First things first: does it really matter? These are all just words, right? We as a society make up their definition and who cares if we all agree? The reason why the distinction between creativity and innovation is important is because when two ideas are compared and defined referring each other, there is an inherent sense of values placed on both. I aim to show these are separate concepts that each have their place. I hope no one will ever, for example, dismiss notions of innovation because creativity is more important or vice versa.
The difference, I would argue, is perhaps even more subtle than many people see it. Especially in the business world, where these definitions seem strongest (or at least most re-enforced), the difference is often seen as innovation being applied creativity.
This sounds very acceptable until you think, “if innovation is applied creativity, then what is creativity? It is something that is not applied.” This means, using the above distinction, that creativity is no more than ideation (the formation of ideas or concepts, see here). Creativity is more than just having ideas – it is creating something.
One might argue you can create a concept – therefore creativity is the same as ideation, right? Well, not exactly. Creativity is simply a broader topic and process. That would be the same as telling someone that running a marathon is just running. There is a style of run, a technique to it, there are things you do before you run, and after you run, your mind does things while you run, your body does (other) things while you run – you get the point.
So that brings us back to creativity and innovation. I have already discussed what creativity is, but what is innovation? As usual, I like to keep it simple. Google tells me pretty quickly that innovating is to “make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas or products.” This definition contains the important difference. Innovating is about making changes in an established process or product.
Little surprise if we look at the usage of the term “innovating” over time, its period of greatest growth was after 1950, with the advent of modernism.
Modernism was about re-thinking the values we created in the artifacts of our cultures. It was about re-defining meaning and questioning traditions. This is innovation.
The processes, requirements and focus on innovation is about changing established ways of thinking. That is, it is about changing. Yes, this overlaps with creativity but one concept does not encompass the other. Creativity can happen with innovation and creativity can happen without innovation. You can easily create something new, do something new, launch a new product without necessarily aiming to change established practices.
I would suggest creativity is a fundamental ingredient to innovation but they are separate ideas and your needs and focus should direct you as to which is more important to your situation.
Feature image courtesy of PopTech.