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.