Yes, intuitively most people know that to truly excel during a down time, we should be looking for opportunities to innovate rather than retrench. Think about it, in recessions people are much more likely to reconsider a brand because they want to feel they’re getting the best value. In fact, Roper is calling this time the "big reassession".
But rather than create new value through innovation, companies are quick to cut costs or stay the course. This just gives people even fewer reasons to buy and the recessionary laws of gravity take over and drive companies down.
So why don’t more companies innovate? Or use creativity to it’s fullest potential? I recently attended the TED conference (www.ted.com) and had the opportunity to see author Elizabeth Gilbert give a great talk (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html) on the impossible things we expect of creative people.
What occurred to me is that most companies don’t know how to nurture creativity. They put too much pressure on the organization and the individuals within it to "be" genius. Be creative. Be innovative. And do it while cutting costs. I don’t know about you but I’ve never had a great idea under that kind of pressure? It’s not unlike what an author goes through after a hit book or movie. The pressure to "be" genius again is immense and paralyzing. It causes a creativity crisis so to speak. What if as employers, we could create a culture where we enabled people to "have" a genius from time to time? In other words, what if we created an environment that nurtured innovation, recognized genius when it presented itself, and celebrated brave failures when the genius failed to show up for work?
I suspect that innovations would flow and the Return on Innovation would be much greater than any ROI achieved through cost cutting. We’re working hard to continue to foster that kind of culture here. I’d be interested to know what people in other industries think about avoiding a creativity crisis in their business.