Why Innovation Can Be Taught

The question of whether creativity and innovation is ingrained or learned is one of the more enduring topics of debate in leadership circles.  The latest addition to the discussion comes via a paper from the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.

The authors created a contest designed to answer the question of whether people who naturally gravitate towards innovative activities are better at it than those who require a bit of persuasion.

The researchers reasoned that those who signed up of their own accord were the natural innovators, so they paid a similar number of others to participate to provide the control group.  The submissions by the two groups were then evaluated by industry experts.  The submissions were judged for their functionality, user-friendliness, novelty and potential commercial value.

Naturally creative

So, was there any difference between the two sets of results?  Apparently not, with the industry feedback barely distinguishable between the two groups.  It’s a finding that the authors believe has important implications for those seeking to boost innovation in their companies.

“If individuals are being held back by accurate beliefs about their ability to perform, as our results suggest, then efforts to help individuals overcome the psychological barriers that inhibit their participation could potentially enhance innovative output across a wide range of settings,” they say. “This shows that psychological barriers that, if overcome, could meaningfully contribute to the innovation process.”

The researchers also found that people can be encouraged to innovate via confidence-building interventions, especially among those who would ordinarily be excluded from such activities due to their lower academic abilities.  It’s worth pointing out however, that these encouragements did reduce the performance of the more academically able in the group.

It underlines the fact that innovation and creativity are very much things that can be taught and developed.  They’re skills, just like any other skill, and as such can be improved upon with deliberate practice.