Creativity and Innovation: Instinct and Intellect

Too many people continue to confuse creativity with innovation, and that muddies up the work.  Teresa Amabile from Harvard University has simplified these understandings.  Briefly, she says that creativity is the idea and innovation is the idea in action. Others have followed her lead to differentiate the two.

My friend, authfresh water springor of Jack’s Notebook, and blogger Gregg Fraley uses a metaphor to communicate the uniqueness of bottled waterboth.  To him, creativity, is the fresh water stream;  innovation is bottled water. It all works. Both Amabile and Fraley get to the point that creativity comes first, then arrives innovation.

I’d like to put something forward that’s a little newer and different for your consideration.   Creativity is to instinct as innovation is to intellect. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung included creativity as one of five human instincts, involuntary drives toward certain activities.  The others are: reflection, activity, sexuality and hunger.

Manfed Max-Neef, the Chilean economist who developed the Human Scale Dimensions for building and sustaining communities, includes ‘creation’ as one of our species basic needs. Basic needs, he says, are all drivers for finding satisfiers and that growth occurs when these needs are met. (More about him in a later post. What I like about Max-neef’s needs framework is that it presents a systems view rather than the hierarchical one as developed by Abraham Maslow over 60 years ago. Max-neef’s work was published in 1991, far more current and aligned with present day worldviews.)

I’ve always believed that creativity is personal and results from a restlessness to improve or change the status quo; that there are many different expressions of creativity and, that evaluating others’ creativity as adequate is a waste of time.

Assessing people’s styles of creativity is valuable from a learning standpoint to gain understanding.  My Brazilian friend Paulo Benetti summed up the sentiment like this: creativity is like love, its expression varies from person to person and from culture to culture.  Anthropologist Margaret Mead said it too, with a different spin. “In as much as someone has done something new for himself, he can be considered to have committed a creative act,” to which I’ll add, whether others consider it to be creative or not.

So, if creativity is instinct, and we all have the capacity to call on it, use it, tap into it theconomics of happinessen we all have unlimited creative potential.  In our culture however, creativity is often not enough.  Because we are ruled by economic thinking, if  creative expression doesn’t result in a new product, service or other ways to save or make money, then it doesn’t count; it has no value. In economic terms, so far (this may be changing. I’ve just picked up the book the Economics of Happiness by Mark Anielski to learn about another, newer approach to assessing value). That’s where innovation steps in.

Innovation is about changing habits of the people involved – the inventors, workers, and ultimate customers, to make their lives better, simpler.  Those decisions and pathways to success are a function of the intellect. Over years and years of practice, rules for production, new developments, research, etc have been invented for achieving success when launching and sustaining something new in the culture.  Wisdom, ‘smarts’, evaluation, risk factors, and more are used as critical factors for implementation of new ideas.

How does considering creativity as instinct and innovation as intellect helpful? Just like Amabile and Fraley above, instinct and intellect presents another viewpoint for considering their relationship in business as a both/and rather than an either/or.

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