Creativity and innovation

Chance favors the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur (chemist and biologist) Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it. Henry Royce (entrepreneur) Genius might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way. Charles Bukowski (writer)

Perini Journal

“Creativity is an intuition that sparks beyond awareness” writes Annamaria Testa, communications expert and professor at Milan’s Bocconi University, in the introduction of her book La trama lucente, published by Rizzoli. “But if it is not accompanied by knowledge, competence, effort, it remains a flicker without a follow-up. Creativity is not only talent but also training, not only nature but also culture. And it must produce something useful as well as something new for the community.” Improperly, the words ‘creating’ and ‘innovating’ are used indifferently, almost as synonyms, to indicate the same type of action. In dictionaries, the term ‘create’ is defined as the action through which something that did not exist before is born or the adoption of techniques and behaviors through which objects, environments and relationships are modified. By innovation, we mean the practices that make the result of a creative action concrete. In most cases, the term ‘innovate’ is identified with introducing a new product or service on the market.

AS THE VERY FIRST CREATIVE ACTION, we could consider the “manufacture” and use of stone tools by Homo Habilis about 2 million years ago. Notwithstanding that, since then, the evolution process has expressed itself through a myriad of small and large man-made improvements, mythology reserved the monopoly of creating to the gods, Jupiter first among them. Christianity, too - and with it, most of the religions that held a monopoly on learning - presupposes that nothing can be accomplished if not with the help of the divine.

ONLY THE EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY OF RENAISSANCE ARTISTS AND ARTISANS will shift the faculty of creating from the divine to the human, underscoring the power of man’s intelligence and personality in producing works still today considered invaluable. Major personalities the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei opened the doors to a science based on demonstrable proof, shifting the needle of future learning from a base of traditional philosophy to that of a modern knowledge founded on observation and rational deduction.

CREATIVITY IS SURELY AN OFFSPRING OF KNOWLEDGE, but it alone does not suffice. Knowledge supplies us with the raw material, but it is the ability to analyze that identifies the possible relations between different things and suggests the objectives that we can attain. A determining factor is also intuition that ignites the right idea and illuminates the path to follow in order to obtain the desired result. In 1904, the theoretical physicist-mathematician-philosopher Henri Poincaré wrote: “It is by logic that we prove, but by intuition that we discover.” He defined creativity as “the ability to combine existing elements in new combinations that are useful”. But how can we recognize the utility of the resulting combination? Poincaré says the result of the combination must be harmonious, simple and elegant like some mathematical equations that synthesize the fundamental relations of our scientific knowledge.

The quality and importance of the “something new” are established in proportion to the recognition attributed to it by the community who can make use of it in economic, aesthetic or ethical terms. In order to choose and recognize the proper elements to combine among the many existing, one must be competent, sensitive and trained. Like in building a stone wall where the skillful mason identifies through experience the right stone to use from the pile and obtains - albeit in its apparent simplicity - an effective and harmonious result. If we replace the stones with the words to choose from and to place in their proper position in order to build the sentences comprising a speech, we can easily imagine how using the same context we can produce a boring communication or a memorable discourse.

A CREATIVE BEHAVIOR IS STRICTLY PERSONAL and stems from an individual’s intuition and sensitivity. It can be fostered and encouraged, creating favorable conditions, but it cannot be obtained on command. It requires a fertile environment and a favorable social context in order to blossom. If we think back to Greece of the 5th century BC, to China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), to the Italian Renaissance or to the most recent achievements born in the Silicon Valley, we can immediately understand how the availability and the spurs coming from a given location and moment in time yield outcomes that cause strong accelerations in social progress.

INNOVATION IS LIKE A MARATHON that no one signed up for voluntarily, but that all those participating in the great Market Race must run. You cannot slow down; on the contrary, often you must increase your stride in order not to fall behind your opponent. The course is not linear and may easily be rough & rugged due to frequent changes in technology, in rules and behaviors in consumption, in market trends. It is difficult to cut the finish line because it is continually pushed forward. Innovation requires great sensitivity to establish the right times and ways to propose new things, but success is measured also in the efficiency of the ways these are communicated and in the organizational efficiency of the establishment proposing them. Annamaria Testa (op. cit.) quoting the collections published by the Harvard Business Essential in “Managing Creativity and Innovation” defines innovation as “the embodiment, combination or synthesis of knowledge in original, relevant, valued new products, processes or services”. Much more simply, according to the definition by Ed Roberts, MIT professor, innovation is “invention plus exploitation”.

IN THE HISTORY OF TISSUE, WE CAN FIND INTERESTING EXAMPLES OF THE MECHANISMS CHARACTERIZING INNOVATION. The first commercial toilet paper marketed in 1855 - a pack containing individual sheets - by the businessman Joseph Gayetty did not meet with success. At that time, most Americans had no intention of spending money to buy toilet paper when outdoor bathrooms could be stocked with the pages of retail catalogues or yesterday’s newspaper. In 1879, in England, Walter Alcock’s idea to commercialize toilet paper in the form of perforated rolls with sheets that could be torn off was also doomed to failure, this time due to a Victorian public’s prudish behavior that refused to accept an “unmentionable” product. But what was not perceived as useful in England reaped better fortune in the United States. In those same years, the brothers Edward and Clarence Scott, taking advantage of a period leading to the modernization of bathrooms and health services, proposed toilet tissue in small rolls wrapped in brown paper printed with the slogan “Soft as old linen”, obtaining widespread success. Differently from their predecessors, they exploited the rule to propose the right thing at the right time.

CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION TEAM UP WITH CHANCE in the “invention” of paper tissues that sees the Scott brothers once again protagonists. In 1907 their toilet paper - by now a consolidated commercial success story - came from a large paper mill in the form of long original rolls which were then cut to the bathroom size product. A delivery of rolls that was excessively wrinkly was about to be sent back when a member of the Scott family suggested perforating it, dividing it into sheets the size of a small towel that could be proposed as a “disposable” product. The first commercial towels were called Sani-Towel and were sold mainly to hotels, restaurants and public restrooms. Resistance by the general public to buy the new product was above all of an economic nature: why pay for a towel that is thrown away after use when a linen towel could be used over and over? But with time, thanks to innovations in production, the price of their towels decreased to the point where private citizens, too, recognized the convenience of using them: in 1931 Sani-Towel was renamed ScotTowel and its 200-sheet pack sold for twenty-five cents. Creativity and innovation had allowed toilet paper and paper towels to enter US homes.

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