In the media

Structure and creativity go hand in hand

By Leo Olsson


18 May 2022

There is a common misconception that structure is the enemy of creativity. But clear frameworks and rules are, on the contrary, some of the basic elements in the innovation process, say Marie Amann and Malin Zandelin at PA Consulting.

PA Consulting is an international management company with approximately 4,000 employees, of which just over 100 are based in Stockholm. Their main target market is organisations in the public sector where innovation is one of several services they offer.

Marie Amann, who is a consultant in innovation and change management, has seen how several factors have recently increased the demand for innovation.

"One factor is globalisation and that is primarily linked to the global goals and climate challenges facing society," Marie says.

Hubs for collaboration
In the wake of the trend towards globalisation, there is also an increased interest in collaboration within innovation - between both countries and organisations. A concrete example is the innovation hubs that are popping up everywhere. For some time now Samverket has been operating in Stockholm, and is Sweden's first innovation and coworking hub for public sector activities. It provides an arena where public sector employees can meet and exchange experiences in order to find new smart solutions across organisational boundaries.

"Collaboration is required to solve major societal challenges,"  Marie emphasises.

Complexity in the public sector
But digitalisation has also, of course, provided fuel for innovation. New digital services have opened the door to new business models that work for the benefit of customers and citizens. Is there then any difference between innovation in the private and public sector?

"Not really," says the innovation and leadership expert, Malin Zandelin.

"In both cases, it is a matter of increasing the value proposition for those whom the business is intended to serve. The difference is that innovation in the public sector can be much more complex. Its value cannot always be measured in kronor and ören. Quality of care, for example, is more difficult to assess than the quality of a physical product," Malin continues.

Structure gives freedom
But regardless of whether innovation happens in the private or public sector, structure is required. According to Malin Zandelin, there is a common misconception that all structures and frameworks must first be removed in order for people to become creative.

"Research shows that it is just the opposite. With clear frameworks, mandates and roles, people get a space within which they can be free and innovate. When there are no boundaries or defined room for manoeuvre, we get overwhelmed by all the choices and nothing gets done," Malin says.

The work on structures also includes developing a “roadmap” for both incremental and radical innovations, which clarifies the organisational preconditions for innovation.

"As an organisation, we cannot rely on individuals to come up with new solutions, we need to create a climate that promotes idea generation and a structure that takes care of the ideas. But how do we create the organisational conditions to drive innovation? What changes are required in employees and leadership ?," says Marie Amann.

Psychological security
Organisational culture is vitally important in creating a favourable innovation climate. In a culture characterised by trust and psychological security, people dare to try new ideas and take risks, without it leading to any negative consequences.

"That culture cannot be built overnight, but requires patient and long-term work," Malin Zandelin points out.

Innovation is definitely not something that is fluffy and soft, Marie Amann and Malin Zandelin emphasise. It must always be based on a structured, systematic process and include the development of leadership, teams and culture.

"Everyone can be lucky and come up with a good idea. But we cannot rely on it - we must work on innovation systematically, cyclically and integrate it with other activities, it is only then that we will get real progress in innovation," says Marie Amann.

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