The United Nations (UN) declared the Year 2021 as the Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development in recognition of the role of creativity in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), emphasising the need for creativity. April 21st was also designated as World Creativity and Innovation Day, with the aim of raising awareness of the role of creativity and innovation in all aspects of human development.

Creativity and innovation have been described as “the true wealth of nations in the 21st century” (United Nations, 2021), and vital for fostering nations’ economic potential, economic growth, individual opportunities, and a path to solving urgent global issues such as poverty and hunger. This does not come as a surprise as governments and policy makers have continued to place focus on creativity and its role within the economy, similar to workplaces who emphasise it as an essential skill for the 21st century worker and the future world of work.

Though commonly used interchangeably, creativity and innovation are believed to be two distinct pieces of a puzzle with one paving the way for the other. Creativity is commonly described as the ability to come up with brilliant novel ideas, whilst innovation is seen as the practical implementation of these ideas. The former represents idea generation while the latter speaks of physical implementation. Ted Levitt, former editor of the Harvard Business Review puts it succinctly and describes innovation as creativity taking purposeful action.

Purposeful action.

At a time where there seems to be an increasing pressure and demand to innovate or be creative, ‘purpose’ seems to have been lost in the mix – what exactly is the purpose of your innovation and creativity? Why do you innovate?

The concept of ‘The Golden Circle’ has been widely popularised by leadership expert, Simon Sinek, who in his book Start with Why explains how great leaders inspire others to take action. Sinek explains that ‘Why’ is probably the most important message that an organization or individual can communicate, as this is what inspires others to action. Knowing your ’Why’ helps you to reflect on your purpose and the reason you do what you do, and this has never been more relevant.

And so just as creativity should precede innovation, purpose must precede both – and starts by asking ‘Why?’.