I spent an enjoyable evening today at dinner with friends talking about innovation: specifically, what differentiates the characteristic of innovative from creative from inventive.
Answer the following questions:
A. e e cummings’ poetry is:
B. Name a painter who was creative but not innovative.
C. Can an artist be innovative but not creative?
D. Name an invention that was neither creative nor innovative.
These were some of the questions that we discussed, and I’d be curious to hear answers from those reading this and their reasons for giving them.
You’ll notice that our discussion tended away from technology and more towards artistic fields. This was intended as a way to shed new light on how we innately think of these concepts, what representations of these concepts have been built up in our lives. Thinking about which artists you consider creative, or innovative, or inventive, and why you make that distinction can illuminate our application of these terms to business, science and technology–fields where these terms get applied so often that their differentiation has become obscured.
With respect to the arts, the term creative seemed to require that the observer have a visceral response to the artwork, some level of appreciation or aesthetic response. The mere act of creating something does not demand that the act be denoted “creative” in this context. A work could be different and inventive while not inducing in the viewer/reader a response that creates the reaction “creative”. We can understand this in technology through Edison’s quote, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” This quote from our greatest inventor can also apply to the act of invention. Developing something new can result simply from hard work and does not necessarily require any creativity at all.
Creativity also requires the context of history—a piece of art is judged creative when considering what has been done previously by that artist and by other artists. Context helps define what is creative and what is derivative.
Innovation, however, requires the contexts of both the past and the future. Innovation must be creative (the past, see above), but must also cause a change in the creations of others (the future). If someone creates a piece of art that incorporates a new technique, the piece would only be innovative if it inspired other artists to change how they create art, perhaps by creating a movement based around a new technique or approach. Innovation thus demands a social context of some sort that creativity does not.
So when is something an invention? Obviously it must be new, but if I throw paint at a piece of paper , then I’ve created something new while not something inventive. It must be new in the sense that it has novelty and utility. Unlike creativity, inventiveness seems to require the creation of a tool of some sort that others can use. Invention can somehow be disassociated from creativity in the sense that one can slog one’s way to an invention (or utility creation) without the flash of inspiration and imagination that is associated with creativity. One can create an invention simply by trying something over and over again until something works. This would not be a creative process. Nor would it be an innovation.
Or is this all wrong? I have a suspicion—no, I’m sure—that there are inconsistencies in these arguments and some of the statements are outright wrong. Which ones, I’m not sure. But it certainly is worth thinking about, and it definitely makes for a great dinner discussion.