The terms “creativity” and “innovation” are often confused. There are those who think developing innovative things requires that one be creative – or that in the absence of “innovative thinking” there can be no creativity. It is easy to see how both points of view might seem to make sense. Unfortunately neither really helps clarify the difference (or the relationship) between these two important concepts.
To begin with, “creativity” and “innovation” are not synonymous; there is a clear and important distinction between them. It is especially critical for businesses to understand this distinction before attempting to institute a new organization-wide innovation imitative.
Before discussing this distinction, however, it is important to note that creativity is a mental ability anyone is capable of, not just the artists among us. Most people seem to believe that being creative implies possessing some unique talent – painting, sculpting, writing, composing or performing music. Creativity is much more than winning Mother Nature’s genetic lottery for artistic ability. Creative potential exists in all of us.
“Creativity” is most often defined as the mental ability to conceptualize (imagine) new, unusual or unique ideas, to see the new connection between seemingly random or unrelated things.
Compare that to “innovation,” defined as a process that transforms such visionary ideas into practical (a.k.a. commercial) products, services or processes that deliver greater value. The result of such a transformation can be incremental, evolutionary or radical in its impact on the status quo. In other words, it can represent a natural step forward in a concept’s development, a leap to the next generation of that concept, or a completely new and different way of doing something altogether.
If we use Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple and his company as an example, we could say that Steve Jobs is creative because he has the forward-thinking ability to imagine new ideas for products, and also to see new connections between different things (such as combining an iPod, the iTunes store, an Internet browser, a camera, a GPS, and a cell phone to create the iPhone).
Apple the company is innovative in the manner in which they interpret and execute those forward-thinking ideas to create inspired, highly desirable products of value. The company’s innovation-driven culture continuously strives to elevate the aesthetics, functionality and simplicity of their product design to museum quality levels.
Why is this distinction between creativity and innovation important?
Because it is impossible to develop a truly innovative organization if creativity is ignored or stifled. And likewise, without effective processes in place to transform creative ideas into practical, real world, value added application, creativity is of now commercial value whatsoever.
When you truly understand the difference between creativity and innovation, you can start your process for success – by freeing and inspiring the creative ability lying dormant in your organization.
When creativity is liberated, innovation flows.