August 2, 2021

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Existing technology is fine, just get creative, research shows

To do more with less, IT leaders are finding new ways to use existing technology, making room for creativity along the way.

IT departments encouraging innovation can increase return on investment by exploring new ways to use standard systems, according to research published in the Information and Organization journal. The researchers designed an empirical study to examine IT-enabled innovation based on a framework grounded in creativity theories. 

Even basic tools can be used for innovation if they’re in a workplace environment where employees are encouraged to master IT. 

“The very direct implication is you don’t have to spend money on creativity and brainstorming,” said Dorit Nevo, an associate professor in the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and co-author of the report. “You don’t have to buy those specialized tools. If you want innovation, you can encourage it with your existing technology.”

Consider a customer relationship management system. Traditionally used to manage customer-facing interactions, employees found it could also support in-house collaboration and training processes, according to Nevo. The innovation happens organically over time as employees encounter new use cases in their daily work.  


“You don’t have to buy those specialized tools. If you want innovation, you can encourage it with your existing technology.”

Dorit Nevo

Associate professor in the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


“You invest in one technology, but you get so much more out of it because you’re allowing employees to roam free” instead of sticking to only the features they were trained on, said Nevo. 

With data, for example, businesses rely on the creativity of IT teams. In the remote work environment, this may look like innovative ways to collect and analyze data on employee engagement, according to Ari Lightman, professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.

“Folks are looking at the IT team associated with more creativity, whether it’s process efficiency, process innovation, or innovative approaches around utilizing the data to connect with consumers, create new products and services,” Lightman said. 

Inspiring creativity among employees

The notion that innovation breeds efficiency and cost savings has been a tech talking point for years. But the research provides insight on the link between standard IT and the creative process. Innovation hinges on the mindset of employees, not in shiny new systems or emerging technologies.

“If you encourage creativity in your employees with existing IT and you actually follow through … [organizations] can get more out of their employees,” Nevo said. It requires leaders to show employees that it’s okay to make mistakes in the process of innovation and leading by example with using standard IT in different ways.


“The leadership role is to basically show that it’s okay … It’s okay for you to spend an hour of your time playing around with this technology.”

Dorit Nevo

Associate professor in the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute


To foster creativity, successful teams motivated employees to master IT, helped employees understand their role in the organization, recognized employee efforts and encouraged skill development, according to the research. 

Businesses can start by understanding “what incentivizes them but also what do they fear, what are their issues, what are the risks associated with them,” said Lightman. Then, the business can design mechanisms to engage employees at their respective levels and better support the path toward mastery.

As teams come up with innovative ideas, leaders should also give credit where it’s due, according to Lightman. 

“Innovation stalls because of attribution,” Lightman said, but keeping the innovators engaged in the process and measuring success from ideation to rollout helps overcome that hurdle. 

Employees should also have time in their calendars dedicated toward the creative process, according to Nevo. An hour of time spent exploring a standard tool is a billable hour today, but success pays off later. 

“The leadership role is to basically show that it’s okay,” said Nevo. “It’s okay for you to spend an hour of your time playing around with this technology.