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Wherefore art thou Creativity, and Innovation?
The great minstrel William S. was often misquoted in writing “Where art thou, Romeo”, the
actual phrase was “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” Or in other words: why do you exist?? We
might ask the same questions about the illustrious concepts of Creativity and Innovation.
While sometimes these are considered the same, the answer for these two, in my mind,
turns out to be very different.
Creativity: Rebel without a cause?
To immediately get to the point, the key question is whether Creativity needs a direct
purpose i.e., needs to work towards an accepted result. Or whether it (also) makes sense to
stimulate creativity (i.e., generating novelty with a spark) because it serves a higher not
strictly defined purpose? And if so, what are the implications?
This is how I see it: if we want people to be creative, start with the basics. This may very well
mean that we need to allow more space for creativity to be exercised during our formative
years. For ease of use, let’s call these our school years. This does not necessarily mean
that creativity needs to be trained according to guidelines, learning goals, formal testing and
grading. Grading children’s creativity will motivate them to do exactly what they are told to
pass the course. By the way, I doubt whether adults will react differently if the same types of
incentives are being used.
Rather than grading the result, the emphasis should be on developing the intrinsic motivation
to get the basics covered. To me these basics are: 1. Cherish the process of creating without
being obsessed with the result, and 2. Be inquisitive: put effort into formulating a better
question may be more valuable than giving the perfect answer to a bad or irrelevant question.
However, this capability is discouraged between 6 and 18, or even up till in your twenties.
We are – by and large – trained to produce answers, reproducing knowledge humanity
already knows. Don’t get me wrong, knowing what we know is valuable, but mainly as a
basis to discover more on what we don’t know. One initiative – in education and broader -
that is trying to turn the tide is the site (plus book, blog etc) A more beautiful question
(#AMBQ). I recommend to take a stroll there. You will amongst others find out that in fact the
second week of March was Question Week.
We cannot demand from people to be creative, i.e. create something novel, if their progress
is solely assessed based on their capacity to do what is expected of them, and/or to
reproduce everything that is not novel.
“Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” (Einstein)
Innovation: Rebel with a Cause?
Innovation is a rather different story. Just a new idea, without a purpose, or follow up in
practice, remains ‘just’ an idea. For innovators, this is not enough. An idea needs to be
translated into something that can be used in practice, or is “adopted by the market”.
It is important to remember that a new idea, especially when it has indeed been implemented,
is not necessarily something we need to be happy about. Atomic bombs, ponzi schemes,
obscure financial derivatives, drugs. they all started as innovations: they were novel and
have been implemented at some point in time. But should we just for that reason uncritically
applaud them?
To move from an idea to an innovation, the ‘Why’ or ‘Wherefore’ question cannot be asked
enough. Not everyone can have the incredible skill-set of Leonardo Da Vinci, but there is no
excuse for not wanting to know more. Inquisitiveness is the key to any progress ever made.
Whereas with Creativity the purpose of this is ‘to create’, for innovation the purpose is to
make sure it does have meaning. One recommended book on starting anything, but
especially companies, acknowledged this as such [Art of the Start, 2.0]: on top of the Holy
Grail for entrepreneurs (Economic Viability), also make sure your “to be implemented idea”
has meaning (Value) and is in line with your larger vision.
Especially if your aim is to address major problems in society, as one can agree is the goal of
social entrepreneurship, the starting point is a problem. But we have to be critical about the
definition of that problem and whether it is worth solving. A million app developers and some
of their investor posse in Silicon Valley may focus on the profit-potential rather than how
meaningful the idea is. Social entrepreneurs however have a duty to reflect more critically on
the meaning (= value for society) of their innovation, the problem that it aims to solve. Even
when we leave aside that subjective judgement, we can see that without ‘markets’
acceptance’ there is no innovation.
“Without market acceptance, there is no innovation (like it or not)”
So then wherefore indeed, art thou, Creativity, and Innovation?
Here’s the 101: innovation cannot exist without a purpose and whether that purpose is
something humanity will be happy about depends on the world vision of the “innovators”. To
achieve innovation, at some point Creativity has come into play. By definition: you cannot
achieve novelty without the skill of creating.
Vice versa, Creativity does not need Innovation to be worthwhile because it has intrinsic
value, that also goes beyond the professional sphere. Quite some work has been published
about the links between creativity (not only by the “creative sector”) and liveability, for
example. Note, this is a (strong) opinion. There are also people who feel that Creativity also
needs to serve a purpose otherwise it is an exercise in vanity. What I think they mean is that
just creating new ideas without any of them reaching “the market” is a waste of resources.
See, that’s innovation. Note the difference…
This is what it boils down to: before you can hope to successfully innovate with a purpose
and achieve success, the underlying skill of Creativity needs to be present. But here is the
catch: for the process of becoming more creative you may have to accept that there will not
be a direct, concrete, definable purpose. You don’t saw seeds expecting to eat the fruits the
next day. If you see it differently, good luck.
Post-note: this blog was written and published end of 2015 on several sites (by me, so no
copyright issues), but most urls turned void because of technical reasons. So hereby another
attempt.
Acknowledgements with original post:
This post was amongst others inspired by two earlier articles in the Dutch initiative of
“investigative journalism”, De Correspondent. That initiative is an example of a counterforce
against the ‘click and swipe’ culture, fast consumerism of anything (in this case news),
instead of building something lasting and meaningful. I have written blogs about that as well,
they will be republished soon.
Initial inspiration:
“Hoe creativiteit een talent van iedereen en een oplossing voor alles werd”, De
Correspondent, 16 Februari 2015. Article on creativity.
