Thought Leadership

The ICI Index and What You Can Do About It

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We recently hosted Scott Brandon on our “Through the Eyes of an Expert” webinar series to get his take on imagination, creativity, and innovation in the business world. Scott is the creator of the Imagination, Creativity, and Innovation (ICI) Index, and works with companies around the world to transform their corporate culture and education systems.

You can catch all of what Scott has to say via our recording of his conversation with FutureBrand Speck. Below are a few key takeaways derived from our discussion.

Read any article or watch any panel discussion on TechCrunch, Wired, or The Verge; chances are high you will hear about “innovation” within the first paragraph or opening presentation. Innovation is the pulse that moves the tech world forward, yet the act itself remains elusive for most organizations who seek to foster innovation within their company’s workforce.

People associate innovation with the creative actions of a brilliant cohort of employees who were lucky enough to be born with the innate ability to “think outside the box”. From this perspective, it seems that the only way to spur innovation in any particular area of industry would be to attract and hire the best talent possible and hope for the best.

This mindset is deeply unsatisfying because of its fundamentalist nature - people either “have it” or don’t when it comes to thinking creatively and producing something new in business. Scott’s work exposes the faults in this viewpoint by breaking down the differences between imagination, creativity, and innovation, and by establishing a process framework that can help any organization cultivate repeatable innovation as a core component of its business activity.

Scott structures his thinking about imagination, creativity, and innovation like a flowchart: one element follows the next. Too often, these terms are used interchangeably, but Scott clarifies each in simple terms:

  • Imagination: “the ability to think of things that could be otherwise”

  • Creativity: “imagination applied to a specific context”

  • Innovation: “when creativity moves the form forward” to create a result that can be presented to a broader audience  

With these building blocks, Scott simplifies the process of innovation, yet complicates the act for those who strictly focus on the end product. To get there, he suggests slowing down to question and think critically through a number of alternative solutions or scenarios to your problem.  

Companies big and small “pray to the altar of innovation,” yet don’t acknowledge the tools that enable them to reach their final destination. Innovation is an iterative process that’s best explored at first through a broad rather than focused lens. Imaginative employees need to be able to question their beliefs about their environment and the problems surrounding them. Turning these “truths” inside out fuels creativity by displaying which assumption may be worth exploring further - think of it as a stress-test.

Imaginative thinking this way is liberating, but needs some structure to offer real value for future innovation. Companies and business pundits alike encourage people to “think outside of the box” in the creative process, but the phrase doesn’t account for the direction of the thoughts involved. Scott clarifies: “Thinking outside the box takes imagination, but without thinking within the context of your business, it’s not going to turn into innovation.” Simply put, employers and employees should take time to consider every idea someone substantiates, so long as it’s ultimately business-focused.

Scott’s recommendation neatly dovetails into another core element of imagination and the ICI Index. Proper use of imagination necessitates empathy amongst employees. Most ground-breaking ideas seem strange when first vocalized. Without mutual understanding and consideration for these ideas, a company can’t expect to fully leverage imagination to spark the creative process and innovate. Empathy fosters imagination by giving people a safe platform from which to be heard.

In this way, imagination, creativity, and innovation can’t be compartmentalized. The concepts incorporate other behaviors when correctly used in a business context. Fostering imagination shouldn’t be viewed as an R&D initiative but a cultural one, spanning the breadth of a business.

Considering this, how do you foster these elements from a cultural perspective? Scott’s answer lies in allowing employees to “fail well”. Engineers and support staff alike should be afforded the ability to take risks in their day-to-day work, because they can rely on strong back-up systems in place in case of failure. Innovation isn’t a linear process, so expecting an employee’s idea to be effective immediately is naive. By having strong processes established, you can give your workforce the freedom to experiment towards creating even better ones.

Imagination, creativity, and innovation don’t occur at random, but take understanding and work to grow into engines of business. Scott’s insights offer a framework to help you get started.

Written by Jack Wiefels, Content Strategist