the place where ideas go to die. Organizations need to let go of what they know and be brave enough to unleash curiosity if they want to grow.

On a panel with other Philadelphia business leaders, Comstock pushed that you don’t have to be an artist in order to be creative. Critical thinking, itself, is an act of creativity.

And sometimes, the data so many business leaders are excited about can kill great ideas. Our reliance on data often steers us away from creative opportunities, Comstock said.

Vanguard’s head of talent development, Kathryn A. Himsworth, led a one-on-one with Comstock, during which she asked Comstock about her time as a changemaker at GE.

The topic of corporate FOMO surfaced: Organizations often embrace change that allows for creativity because they have a fear of missing out on big innovations.

For Vanguard, that fear is most clear when it comes to its customer experience, Himsworth said. It’s the top priority of the company, and it can’t afford to miss any opportunity to improve on that experience. The company won’t allow great sparks of creativity and change dissipate if they could add value to that experience.

Drawing on Comstock’s deep corporate experience in marketing, storytelling was a focus of the event (and of her new book Imagine It Forward, for which she was touring).

A writer would tell you that any good story has a struggle. Comstock suggests that corporate innovation, led by strategy, follows a similar arc. “Story” is where you’re going in the world. Strategy, then, is a story well told, she said.

As media partner of the event, decided to get creative by engaging the attendees in thinking about their own organizational story. We also polled our readers. More than 100 people participated, and here’s what they shared:


If you were a character in your organization’s story, who would you be?

  • Hero: 22%
  • Villain: 4%
  • Ally: 24%
  • Guide: 41%
  • Gatekeeper: 9%

How well is your organization telling its innovation story?

  • We’re master storytellers: 17%
  • We could be doing better: 58%
  • We need a ton of help: 25%

Which roles would give your organization super powers?

  • Data Scientist: 26%
  • UX Designer: 16%
  • Artificial Intelligence Engineer: 16%
  • Mobile Developer: 3%
  • Other: 39%

TL;DR? Most people consider themselves heroes, allies or guides in their organization who want to help others to succeed. Most companies could be telling their story a whole lot better. And although data scientists are highly sought after, each organization has its own unique superheroes.

For those leaders who are balancing the need for quarterly reporting with building the future of your organization, be bold. Make room in your organization for creative problem-solving to grow beyond.

It could make for a great story, too.

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