“Gij zult innoveren!”, De Correspondent, 6 November 2013.
Article on innovation.

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Wherefore art thou creativity - The New ABC version

  • 1. Wherefore art thou Creativity, and Innovation? The great minstrel William S. was often misquoted in writing “Where art thou, Romeo”, the actual phrase was “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” Or in other words: why do you exist?? We might ask the same questions about the illustrious concepts of Creativity and Innovation. While sometimes these are considered the same, the answer for these two, in my mind, turns out to be very different. Creativity: Rebel without a cause? To immediately get to the point, the key question is whether Creativity needs a direct purpose i.e., needs to work towards an accepted result. Or whether it (also) makes sense to stimulate creativity (i.e., generating novelty with a spark) because it serves a higher not strictly defined purpose? And if so, what are the implications? This is how I see it: if we want people to be creative, start with the basics. This may very well mean that we need to allow more space for creativity to be exercised during our formative years. For ease of use, let’s call these our school years. This does not necessarily mean that creativity needs to be trained according to guidelines, learning goals, formal testing and grading. Grading children’s creativity will motivate them to do exactly what they are told to pass the course. By the way, I doubt whether adults will react differently if the same types of incentives are being used. Rather than grading the result, the emphasis should be on developing the intrinsic motivation to get the basics covered. To me these basics are: 1. Cherish the process of creating without being obsessed with the result, and 2. Be inquisitive: put effort into formulating a better question may be more valuable than giving the perfect answer to a bad or irrelevant question. However, this capability is discouraged between 6 and 18, or even up till in your twenties. We are – by and large – trained to produce answers, reproducing knowledge humanity already knows. Don’t get me wrong, knowing what we know is valuable, but mainly as a basis to discover more on what we don’t know. One initiative – in education and broader - that is trying to turn the tide is the site (plus book, blog etc) A more beautiful question (#AMBQ). I recommend to take a stroll there. You will amongst others find out that in fact the second week of March was Question Week. We cannot demand from people to be creative, i.e. create something novel, if their progress is solely assessed based on their capacity to do what is expected of them, and/or to reproduce everything that is not novel. “Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” (Einstein)
  • 2. Innovation: Rebel with a Cause? Innovation is a rather different story. Just a new idea, without a purpose, or follow up in practice, remains ‘just’ an idea. For innovators, this is not enough. An idea needs to be translated into something that can be used in practice, or is “adopted by the market”. It is important to remember that a new idea, especially when it has indeed been implemented, is not necessarily something we need to be happy about. Atomic bombs, ponzi schemes, obscure financial derivatives, drugs. they all started as innovations: they were novel and have been implemented at some point in time. But should we just for that reason uncritically applaud them? To move from an idea to an innovation, the ‘Why’ or ‘Wherefore’ question cannot be asked enough. Not everyone can have the incredible skill-set of Leonardo Da Vinci, but there is no excuse for not wanting to know more. Inquisitiveness is the key to any progress ever made. Whereas with Creativity the purpose of this is ‘to create’, for innovation the purpose is to make sure it does have meaning. One recommended book on starting anything, but especially companies, acknowledged this as such [Art of the Start, 2.0]: on top of the Holy Grail for entrepreneurs (Economic Viability), also make sure your “to be implemented idea” has meaning (Value) and is in line with your larger vision. Especially if your aim is to address major problems in society, as one can agree is the goal of social entrepreneurship, the starting point is a problem. But we have to be critical about the definition of that problem and whether it is worth solving. A million app developers and some of their investor posse in Silicon Valley may focus on the profit-potential rather than how meaningful the idea is. Social entrepreneurs however have a duty to reflect more critically on the meaning (= value for society) of their innovation, the problem that it aims to solve. Even when we leave aside that subjective judgement, we can see that without ‘markets’ acceptance’ there is no innovation. “Without market acceptance, there is no innovation (like it or not)”
  • 3. So then wherefore indeed, art thou, Creativity, and Innovation? Here’s the 101: innovation cannot exist without a purpose and whether that purpose is something humanity will be happy about depends on the world vision of the “innovators”. To achieve innovation, at some point Creativity has come into play. By definition: you cannot achieve novelty without the skill of creating. Vice versa, Creativity does not need Innovation to be worthwhile because it has intrinsic value, that also goes beyond the professional sphere. Quite some work has been published about the links between creativity (not only by the “creative sector”) and liveability, for example. Note, this is a (strong) opinion. There are also people who feel that Creativity also needs to serve a purpose otherwise it is an exercise in vanity. What I think they mean is that just creating new ideas without any of them reaching “the market” is a waste of resources. See, that’s innovation. Note the difference… This is what it boils down to: before you can hope to successfully innovate with a purpose and achieve success, the underlying skill of Creativity needs to be present. But here is the catch: for the process of becoming more creative you may have to accept that there will not be a direct, concrete, definable purpose. You don’t saw seeds expecting to eat the fruits the next day. If you see it differently, good luck. Post-note: this blog was written and published end of 2015 on several sites (by me, so no copyright issues), but most urls turned void because of technical reasons. So hereby another attempt. Acknowledgements with original post: This post was amongst others inspired by two earlier articles in the Dutch initiative of “investigative journalism”, De Correspondent. That initiative is an example of a counterforce against the ‘click and swipe’ culture, fast consumerism of anything (in this case news), instead of building something lasting and meaningful. I have written blogs about that as well, they will be republished soon. Initial inspiration: “Hoe creativiteit een talent van iedereen en een oplossing voor alles werd”, De Correspondent, 16 Februari 2015. Article on creativity. “Gij zult innoveren!”, De Correspondent, 6 November 2013. Article on innovation.