You keep using that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means

Isn’t innovation great? It sure is, right? I mean it must be, every single business today seems to be so fixated with it. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “Our innovation department…”, “… truly a huge leap in innovation and technology…”, “We feel very proud of our curious and innovative staff…”. Here’s the thing though, most of every single one of those type of statements is actually referring to Creativity, not to actual innovation.

I’d like to share with you a brief story, of when I was a student. Way way back one day ago, me and my classmates took part in a game that tested our innovation skills. The game was simple: we were split into six teams and each team was tasked with drawing as many pictures under a minute of time. However, there was a catch. Each of our paper sheets were filled with circles, and we had to incorporate the circles into our drawings (like turning them into planets, into sport balls, etc.) We got points for each drawing but got extra bonus points if our drawings were always different or if they involved more than one circle. Basically we got points for being creative. Psst, by the way, remember that last detail, because I’m gonna do this thing, where I blow your mind later on. Cool? Cool.

So at the end of the game there was a winner team that had accumulated the most points, buuuuut, there was another winning team. Ah yes, the good old fashion plot twist. You see, during the game, there were some participants known as “buyers”. They were looking for specific products among the drawings. Each team had the opportunity to spend some of their already earned points in exchange of some hint that will tell them what kind of drawing are the buyers looking for. So, those teams had to focus on making the most out of the circle format, while constantly drawing new things, while connecting the dots, while making sure that their drawings could be useful and attractive for the buyers and they had to make each of their “products” different enough of each other to ensure that there are no repeated drawings and that they have a better chance of getting picked. Managing all of these factors while under a strict time limit and coming up with something completely new that (under the context of the game) has a real practical and attractive use… now THAT is innovation.

So where am I going with this story? Well, I think real world works just the same way. Sure, we can all call ourselves “innovative” and wear that batch under the assumption that having a creative outlook on the world makes us worthy of it. And yes it is true that creativity is a key component of innovation, but it goes much further than that. It’s about pushing the boundaries and limits of human intelligence to come up with new solutions to problems that aggravate us, in a sustainable, reachable, doable and time constricted way. It’s about winning the game, not because a lame score says we did, but because in the end, our work and effort made someone else’s life easier, better… happier.

See? I told you I would blow your mind.

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