How to Become More Creative and Innovative (with Prof. Sultan Al-Mubarak)

In the first session of the 2104 Dental Innovation Forum, organized by Umm Al-Qura University’s Faculty of Dentistry, Professor Sultan Al-Mubarak shared his 7 strategies for becoming both more creative and innovative.

Although he introduced himself as having a background in the dental field, Sultan emphasized that most of his work during the past 17 years had mixed dental research with elements like biotechnology, creation, and innovation, as can be seen on his LinkedIn profile.

Sultan then began his speech by distinguishing “creativity” from “innovation.”

What is creativity?

According to Sultan, creativity is the ability to think something new into existence, such a device or a solution to a problem. He called it “one’s ability to come up with a clever, practical way of solving problems or doing something by thinking outside the box.” In short, creativity generates ideas.

What is innovation?

Sultan said that the ability to actually develop and launch something from an idea is innovation.

His examples of modern instances of innovation were the design and implementation of:

  • The ATM (which has mostly replaced bank tellers)
  • Health insurance (which has mostly replaced the need to directly pay health care providers)
  • The iPhone (which has mostly replaced traditional mobile phones)

Innovation can provide a new product, way of selling a product, production process, improvement for an existing product or process, and so on.

In short, Sultan called innovation “the successful implementation of new ideas.”

How do creativity and innovation work together?

“Creativity is the capability of conceiving something original, while innovation is the implementation of something new,” said Sultan. “Creation always goes hand in hand with innovation.”

One of his examples was the insulin pump, which used to be a large, heavy medical tool. Someone had to think of the modern, tiny, convenient insulin pump that could fulfill the unmet needs of diabetics. Then, the innovation process began when steps were taken to bring that insulin pump into existence.

7 Strategies for Becoming More Creative and Innovative

After defining his terms, Sultan explained his perhaps surprisingly simple strategies for boosting creativity and innovation.

1. Anticipate failure and rejection, especially in the short-term.
“Good design often takes years, not quarters, to bring results,” warned Sultan. “Sometimes failed products sow the seeds for later successes.”

That’s why Sultan considers it a bad sign when an entrepreneur claims not to have failed in the past. When he served as Director of Badir for Biotechnology, Sultan said he usually selected entrepreneurs who had failed in the past, since those failures would bring them greater success in the future.

“We almost believe that if you launch your idea that people are going to knock on your door. This is not the case,” Sultan said. “Most of the time, great ideas are rejected by the public as well as businesses.”

Sultan’s example was Kodak, who built the core technology for digital cameras in the 1970s. Although it was their innovation, Sony developed the more popular prototype that made them leaders in digital photography. Kodak had to sell some of their assets to avoid bankruptcy, but survived.

“We’re not talking about the road to failure. When you fail, this is not the end of the road. You should change your direction,” advised Sultan.

2. Use deadlines to focus creativity, but in moderation.
“Deadlines are good, but when you are talking about creativity and innovation, do not overuse deadlines,” warned Sultan.

He said that creative staff members should help their manager decide when and how to use deadlines to help rather than hinder their existing process.

3. Believe in your ability to be creative and innovative.
Innovativeness and creativity are not traits that some people have and some don’t, said Sultan, nor are they tied to intelligence. Instead, they are linked to mental processes that take place within each person.

He said that just creativity, for example, can take on the following forms:

• Generating brand new ideas

• Combining existing ideas

• Re-applying existing ideas in different ways

For example, Henry Ford was being creative when he combined the existing assembly line with his car production techniques, creating the moving automobile assembly line that would eventually produce a car in only 7 minutes.

All of these generation, combination, and application processes are a normal part of how ordinary people think.

“Creativity and innovation, it’s nothing big. It’s not mysterious,” said Sultan. “I’m saying it’s something built in front of us. So, some are better than others, but we can grow our creative genius.”

4. Be ready to modify your idea to serve a greater purpose.
With the starting point that creation and innovation should focus on ideas that are both novel and useful, Sultan recommended taking each idea through a process of refining, testing, and modification.

According to Sultan, the end result will be an idea that can launch a successful business and impact the world.

5. Draw diagrams.
Sultan recommended sketching out ideas, as can be done using a Venn diagram. This can help generate ways to make an idea applicable to different audiences, deconstruct and reconstruct various aspects of the idea, and highlight different advantages.

6. Think of stagnation as your enemy, not your competitors.
Despite Apple and Samsung’s public legal wars, Sultan pointed out that they are not really enemies. Apple is one of Samsung’s biggest customers, and Samsung is one of Apple’s top suppliers.

Meanwhile, Google’s stock price is zooming ahead of both as they continue to produce new products and services, such as Google Glass. Google is fighting the real enemy: stagnation.

7. Make time for fun each day.
Children often come up with unusual new ideas while playing, but so can adults. When employees are given space to participate in creative and innovative activities daily, Sultan said their productivity improves. There is tremendous potential in the playfulness of adults, as forward-thinking companies like Google are finding.

Finally, Sultan wrapped up by raising awareness for King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology’s National Science, Technology and Innovation Plan for the Kingdom, which covers the years 2015 through 2019. This is one of many plans designed to help Saudi Arabia’s economy evolve from oil-based to knowledge-based using, of course, creativity and innovation.

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