Collective Connects April 2013

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Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” 

Creativity and innovation takes many forms and occurs in many ways. Originality and inventiveness of ideas and their actualization remain the essence of progress for our civilization. Our creative ideas change the world, enhancing life, contributing to productivity and economic expansion.

TThe possibility of an innovative idea is strengthened by our knowledge of making, usage, and potential modification to our tools, techniques, systems and organizations. Innovation takes time and the potential is rarely recognized immediately. Users of the first personal computer had trouble conceptualizing uses beyond calculations and word processing. Now, with the advent of the wireless internet, we can’t imagine a world unconnected from electronic technology. Yet innovation and creativity are often confused. In this instance, while new and innovative technology can be transformative, often its beginnings are grounded in creative starting explorations leading to dramatic new insights toward innovation.

Always concerned with relevance and profitability, companies keep an eye on creativity and innovation, which encourages them to continue their search for the next big thing. Contemporary culture often uses the words “‘innovation” and “innovative” as buzzwords and mantras. This has led to the commoditization of creativity and is fast diluting our sense of what is truly innovative.

This distinction between creativity and innovation requires to be more carefully considered, the words more appropriately used and the process requires to be suitably bridged. To move beyond creative concept, an idea must be logically thought-out to meet the demands of its surroundings. It requires to be measured and tested properly and found to have worked in the “real world,” successful outside of one’s own process. Further, experts on the subject of creativity tend to agree that for something to be creative, it is not enough for it to be novel. It must have value to society.

Examples of innovation in action abound. Patent filings worldwide passed the 2 million mark in 2011, showing significant growth of 7.8 per cent over 2010 and exceeding 7 per cent growth for the second year in a row, signaling that companies continue to innovate. In 2011 more patents were filed in China than at any other office in the world, surpassing for the first time in 100 years, Germany, Japan and the United States. Attributed to a shift in public policy from “made in china” to “designed in china”, it is now a well-understood strategy for supporting a maturing economy.

When it comes to our ever more global future, the inter-relationships among food, populations, resources, and economic development are the most pressing. The Rwandan company, Inyenyeri, has implemented a new process whereby a carbon-negative stove and crowd-sourced biofuel pellets are distributed to homes in Rwanda at zero cost to rural users. Intended to create positive social and environmental change locally, the innovative process can potentially be implemented anywhere/everywhere in the world.

Recognizing that dyslexics tend to rotate letters as well as mix them up, Dutch design firm StudioStudio has created Dyslexie which incorporates numerous features to help minimize such problems. This innovative typeface can be implemented at little to no cost to the provider; this reasonable accommodation enables people with learning disabilities to more effectively perform daily tasks.

And it is not just productivity and quality of life that innovation touches. Innovation is frequently synonymous with risk-taking as revolutionary products or technologies create new markets. The Canadian startup company, Interaxon, is launching a brain-sensing device to control games, reduce stress, improve memory and concentration, and eventually to control devices directly by simply thinking.

But what is unique about innovation is that it is interminable. Looking back on history, the light bulb is something that has not been without 80 years of innovative revisions. Even after Edison, it took another 40 years, into the 1920s, for electric utilities to become a stable, profitable business and for Edison’s light bulb to reside in every home.

Similar to the journey to achieve a more efficient and economical light bulb, most of what happens today is about renewal, and that is a very necessary part of the innovation process. Taking a fresh look at existing inventions, creative thoughts, and processes, helps to re-think the overlooked and the misunderstood.

Current business pressure and speed of the idea-to-market often favor creative exploration over creation in innovation, but this too is beneficial, supporting the notion of small steps over broad leaps. Needless to say, Innovation has not gone missing but it does take time. Innovation is very much alive and it can happen anywhere, anytime, and for any given reason.