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Innovation today is moving faster than ever. In the last two years, we collected 90 percent of the world’s data from various sources, like social media posts and online purchases to GPS tracking and health devices. In 2023, 91.6 percent of Fortune 1000 companies planned to invest in Big Data and AI to stay competitive. By 2026, experts predict the wearable AI market to be worth $69.51 billion, and by 2030, 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet of Things.
But no matter the context of innovation, the key to generating value for a company or an individual is always the same: commoditize creativity fast. Here’s how:
Creativity provides value
Innovation requires creativity, which comes from two sources: 1) When people look to solve problems they encounter themselves, or 2) They set themselves against benchmark practices within the broader community, notice themselves falling behind and figure out what they need to fix before their competitors find a similar (or improved) solution. This is essentially the formula for a startup: Someone takes a creative idea and commoditizes it fast to reach as many clients as possible and generate more value.
The more people in a company come up with creative ideas, the better equipped it is to draw out continuous room for improvement and increased value. Each employee brings a unique perspective capable of creativity that others might never have considered. Leadership needs access to their creativity so they can act on good ideas quickly and start maximizing their value quickly.
A call center worker following their daily procedure could be the first person to notice and fix a bug that customers are encountering. Their creativity has value to the individual they serviced, but unless that worker can find the owner of the broken process, share their creative solution and commoditize that creativity with the rest of the team, that value is limited. More customers may call with the same bug, tying up workers who may not have a viable solution. The sooner creativity is commoditized, the greater the advantages for the company, which maximizes its value.
Commoditizing drives value
Any innovation that has value can be commoditized to amplify such value toward its possible maximum — a product, a process or just an idea for improvement — and such value is not necessarily limited to a monetary return. When I go online and find an article for a great home remedy for stomach problems, someone has already commoditized their creative idea by writing that article. They may have done so for money or because they experienced relief from stomach problems and enjoyed helping others share those benefits. They may also have valued establishing themselves as an authority on home remedies online, and by commoditizing their creativity, they reached a broader audience to maximize that value.
I could now take that article, improve on the remedy’s recipe and create a new idea, but unless I commoditize it by sharing it with others, that idea can only provide value to me. Depending on what I value — money, authority or sharing important information — I can create strategies to spread my creativity to the right people to maximize that value. By knowing what value I want to drive, I can maximize it more effectively.
Most for-profit companies value sustained profits and more impact on their client success, but even greater nuance in their value propositions may guide more targeted success. Leadership should identify and make clear what they value to everyone in the organization and encourage them to identify creative ideas to innovate their work in a way that drives that value. Anyone who identifies ways to improve their work and increase that profit or impact can take those ideas through the next phases of commoditization.
Commoditization at speeds maximizes value
Duplicating an invention or an improvement so others beyond the original inventor can benefit from it increases its value, but to maximize that value, its inventor needs to scale up fast. Staying ahead of competitors, solving internal problems, creating more efficient and effective practices — all of these creative ideas are more valuable the faster they are implemented and scaled. Speed keeps innovators ahead of the competition, but it also saves the time, money and resources that not acting on an innovative solution would cost.
Take, for example, a tree planted in a parking lot alongside a highway that is constantly the cause of accidents. I may notice the species has drooping limbs that block the visibility of cars exiting the lot and realize that relocating the tree to a different area would be safer for everyone. The faster I report that creative idea to the parking lot owner, the more potential injuries and harm I can prevent, making my idea more valuable. The quicker I can get that news to other parking lot designers, the better equipped they are to reconsider dangerous landscaping at other locations, preventing more accidents and maximizing the value of my idea because of lives saved and costly damages avoided.
To bring new ideas to the right people when a creative idea strikes, leaders need to establish a commoditization process. “Whenever creativity happens, I act [in this way].” Everyone should know how to move creative ideas to the next steps for implementation: reporting to a supervisor or submitting to a peer or group review, who then passes the idea to the owner of the production line. There should also be a step in that process for deciding how much to push that idea to wider company use and commoditize that creativity in more ways to deliver more value with better efficiency.
Commoditizing creativity fast may eliminate some jobs, but the evolution of labor is inevitable and not necessarily bad. Agriculture underwent several transformations throughout history to become more productive with fewer workers, freeing up entire families living subsistence lifestyles to have more time to seek out new careers and ways to innovate. People in eliminated positions will likely adapt to survive, figuring out new ways to apply their skill sets to meet new demands and increase their personal value. From a tree to a call center and everything in between, the process of generating value is ubiquitous: The faster we identify and commoditize creativity, the more value we generate.