“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.”— Theodore Levitt
Creativity and innovation are two different sides of the same coin: you can not have innovation without creativity, and you can not realize your full creative potential if you do not innovate. Essentially, innovation is the practical application of creativity.
Innovation requires you to take risks, get messy and work outside of your comfort zone. To quote Woody Allen:
“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”
There are several reasons why we are not all more innovative on a daily basis. Being innovative usually takes more effort then coming up with the easy solution, even if that solution is actually inferior or only a “quick-fix.” There is also a lot of fear associated with innovation, especially the fear of failure and the fear of being different.
If you walk into a classroom of first graders and ask them to find solutions to a problem, they will quickly overcome their fear and shyness to start coming up with amazing ideas. Children are idea generators, they do not worry about the practicality or possibility of their suggestions.
Do the same with adults though, and you will probably get a rather different reaction. Somewhere along the way we lose the ability to innovate freely, we begin to concern ourselves with what others think of our ideas and we allow self-doubt to creep in. We may still think of great ideas, but we are also far less likely to share or act on them.
Just as it is important to teach our kids how to be creative and keep the creative spirit throughout their lives, it is important to make innovation a part of daily life. It’s not even that hard to do if you just consider HOW you innovate.
In order to start innovating, you have to have a solid understanding of the basic elements of your problem, which is usually as simple as asking yourself a few questions:
- What is the problem?
- What tools do I have?
- How can these tools be used to solve the problem?
At this point you might find you don’t have all the tools you need, which in itself gives you a direction for your next step.
Getting your children and yourself into the habit of breaking things down and seeing how they work can make many a life challenge easier, because it gets you into the habit of identifying and weighing your options, possibly shedding light on the less obvious solutions.
For example, some of my favorite dishes and recipes were developed when I hit a stumbling block in the kitchen, like lacking a necessary ingredient or a rather undesirable result that didn’t match the promised result of the recipe.
One of my favorite examples stems from an incident during the baking of two batches of a fruit bread for Christmas. The first was beautiful and perfect and tasty, but the second developed an very large air bubble while baking, collapsed in on itself, and didn’t cook all the way through. (I have no idea what went wrong, and still don’t.) After crying for a couple of minutes in frustration, I changed my tack. I started looking around my kitchen to see if there was any way of salvaging the catastrophe; I discovered eggs and milk and decided it couldn’t really turn out any worse, so I cut up the loaf of half-baked fruit bread into cubes, tossed it in the oven on a low temperature to dry out. Mixing the dried bread with some sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla, I put it in a casserole dish overnight and the next morning it turned into one of the best bread puddings I have ever had. I wasn’t scared of failing and wasting the fruit bread – I suppose because I felt it was already a failure – but I still had to take a risk to turn it into success. A lot of innovation can come after failing, if you work through the problems.
Cooking is one great way to be innovative, and so are role playing games. At the basic level, these games present a challenge that must be solved or overcome, using limited skills and equipment, you have to come up with an innovative solution to accomplish your goals, quests, or adventures.
Theater sports games such as “Anything But…” also force innovation. To play this game simply split into teams and in the middle of the room place an everyday object. The idea is to use this object in any way other then what it was intended for. Teams (or individuals) take turns using the object in a different way and they get a point for each new use. This game can also be played one on one with a child and is a useful way to pass the time as you wait, take turns coming up with alternate uses for any item you happen to have with you.
Creativity and innovation are vital skills that will carry us into the future. Giving these skills to our kids gives them power and confidence.
How do you practice and play with innovation in your family?
Great post! I really liked your example about the fruit bread. Way to turn lemons into lemonade!
Thanks for your comment Joe!
I still get a chuckle remembering the whole “Fruit Bread Catastrophe” It wouldn’t have been nearly so bad if I hadn’t been baking in my future mother-in-laws kitchen and trying very hard to impress:) It was a great lesson in learning how important it is to be able to innovate.