Innovation and creativity are crucial tools that all businesses need in order to prosper. Research into how these tools work covers a broad area and crosses various disciplines. In the past, much of this research has been divided: One side looked at innovation, which focuses on how ideas are implemented, while the other examined creativity, which focuses on coming up with new ideas. Rice Business Professor Jing Zhou and colleagues addressed this divide by reviewing research going back a little more than a decade, looking for key measures that could be used as guidelines for future research.
Zhou and her colleagues began their work by reviewing the practical and theoretical perspectives of innovation and creativity in the workplace. They then created a framework for future research after identifying prominent theories.
Before getting started, however, they needed clear definitions for both innovation and creativity. Creativity, Zhou proposed, centers on idea generation. It's the first step toward innovation. Innovation, she concluded, stresses the implementation of ideas. This happens at different levels: individual, team, organization, or across multiple levels.
At the team level of innovation, research has progressed significantly, the authors found. They suggest that researchers now focus on other aspects of team-level research, such as team environment, leadership and facilitators of workgroups.
At the organizational level, Zhou and her colleagues found that numerous studies looked at the factors that influence innovation. But, they concluded, there's still very little conceptual explanation for how individual creative attempts become organizational innovation.
The team's review reveals the enormous strides that researchers have made in the field of creativity and innovation in recent years, and clarifies how their studies have been used by different organizations.
Despite advances in the field, however, there are still shortcomings. Many studies, for example, are hampered by problematic research approaches. Some lack theoretical groundwork and few take an inclusive approach to multi-level studies.
Zhou and her colleagues argue that addressing these limitations would be a tremendous leap forward in understanding creativity and innovation in the workplace. Without innovation, companies can't prosper and progress. The same holds true for academic research into these lifelines of business success: It will need to expand and dig deeper or cease to be relevant in practice.
This article originally appeared on Rice Business Wisdom.
Jing Zhou is the Houston Endowment Professor of Management and Director for Asian Management Research and Education at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.