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Reimagining creativity: how do we innovate innovation?

Reimagining creativity: how do we innovate innovation?


There is no universal understanding of creativity and innovation, yet these cultural concepts touch all our lives. We find creativity and innovation in literature and music, but also in science and technology. How can these ideas be so widespread but also so ambiguous? And what does that mean for us?

To answer these questions, in 2018 the United Nations designated April 21 as World Creativity and Innovation Day, “to raise the awareness of the role of creativity and innovation in all aspects of human development.”

While World Creativity and Innovation Day is fairly new, creativity and innovation are not. The word “creativity” dates back to the 14th century, while “innovation” accrued its modern meaning in the early 19th century. By looking to when these terms were developed, in times of immense transformation like the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, we can understand their core: change.


Creativity and innovation: two concepts defined by change

It’s not surprising that our understanding of these concepts has also evolved over time. For example, creativity was solely associated with art, psychology, literature, and advertising until the 1960s, when its usage was expanded to business, education, and economic sectors to describe the use of imagination to create something. Similarly, innovation experienced a conceptual shift in the 1980s when it became tied to new technologies and their economic and social effects.

Now, in 2022, within the context of a rapidly changing technological and digital landscape, creativity and innovation have become everyday buzzwords. At the time of this article, the word “innovation” has over 4 billion search results on Google. This term has become so integrated into business jargon and mainstream media that, ironically, it’s hard to say anything new about innovation.

Yet, for all that’s said about them, creativity and innovation remain elusive.

According to UNESCO, nearly 2 trillion dollars are spent globally on innovation every year, generating ground-breaking technologies ranging from advances in public health to renewable energy. However, because innovation is a complex and constant endeavor, money spent on R&D (Research and Development) isn’t always correlated with successful disruption. Furthermore, only 10 countries account for more than 80% of all global R&D spending, meaning that many creative ideas never get a chance to grow.

Most importantly, new technologies don’t always translate to positive social impact. One needn’t look further than the environmental damage caused by Bitcoin—whose mining consumes 142.44 terawatt hours, more than the annual consumption of Norway—to realize that not all new technology is sustainable.


Reimagining fundamental concepts for the future

That’s why, for this year’s celebration of World Creativity and Innovation Day, Enel wants to take a seemingly paradoxical approach: we’re returning to fundamentals to focus on the future. By approaching creativity and innovation not as buzzwords, but as iterative and continual processes, we reframe these concepts as a means for social impact and sustainability.

Envisioning innovation and creativity as processes rather than products is not a luxury, but a necessity. Innovation and creativity are inextricably linked to change, so treating them as static products leaves little room for agility and growth. In an uncertain future, the ability to internalize and provoke transformation is paramount.

What’s innovative today will be outdated tomorrow. And that’s exactly the point.


Creativity, innovation, and now, Innovability®

This idea aligns with the needs of the future. In its 2020 Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum found that 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025. Because of a shift in labor between humans, machines, and algorithms, they have defined creativity, innovation, originality, critical-thinking and complex problem-solving as the top necessary skills for the future.

This new mindset allows us to discover original solutions to foreseen and unforeseen challenges instead of reacting to existing problems. Because, just as creativity and innovation are international and interdisciplinary, so are our global challenges.

The global pandemic and climate change have taught us that, as we become more globalized, our problems become increasingly shared. Social and environmental risks are rated as the biggest challenges facing the world, with climate change and social erosion being the main concerns. 84% of experts are worried or concerned about the world.

That’s why we need a new way of thinking about innovation and creativity: one that is fundamentally rooted in disruption and spans geographic, cultural, and economic borders. Shiny new technology is useless if it isn’t sustainable, impactful, and human-focused.

With that in mind, Enel has forged a new concept for disruption: Innovability®. This patented term encompasses the synergies between innovation and sustainability that drive our work. In our Open Innovability® ecosystem, we bring together creative minds from diverse sources to transform ideas into impactful projects. Through a synthesis of crowdsourcing and connecting startups through our global innovation hubs and labs, Enel continues to lead the energy transition.

Enel's Innovability® philosophy not only guides our work, but also aligns us with startups that share a similar vision for innovation and sustainability. This is the case with Prati Armati, who contributes to sustainability by fighting soil erosion and pollution using a strong, deep-rooted grass seed with an innovative technology. In the robotics sector, the startup Aerones channeled its innovative technology to become the world's first company capable of providing maintenance for wind turbines using automated and robotic technology.

These are just a few success stories among hundreds, but Enel's future has no other goal than to continue on the path of creativity, innovation, and sustainability.


Enel’s future: creativity, innovation, and sustainability

To be worthwhile, innovation must be sustainable. When creativity and innovation are integrated into a company’s DNA, they aren’t just goals, but instead, a means to supporting the welfare of people and the planet. We need to innovate until disruption becomes the norm. Then it’s time to innovate again.

We’ve seen that “creativity” was born in the 14th century and “innovation” in the 19th century. Now, in the 21st century, with the rapidly transforming global landscape, we are at another turning point in history. On this year’s World Creativity and Innovation Day, Enel wants to reflect not just on the impacts these concepts have for the future, but on the future of these concepts themselves. In a few years, we might need a new term that reflects our contemporary challenges and their solutions. Innovability® could be that next step.