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  • Writer's pictureJeffrey Hinton

Creativity and Innovation: The Currency of the Knowledge Economy

Creativity and innovation have become the currency of the 21st-century workforce. A whole cottage industry of business books has emerged to teach the secrets of creative and innovative thinking. Titles such as Originals, Think Big, The Winner’s Brain, The Creativity Code, and Habit, have become mandatory reading for those trying to gain an edge in a fiercely competitive marketplace. Creativity and innovation are often used interchangeably, and while they are related, they are two separate things. In his book, Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes, Shawn Hunter defines creativity as “the capability or act of conceiving something original or unusual.” Creative people defy the status quo. They see the world differently and approach novel situations in new and unusual ways. The “creative class” makes up about 30% of the American workforce today. They hail from various professions, including engineers, managers, academics, researchers, designers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and programmers. Creative, “outside of the box” thinkers are in demand because the world is changing so fast that old procedural ways of looking at the world have become an anachronism in the knowledge economy. Creative people do not see the world as it is, but as it could be and is a prerequisite to innovative thinking.

Hunter describes innovation as “the implementation or creation of something new that has realized value to others.” Innovation is usually realized as some sort of tool that is used to solve problems or create opportunities. America’s rise to worldwide economic hegemony has been the result of innovators over the centuries who have created the technologies to drive America’s economic engine. Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, the Wright brothers, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs, to name a few. America’s ability to create innovative thinkers has been one of its strengths, and we must continue to produce individuals who will push the boundaries of possibility. This can only be done with individuals and teams who think outside of the box in creative and new ways. These disruptors are not afraid to challenge the status quo and see possibility where others see defeat. According to Tony Wagner in his book Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, innovators possess specific characteristics. They have a lot of curiosity and are continually learning about the world around them. They seek knowledge from a wide variety of diverse topics. They ask questions and want to understand subjects deeply. Innovators are collaborators. They actively listen to others’ points of view, especially those they disagree with. Innovators are not afraid to take action. They experiment and try new approaches to move forward. They are not afraid to make mistakes and see failure as an opportunity rather than a setback. As the adage goes, “If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Creativity and innovation are characteristics that every human child is born with. But according to creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson in his Ted Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity? “we are educating people out of their creative capacities.” Schools do this when they teach students that there can only be one right answer. Creativity is diminished when they stress math and literacy to the detriment of the arts. Schools teach students that failure is wrong and is something to be avoided. As a result, students learn to avoid taking risks in exchange for the comfort of conformity. These factors contribute to the decline of creativity in school. Robinson goes on to argue that “creativity is as important today in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” Recent research suggests that creativity can be taught and nurtured under the right circumstances. Schools today should foster creativity and innovative thinking as a priority. As the author, Sir Antony Jay, once wrote, “The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.” Understanding the importance of creativity, in 2001, a group of cognitive psychologists, curriculum theorists, and assessment researchers published A Taxonomy for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment. This was an update to the iconic Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning, which mapped out six domains of cognitive processes. The updated version places create at the pinnacle of all learning.

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Professor Teresa M. Amabile suggests that individual creativity and innovation consists of three interrelated components: they are, expertise, creative thinking skills, and motivation. Expertise is essential to innovation when it comes from the combined knowledge of a wide range of networked experts. Creative thinking skills involve thinking about problems in new ways. Motivation, however, plays an integral role in developing creative and innovative individuals. Human motivation can be broken down into two significant categories they are extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the result of external punishments and rewards. For example, most students do their schoolwork not because they find it exciting and engaging. Instead, they are trying to avoid a penalty for failure to do so. Additionally, students may be seeking external rewards such as praise, recognition, or good grades. External motivation is sometimes thought of in terms of the carrot, and the stick as extrinsically motivated individuals are acted upon by forces outside of themselves.

Internal motivation is when an individual is motivated to do something because they enjoy the activity and find great satisfaction in the activity itself. According to Kenneth Thomas in his book, Intrinsic Motivation at Work: What Really Drives Employee Engagement, there are four sources of intrinsic motivation, they are meaningfulness, choice, competence, and progress. Meaningfulness means that the work has personal relevance. That the individual finds purpose in the work that is satisfying and rewarding. Work without purpose is akin to Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill in Hades, only to have it roll back, repeating the cycle over and over for eternity. Individuals should have the ability to make choices about their work. Instead of forcing a one-size-fits-all approach on everyone, individuals should exercise a degree of agency about what and how they accomplish the mission. Individuals must feel a sense of competence that what they are doing; they are doing well with a high degree of satisfaction and pride. Frequent and meaningful feedback of work can help them feel competent that what they are doing is essential. Lastly, individuals should have a sense of progress that what they are doing matters and that they are moving forward. They are contributing to something greater than themselves and have growing confidence in their abilities.

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