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Creativity and Innovation

by Langdon on July 6, 2013

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The notion of “creativity” is an elusive but important one for the field of innovation.  Indeed, it is central to the principles and practices of innovation, for the innovation process can be readily understood as the transformation of an initial creative insight into some form of artistic, social, or business value.

In this way, creativity is the spark, while innovation is the fire.  There is no fire without the spark, for the spark initiates the process, but the spark itself is not sufficient to warm you, nor to cook your meal, and yet the existence of the fire depends entirely upon it.

In the arts, the creative spark and the subsequent work to hone it into innovation are often the work of one individual, but in social and business concerns the creative impulse may indeed be individual, but crafting innovations is usually done by teams.  An iconic example of this is Steve Jobs’ Apple, where the creative sparks emanated from a wide variety of sources, some known and others perhaps unknown, while the subsequent innovations are entirely and obviously the work of many people throughout the company.

Here is a comment from Steve Jobs that speaks to the often unconscious nature of the creative process:  “Creativity is just connecting things.  When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.  It seemed obvious to them after a while.  That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.  And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”  Steve Jobs in Wired, Feb 1996 (Kelly-Gangi P 39)

This quote, and a couple hundred others that are individually quite interesting and collectively quite compelling, is taken from the charming little volume entitled The Wisdom of Steve Jobs, edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi and distributed through Barnes Noble from .  (Fall River Press, 2012)

Among the many interesting quotes from Jobs are a number of explicit acknowledgements of this sort of creative environment in which he grew up.  Here is one of them:  “My father had a workbench in his garage where, when I was about five or six, he sectioned off a little piece of it and said, “Steve, this is your workbench now.’  And he gave me some of his smaller tools and showed how to use a hammer and saw and how to build things.  It was really very good for me.  He spent a lot of time with me.”  (Kelly-Gangi, P 58.)

This experience obviously had a significant influence on Jobs, and thirty years and many breakthrough products later, he comments this way about the role of design in the world of Apple:  “In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer.  It’s interior decorating.  It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa.  But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design.  Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”  Steve Jobs, Fortune, January 2000.  (Kelly-Gangi, P 51)  Certainly the lessons at his father’s workbench stayed with him throughout his life, and his sense of aesthetics informed his vision for the company.

The book may be small, but its quite well compiled and very interesting.  It makes a nice complement to Walter Isaacson’s definitive biography, and also to Leander Kaheny’s very clever book Inside Steve’s Brain, which I also recommend.

A more detailed discussion about creativity, innovation, Steve Jobs, and Apple is presented in this month’s InnovationLabs Newsletter.  Sign up in the box to the right, where it says “Innovation Tips and Tools” and we’ll email it to you.

(Photo:  Apple Store, Hong Kong, June 2013)


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