Distinguishing between creativity and innovation
For the purposes of this blog I define creativity as the production of ideas. Innovation is deliberate introduction and application of new and improved processes and products. Innovation thus relies on creativity.
Emphasis on new?
If creativity is idea generation and innovation is idea implementation, then what is an idea? Must an idea be original, new, novel?
I have been documenting ideas in this blog (109 and counting) and none of them can be fairly called entirely new. The Achates motor I blogged about recently could save significant amounts of fuel worldwide if it is successfully implemented, and yet even that is just an idea on top of countless other ideas.
Nothing new under the sun
This phrase from the Book of Ecclesiastes is a comment on the monotony of life. I take a more affirmative view of this phrase – if there is nothing new, then our job is remix what is before us.
Andy Warhol was creative, but he didn’t invent Campbell’s soup.
I turn to the 40 Principles because they guide remixing of ideas that have succeeded in the past. Creativity lies in identifying solutions, not in dwelling on if “it’s been done before”.
In his research into patents, Genrich Altshuller found that:
- problems and solutions are repeated across industries and sciences
- patterns of technical evolution are also repeated across industries and sciences
- the innovations used scientific effects outside the field in which they were developed
A complicated, manufactured landscape
We inhabit a complex world which is constantly changing. Another one of Altshuller’s observations is that systems develop unevenly.
The idea embodied in the patent for symmetrical cylinder heads, for example, seems absurdly obvious – just make the heads mirror images of one another. But the opportunity to do so didn’t arise until another change was made to engines – the move to overhead cams.
Progress involves a lot of backing and filling, and a keen eye will see creative ways to make an improvement, even if that idea (like symmetry) is as old as the sun.