This post is by Tina Seelig, Faculty Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program
This past week I had a revelation… Innovation is hard because creativity is easy.
Let’s start with some simple definitions: Creativity results in ideas that are new to you, while Innovation results in ideas that are new to the world. Essentially, creative ideas are evolutionary, and innovation ideas are revolutionary.
Creativity is our first language, which we learn naturally as we move through the world, beginning as a baby. We need to be creative problem solvers in order to address all the everyday challenges we face, such as how to dress for a job interview, find a new way to work when there is a traffic jam, and what to make for dinner. In these cases, it usually makes sense to go with the first or second right answer.
Innovation is a second language that enables us to move beyond the first right answers to come up with unique solutions. It requires us to stretch our imagination, to reframe the problem, and to challenge assumptions. This is hard work!
Because we are good at creativity — finding an answer — most people don’t feel a need to find additional answers.
Consider this analogy… If I was trying to learn French, and found myself in a cafe in Paris, it would be much easier for me to order a cup of coffee in English and hope that the barista understands me than to piece together my broken French to communicate. I fall back on my first language — English — as opposed to forcing myself to speak French.
There is a wonderful article in the New Yorker by Lauren Collins, in which she describes her quest to learn French. The article, called Love in Translation, includes this beautiful quote, “English is a trust fund, an unearned inheritance, but I’ve worked for every bit of French I’ve banked.”
Consider replacing the words English and French with Creativity and Innovation and you get this: Creativity is a trust fund, an unearned inheritance, but I’ve worked for every bit of Innovation I’ve banked.
Essentially, we fall back on creativity because it is easy, instead of putting in the hard work required to be innovative. Creativity is perfectly fine in situations when we’re happy with an incremental solution, but it’s not sufficient if the goal is to come up with a breakthrough idea that is new to the world.
For me, it’s is helpful to view innovation as a second language, and to recognize that real effort is required to master the skills to become fluent.
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