Measure the wrong thing and get the wrong results

Measure the wrong thing and get the wrong results | Rethinking Creativity

Written by Monica Kang. Originally Published on LinkedIn Blog.

That makes sense. If you want to know how heavy a box is, you measure the weight, not the height. But how can you make sure you measure correctly for an intangible value? Or worse - What if you realize you have been measuring the wrong way all this time to determine its value for the longest time?

It’s a question we should ask more when we talk about innovation in the workplace.

Over the years, we have gotten better at quantifying and understanding the importance of love, friendship, meditation, and even sex. While not every person has the same understanding of these intangible values, most agree how these play a critical role in our lives. In fact, studies consistently show how those who appreciate these intangible values tend to live a happier and healthier life. Interestingly, we have been pretty awful at quantifying creativity and innovation, especially when it comes to the workplace. Creativity and innovation are something we say we want more in corporations, yet it is rarely ingrained it into a corporate culture.  Why is that? t I profoundly understand the importance of quantifying the value of innovation. As a business owner myself, finding every opportunity to quantify, measure and understand the depth of the impact of each decision is very important. But I worry how organizations and leaders miss out on valuable talent, development and organizational growth opportunities with the thinking articulated by Eliot Gattegno in his TechCrunch piece, “Creativity is Overrated.”  How did we get to a place that people think being creative at work means “colorful employees” and “focusing too much on creativity” means “implementing nothing”? (Feel free to read the article if you haven’t read it yet.)

Most corporations have quantitatively measured innovation for years: How many new ideas can you generate for this product? How many new processes can you think of with this limited time? How many problems can you solve in a given amount of time? The more ideas one had and the more problems one solved, it was considered good. In fact, great if you tend to have a higher quantifiable result. In addition, we often associated art, color, and unconventional action as the foundation of creativity. That’s why those who were better sketchers were immediately seen as the ‘creative ones’ and those with awful handwriting will not speak up. It’s understandable. You need numbers to understand what decision to make and when the numbers don’t seem favorable, the decision seems to be clear - drop creativity, it is just a nice to have a thing.

Thoughtful leaders know that just because it is hard does not mean there is NO VALUE or NO IMPACT in the process. 

So let’s break this down further to see what is going on.

If you are quantifying innovation as a numbers game, my guess is you see innovation being rooted to ideation. In other words, for you, the purpose of innovation is to stay ahead of the game with new and better products, culture and programs. This is how you grow your business, generate more revenue, and that’s why getting those results is key. Am I right? You are not alone. This is what most corporations and leaders think of innovation because this is what they are used to. This is what others have done, this is what their companies measure and this is how it seems to work best because that is the only version we have seen before.

There are a couple assumptions that are made here though that we should dig deeper. We often take those steps because we see innovation as simply generating ideas and being artistic but nothing more. The goal is for businesses to grow but not people. Because I guess many assume people don’t really grow through creativity. Some are highly creative and such creative jobs should only be given to the most ‘creative’ people in the office because they will be best at generating new ideas. Being colorful means being creative. Sometimes being creative means taking all the risk, not following rules, and not implementing things, TechCrunch seems to agree with that.

Most of you would nod and agree. It seems about right.

Wait, but that is exactly the problem.

Yes, innovation is generating new ideas. However, generating ideas is only one of the many skills one becomes better at as a creative. In fact, leaders who are creative are the most resilient, mindful, strategic, patient, and greatest problem solvers of all times. People who live creatively are not just better problem solvers, they leave direct contributions to their organization, family, and society and often play a critical tipping point by finding key insights and connecting dots in unseemly places. And somehow these creatives tend to be a lot happier in life and less stressed as they are great at navigating any hazy challenges they face. And no, not all of them are creative artistically because being creative does not mean being artistic.Those are two different talents.

Wait, so creativity is holistic and not just idea generation????

Yes! In fact, researchers have proven the importance of holistic creative thinking since the 1950s. There is conclusive research that everyone is born creative, but often have unlearned how to be creative due to the education and workforce that asks them to stop asking questions or being curious. Hence, while measuring creativity through prototypes, idea generation and problem-solving is great, that is only one piece of the puzzle. If that is how you have been measuring innovation and have been unhappy with the result, no wonder why. Creativity is multidimensional and cannot be measured through one lens. You were measuring only one of the twenty plus skills one could gain from creativity. Plus many of them are skills that will take some time to be visible and be consistent.

So how can one quantify creativity???

Is there anything I can start doing to measure it better now??

It’s not easy but it is not impossible. First off, you need to start asking different questions and look into what kinds of solutions you are providing to address them. To understand how your organization is being more creative, you have to define what it means to be creative in your industry, why it is important, and how you want to implement it in your existing work environment. Do you want them to be more creative because you want to understand how they can do more with limited resources? Or do you want them to create a better balance and less stressed with more work? It’s also critical for you to prioritize what creative skills you want to study and measure first and why that is important for your specific company’s growth. We can all have more creative leaders but with your company need, culture and development, you probably need particular creative talents to grow with you. At times that is the person who can manage people at a fast pace organization or generate a lot of ideas to get the team unstuck or facilitate a difficult conversation with tough clients. As a leader, you need to know what you are looking for so that even when you start to study and measure the 20+ skills one can learn from creativity you can see if this role or task is the right match for this particular talent or if they are how they can do more. Some skills take longer to learn and hone. Which one do you care more about and what are ways you can connect it back to work? Are you offering programs for your team that is beyond fact finding and prototyping? If so, how often do you provide them and how are you making sure your teams continue to grow holistically instead of just for product development?

This is just the start. As you can envision, there are many more questions you may want to ask to make sure you are fully quantifying the value of creativity and innovation in the workplace before you dismiss it and shout “overrated.” It may be frustrating and tough but when you have a team and organization who fully embrace innovation and grow creatively, it will be more than just worthwhile. Your organization would be ‘feeling fully alive’ with your people being the best they can be because you are letting them thrive with innovation instead of seeing it as survival.

At the end of the day, it is really up to you.

Are you ready to upgrade or stay the same with the wrong measurement stick?

The choice is yours.


If I left you with more questions to think about at the end of this post, I’m glad. We can’t get great answers without first asking more thoughtful questions. I look forward to hearing how you generate more creative leaders in the office.

Monica Kang is the Founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox® where she helps leaders unlock their creative leadership potential and is redefining innovation in the workplace. Since launch, InnovatorsBox® has been recognized as the only creative education firm that is teaching creativity in a tangible, practical and relatable way for professionals to understand, embrace, and practice. She is an avid supporter and speaks often on the importance of rethinking creativity, diversity and inclusion, diversity in technology, and social entrepreneurship. She actively supports DC Tech growth as the Organizer and Facilitator at Startup Weekend and President of DMV Startup.