For years businesses have been calling for more and more innovation, creativity and/or enterprise. Particularly in a weak economy where innovation can mean the difference between life and death, the call for creative thinking has grown increasingly strong. Unfortunately, budgets and a stomach for risk have not followed suit. But before we even attempt to tackle those issues we need to think about what innovation and creativity mean. Why? Because these things mean very different things to different people. we are faced with a need for something, something seen as important, but which is either undefined or is defined with a wide range of interpretations.
Creativity is, in its broadest sense, the ability to think a new idea. This may be a new design, a new way of understanding the world, a new way of approaching a problem, a new melody, etc. It may be rethinking an old idea or a use for something we had forgotten. Out of the creative act is born symbols and myths.
Innovation is the process by which the new idea is put into practice. It challenges the existing ways of doing things and is a means of tangible change. Because it is a form of change, people will react as they do to any change. The more surprising the innovation, the more extreme the reaction will tend to be positive or negative. As with creativity, innovation can provoke, inspire or simply be lost in translation.
Creativity and innovation are inexorably linked, two sides of the same coin. Both are characterized by the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Both involve thinking, then producing. If you have ideas, but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but neither creative nor innovative.
Unfortunately, language can get in the way of action. It does not help that “creativity” has strong associations with the special artistic talents of a small number of exceptional people: creative geniuses like Mozart or Shakespeare. People in business often claim to be uncreative for this reason. Equally, “innovation” has connotations of logic and technical expertise. Think Bill Gates or Einstein. Consequently, innovation often falls to people other than the creative class.
We often forget or ignore our creativity and potential to innovate because we get too wrapped up in the roles we assume in our professions. And yet, as a species we are hardwired to embrace both. That means taking risks and relearning how to reject the mundane, assume risk and be willing to experiment. Especially during a time of economic uncertainty.