3 Characteristics of Creative Innovation

Len WilsonCreativity, Leadership, Strategic ThinkingLeave a Comment

In grad school, I worked down the hall from the ENIAC. Fortunately, it had become a museum piece, life was in color and we worked on Silicon Graphics terminals instead.
What happens with our creative ideas? Applied creativity, whether in our personal or professional lives, becomes innovation. We innovate when we put creative ideas into action.

Engineers John Mauchly and Presper Eckert started construction on the first modern computer in June of 1943 in Philadelphia. They called it the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC. (Their creativity was in engineering, not branding.) It was operational in November 1945.

“There is a world market for maybe 5 computers.”IBM Chairman Thomas Watson, 1943
Prior to the ENIAC, a “computer” was a person, usually a woman: a data entry employee who punched keys and cranked handles on desktop adding machines. Not everyone saw the need for a room size computer, either.

That’s the way it is with new things. Most people don’t get it.

According to what constitutes a computer – not a woman, but a machine – the ENIAC was the first computer. It functioned for 10 years. Motley and Eckert weren’t the only ones, though. Others had the need for a more efficient way to do compute mathematical equations, and some had been proposing solutions for decades. The first written works for mechanizing mathematical operations appeared in 1820. But nothing had stuck.


True innovation, as opposed to the person tinkering with a prototype, is difficult to achieve. Just ask the other people working on computing at the time. Consider these three characteristics:

  • Fully functioning and in constant use.
  • Working for a long period of time. (The ENIAC worked for 10 years.)
  • The basis for subsequent innovations. (The alpha dog.)

This last one is critical and may seem like a high bar for innovation, but it is the distinguishing factor. Think of it this way: innovation is influence. We celebrate the story of Walt Disney because his was the basis for all theme parks to come. Innovations are trend setters.

Your idea doesn’t have to affect an entire industry, but it can’t be a one-off. It has to be something on which others build.


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Len Wilson

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