Acton Institute Powerblog

Creativity, history, and entrepreneurship

Joseph Sunde recently posted a substantive introduction to and elaboration of a paper I co-authored with Victor Claar, “Creativity, innovation, and the historicity of entrepreneurship,” in the Journal of Entrepreneurship & Public Policy.

The idea for this paper arose out of reflection on a previous article I wrote with Victor, “The Soul of the Entrepeneur: A Christian Anthropology of Creativity, Innovation, and Liberty,” in the Journal of Ethics & Entrepreneurship. In that earlier piece, we discussed the “creativity” and “innovation,” but we weren’t satisfied with the clarity of the relationship and distinction between the two.

This more recent piece picks up on and develops this distinction, and uses the perspectives of history and ontology to do so. What we conclude is that it is helpful to think about “creativity” in relationship to creation, understood in a fundamental and primal sense. Human beings exercise creativity as a derivative and secondary reality and response to some prior and primal reality. For Christians, certainly, this human creativity is a manifestation of humanity’s creation in the image of God. We create on the basis of what God has created. This is what might be understood as the ontology of entrepreneurship.

Innovation, on the other hand, can be understood more historically as something that is done on the basis of what has been done before. Innovation is iterative in a way that creativity is not. Innovation depends on adapting, updating, changing, remixing what has been done by others. Creativity is about plumbing the depths of possibility that are latent in creation. We innovate on the basis of what other people have innovated. This is what might be called the historicity of entrepreneurship.

This distinction between creation and innovation is in some ways conceptual. That is, we might look at some human invention and see aspects of it that reflect creativity in this deep sense of discovering something radically new. We might also see how that artifact builds upon and adapts artifacts of human culture that precede it. So this distinction between creativity and innovation is not intended to be absolute. Rather, we hope it will help to clarify the complex and interrelated aspects of all human action that is productive. We conclude with some thoughts about how this distinction might pay off in terms of approaches to entrepreneurship, which may emphasize iterative as opposed to radically new entrepreneurial activities.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.