What do the words “creativity” and “innovation” mean? For me, when someone makes something out of nothing, that’s creative. When someone finds a different way to do something, that’s innovation.
I guess I never thought about it any further than that.
My understanding of these ideas deepened recently when I read about the United Nation’s World Creativity and Innovation Day with its roots in UN goals for sustainable development. Intrigued by the linking of these three concepts, I’ve been digging deeper.
To quote a portion of the United Nations website:
World Creativity and Innovation Day is a global UN day celebrated on April 21 to raise awareness around the importance of creativity and innovation in problem solving with respect to advancing the United Nations sustainable development goals, also known as the ‘global goals’ . . . The concept is open to interpretation from artistic expression to problem-solving in the context of economic, social and sustainable development.
Let’s explore each piece of this explanation separately and then see how they support each other.
As stated by the United Nations: “Sustainable development can be defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Historically, most metrics for sustainability were cited in concrete terms. Just to offer a few examples — development was considered sustainable if it had sufficient funding, reliable sources of associated goods and services, strategies for maintenance, and at least some degree of public support. Practicalities such as these are essential, but is satisfying material needs enough to be considered truly sustainable?
Baha’is don’t think so. As Abdul-Baha cautioned in the Baha’i teachings: “… material forces have attacked mankind. The world of humanity is submerged in a sea of materialism.”
More abstract qualities, such as providing for future generations or providing creative inspiration, have long been advocated by both individuals and certain cultural groups. However, we tend not to broadly consider them as essential unless they could be quantified. That’s changing – many are now encouraged by the growing recognition of a more balanced, values-based view toward sustainability.
I wonder if the UN’s concept of sustainable development has entered the public consciousness due to the increasingly urgent and destructive presence of climate change, food insecurity, species extinction, water shortages, and population pressures. Clearly the solutions of the past are no longer sufficient, and humanity has now set out on a quest for creative and innovative solutions.
The many definitions for creativity mention making something new, frequently through the arts. Commercial incentives may be associated with it, though just as likely the creator is self-motivated. I asked some of my friends – artists, musicians, writers, and performers — what motivates their creative work. Answers were as varied as:
- I do it because I feel I have to;
- this is how I express myself;
- ideas come to me so I follow through on them;
- I love art/music/books and appreciate them even more when I try to create something of my own;
- the arts inspire people to be their best selves.
If creativity means making something new, surely it’s time for new approaches to the development needs of our world. We are inter-connected, and the solution for one people, one place, or one industry affects all others.
In the words of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith: “Ye are all the fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch.” His son Abdul-Baha further commented on these words by saying:
Thus hath [Baha’u’llah] likened this world of being to a single tree, and all its peoples to the leaves thereof, and the blossoms and fruits. It is needful for the bough to blossom, and leaf and fruit to flourish, and upon the interconnection of all parts of the world-tree, dependeth the flourishing of leaf and blossom, and the sweetness of the fruit.
Innovation usually involves creativity — with the distinction being the practical implementation of the creation. The innovation itself may involve goods, services, or perhaps a new way to do work. It might even be a new way to come together with other people, or a new way to regard our beautiful planet. In all cases, though, innovation involves a drive toward improvement, implementation, and then dissemination of what has been learned and achieved.
In its Earth Charter document, the Baha’i International Community wrote: “The changes required to reorient the world toward a sustainable future imply degrees of sacrifice, social integration, selfless action, and unity of purpose rarely achieved in human history.”
Could the innovation that is now needed be as straightforward as applying spiritual principles to how we plan, consult, and decide? What if the innovation now needed is the application of a generally-agreed standard of justice, equity, inclusiveness, and respect to the problems and decisions of our time?
Do you think of yourself as creative? I love this quotation from Picasso as a testament to the potential within all of us: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
Are you an innovator? Do you have ideas about better ways to do things, even in seemingly small matters in your own life? This excerpt from the Baha’i International Community’s statement on the Status of Women is especially pertinent:
Development is an enterprise that demands the efforts of both men and women working together to construct a social order characterized by justice, equity, reciprocity and collective prosperity. The systems of education, science, and technology, then, must be arranged in a way that reflects both the material and spiritual dimensions of the human being — permitting each person to play her or his rightful role in the betterment of society.
Here are some questions we can all ask ourselves: How can I use my own creativity to innovate a more sustainable lifestyle? How can I express my spiritual self in this physical world? How can I apply my moral principles to development within my own community? How might I become better informed, be actively engaged in civic affairs, and use my financial resources more wisely? What can I do to protect our planet and its creatures?
The UN’s World Creativity and Innovation Day falls after the vernal equinox, that time when most of the world’s population celebrates the renewal and creativity of nature’s springtime season.
The United Nations probably didn’t select the date of 21 April with the Baha’i calendar in mind, but I am intrigued by the coincidence of this also being the first day of Ridvan, a holy day observed by Baha’is as the beginning of 12 days in remembrance of Baha’u’llah’s declaration of his spiritual mission. This quotation from Abdu’l-Baha affirms the meaning of this day:
Now the new age is here and creation is reborn. Humanity hath taken on new life … and the reviving spring is here. All things are now made new. Arts and industries have been reborn, there are new discoveries in science, and there are new inventions; even the details of human affairs … Renewal is the order of the day.
With so much at stake — materially and spiritually — let’s join the UN and its many partners in seeking both creativity and innovation in our thoughts, our plans, and our actions.