Ingenuity vs. Innovation: Creativity in a Time of Crisis

  • By Emily French
  • in
  • on April 17, 2020

As originally published by David Sable on Linkedin

In a discussion today about what shape the world takes when the lockdown ends, it occurred to me that we in the Developed World…the Very Developed World can learn a lot from the Developing one.

In fact, we might be (unconsciously) doing so already.

I have written before about the innovation of even our biggest “Tech Giants” (my readers know I hate that term) in helping problem-solve in countries where Internet coverage is spotty, device ownership even more so, and the level of device sophistication often begins and ends with an SMS enabled phone.

In these places, search requests are not the ubiquitous, Google Search bar, banking is non-existent, and payment sums to be transferred online can be micro. Information sharing has never seen an e-mail, let alone Slack, and ZOOM is still just a noise made by little kids playing.

I used the word “innovation” earlier, but it is actually the wrong term. You see, “innovation,” as a concept in our society, has evolved to mean big technical solutions—so called “disruptions” in software, devices, data and banking. But what I have in mind is much simpler—it’s called, “Ingenuity”—and it was once a calling card of American thinking throughout its history…that is, until now.

“Ingenuity” differs from “Innovation” in that it’s still about being cleverly inventive and resourceful.

Why is that different?

It’s different because it focuses on the problem at hand, not on grandiose exits; not on declaring disruption; not on transformation. In short, it’s not focused on buzzwords and hot concepts. You don’t need billions of dollars or obscure specialists to practice ingenuity.

Ingenuity is focused on solving, not creating, and in solving by using the most efficient and effective resources at hand (because those are often the only resources at hand).

Ingenuity isn’t always the prettiest, delivered to us tied up in a neat bow, but it gets the job done—and quickly.

Here is where I ask for your honest reflection and/or sharing.

I am ready to bet that most of you have discovered your latent ingenuity over the past weeks during this lockdown. And those of you with children, have probably also witnessed it in spades.

We have figured out how to use technology as resource and not an end game, as we continued to search for every opportunity to connect in a human way. My daughter’s exercise bootcamps, and the way she has moved her clients to screen time, have left me in awe…and it’s not virtual, it’s real. We need a new definition here…

We have made do with fewer supplies and found ingenious workarounds to fill in where we were previously lacking. And best of all, we have shared those fixes with each other proudly and openly.

Our kids don’t just sit on their iPads all day. They create movie theaters with tickets and snacks (like my grandsons did). Empty cardboard boxes (once thoroughly Lysol-ed, of course) become castles and houses and cars and trucks (a granddaughter’s project), reminiscent of the days of the Sears Wish Book, when the wood from the shipping crates made fences and outhouses…

And the sheer number of new recipes with new ingredients and mixed drinks is staggering, as our ingenuity impacts our meals and down time.

Ingenuity might be a lasting outcome of The Plague of 2020…maybe, just maybe we will regain our MOJO in newly creative ways that celebrate our humanity and our very human ability to make do in the worst of circumstances. Listen:

Anywhere the struggle is great, the level of ingenuity and inventiveness is high”— Eleni Zaude Gabre-Madhin

First of all look her up…you will be inspired. And make sure to read The Splendid and The Vile by Erik Larsen for more inspiration…

Bottom line, in our lifetimes, in most of the Developed World, we have not been faced with this kind of struggle…the kind that’s as existential as it is physical. These are the struggles that bring out our ingenuity, these are the kind that force us to solve problems with the few resources we have at our fingertips, reminding ourselves of our awesome ability to change the world, even if it’s just our own, small immediate one.

We are all asking, “What’s next? What did we learn from this?” Let’s not forget that we’ve learned ingenuity. Share your stories and pictures of ingenuity. Let’s emerge from this period with our flame of creativity rekindled and our commitment to ingenuity renewed.

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PUBLISHED BY Emily French

View all posts by Emily French

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