Innovation is a powerful driver in the world of business, and companies recognized as highly innovative are hailed as leaders in their fields, with a share value reflecting the public’s confidence in their leadership. We have followed rapid change in sectors where old, but by no means stagnant, corporations like Ford Motor Co. has yielded leadership to highly innovative companies like Tesla Motors. Creative internet retailers like Amazon are taking huge market shares from brick and mortar retailers like K-Mart forcing them to change their marketing and sales strategies.

Accurate assessment of innovation potential in the corporate world is not trivial. However, Jeff Dyer (Brigham Young University) and Hal Gregersen (MIT) developed a paradigm using an objectively calculated “Innovation Premium,” based on which they published a list of the world’s ten most innovative companies in Forbes (2017, 1). This list includes Chinese, Indonesian and South Korean corporations, but it is dominated by US names, such as Salesforce, Tesla, Amazon (1, 2 and 3, respectively), Netflix, Incyte and Regeneron (5, 6 and 10, respectively). Not surprisingly, these companies also rank as top leaders in the 2017 list of Future Fortune 50 corporations.

Important as it may be to shareholders and employees, corporate innovation prowess is most interesting if it contributes to the greater good of humankind, worldwide.

In a global comparison, the Global Innovation Index (2), released annually by Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business, INSEAD and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) ranks 127 countries based on a number of contributing factors. Now on its tenth year, the GII has dedicated the 2017 report to the topic of Innovation Feeding the World in recognition of the vital role of innovation to address one of the world’s most challenging sustainability issues. It also highlights the power of governmental responsibility to stimulate innovation and R&D through investment and taxation. Food production and agriculture are among the oldest pillars of national well being, now more dependent on innovation, digitization and efficiency increase than ever before. It is rewarding to know that this is happening at a rapid pace.

The GII rank list, topped by Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands, shows predominantly highly sophisticated economies in its upper half, and mostly poor, developing countries in the lower half, ending with Togo, Guinea and Yemen. This implies that, if innovation is a prime weapon in defeating world hunger, it will be necessary not only to distribute food to those who need it most, but also to transfer innovation skills to these nations.

We are now approaching the crux of the matter. How can creativity and innovation skills be bottled and shipped to the needy?

Better yet, how can we help inspire educators (and policy makers) across the globe to stimulate and nourish the development of creativity and innovation skills from an early age?

Creativity vs. Innovation. Is there a difference?

Andrew Marshall (3) states that “The main difference between creativity and innovation is the focus. Creativity is about unleashing the potential of the mind to conceive new ideas… It is also subjective, making it hard to measure…” whereas “Innovation, on the other hand, is completely measurable. Innovation is about introducing change into relatively stable systems. It’s also concerned with the work required to make an idea viable.”

As an applied business example, a pharmaceutical company may recognize an unmet medical need and invest in innovative R&D to develop a medicine which is projected to bring a fiscal return on the investment many years and billions of dollars later. What about creativity in this context? Theodore Levitt, the late Harvard economist who coined the term “Globalization” might have clarified the relationship: “What is often lacking is not creativity in the idea-creating sense but innovation in the action-producing sense, i.e. putting ideas to work.”

If Creativity leads to Ideation, and Innovation best relates to Implementation, then both skills are necessary and intimately connected. It makes sense then, to encourage young learners to practice both skills together.

Among educators who take special interest in the STEM field of education, it is well-known that by exercising practical problem solving, learners are stimulated to think creatively. Farming advocates are likely to be correct when they assert “Challenges often arise on a farm; addressing these issues develops skill in independent thinking, problem solving, ingenuity, and offering creative, innovative solutions.” (4).

Can creativity be taught?

While the question is interesting, any straight-forward answer is likely to be met with skepticism, largely because no clear evidence exists for or against.

First, let us consider creativity as the initial step of developing a novel idea. Jeff DeGraff (5) suggests that “Everyone is creative, but in very different ways and to varying degree.” We all have creative talent, but very few of us come close to Archimedes or Ludwig van Beethoven.

It is frequently said among STEM educators that every child is naturally and fearlessly curious and explorative, and our job is to encourage and nurture these talents. Ideally, Hippocrates’ Oath “Do No Harm” should also apply to the education establishment, since some education practices can, in fact, have the opposite effect on the learner, namely to squelch and dampen curiosity and the joy of learning.

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