Innovation Inflation is ruining us

By | November 12, 2013 | 0 Comments

Daily, I read articles and hear advertisements about innovative new products or concepts.  I must disagree.  There is little true innovation in our daily lives.  By calling anything that is creative innovative, we are de-valuing true innovation.  There is an plenty of creativity and that is a good thing, but creativity and innovation are not the same.  Here is my take on the difference.innovation

Creativity is taking a new approach on an existing issue or task.  For example, in the new Iphone, having a finger print scan is a new take on phone security.  It is creative; it is not innovative. Smart phones, personal secure access and fingerprint scans each already exist and now they are re-combined in a new way.  Creativity is the ability to enhance an existing product of concept through aesthetics, function, or added features.  The finger print scan on the iphone is creative.  It is something that you say “oh cool.”

Innovation operates in a different dimensionInnovation identifies and executes a solution to a problem or need that most do not even realize exists.  The ipod and iphone were innovative.  They changed our access to music (ipod) and ability to manage large amounts of information at our fingertips (iphone).  More importantly, they changed the way that we think about our relationship to information and data.  I maintain that without the iphone, the current quantified self movement, which hopefully will transform health and fitness in positive ways, would not exist.

I also think there is a difference in the level of execution, discipline and perseverance between creative and innovative.  I think of myself as a very creative person.  I can think of ten great ways to try something new or design a system to accomplish a task.  However, my failings come in my ability to think harder, look differently and persevere through boredom and frustration to be truly innovative in identifying a need or articulating a solution that defines an undefined problem, or changes how or whether we think (or act) about something.

 The distance between creative and innovative is great and requires three important qualities.  The first is focus and perspective.  These are two sides of the same coin.  We must be able to focus on an issue or task to see its minutiae and to endure challenges.  I think of my nine-year old friend Charles who can sit for hours and make original origami and I think that someday he will have the patience to wade through complex problems and see them in a new light.  At the same time of seeing the detail, a person has to have perspective on the scope of the issue and understand where it fits, or cteetertotteran fit in the larger context.  Achieving both of these things can be like running across a teeter-totter, bumpy.

 The second quality is the ability to see the problems.  One quality that I often don’t like about myself is that I can have a glass half-empty mindset when looking at almost anything.  Although I maintain that this is my saving grace in terms of coming up with new solutions and not settling for okay.  I am confident that this quality will help me be innovative.  And I have learned how to wrestle the inner-critic when I need to, especially as a manager.

The third quality is endurance and comfort with ambiguity.  Individuals working towards innovation have to be comfortable with long periods of being lost and not being able to quite put their finger on the problem.   True innovation takes a great deal of poking, prodding, defining and re-defining a problem and a solution.  In our world of instantaneous everything, I think the patience and ability to be comfortable with unsolved problems will become more rare, yet more valuable.

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