The terms “creativity” and “innovation” are often used conjunctly and interchangeably. For example, a test may be viewed as a tool that measures and evaluates a person’s creativity and innovation. Interviewing a potential employee may entail evaluating whether he or she has the necessary creative or innovative mindset to help move the company forward. However, the two constructs are not the same. Therefore, this blog post describes the differences between creativity and innovation in order to better understand the impact each has on our lives.

Creativity refers to the invention, creation, or origination of something new such as a product, service, or process. Innovation refers to improving already existing services, products, and process or combining them somehow to make them more efficient or more accessible. These basic definitions elucidate the point that the two concepts are different and not interchangeable.

To further clarify, actions involved in each are different. Creativity concerns the internal planning, organization, and conceptualization to build something new but does not take the next action to determine whether the newly created product, service, or process works. Innovation, on the other hand, requires taking action about something that has already been created and putting it to the test to determine if the product, service, or process works or works better.

Creativity is a function of knowledge, curiosity, imagination, and ideation. The greater the knowledge base and curiosity, the greater the number of ideas, concepts, patterns, and hypotheses that can be produced. Creativity may be thought of as having three levels:

  • Discovery
  • Invention
  • Creation

Many inventions start with a discovery when a person stumbles across some concept, idea, or object. Invention is a higher level of creativity that can be thought of as something that would be created regardless of the inventor. For example, the telephone would have eventually been invented whether Alexander Graham Bell did it or someone else. This is primarily because an existing need usually drives the invention of a process, product, or service. Creation is the highest level and may be considered unique to the creator. For example, only Shakespeare could have created Othello. Only Prince could have created Purple Rain.

Everyone has the ability to be creative and innovative, and companies need both creativity and innovation in order to thrive and survive. Here is some food for thought as you think about creativity and innovation in yourself and others.

  1. Creative people observe the world around them with all of their senses. Take time to look at the world around you from various points of view.
  2. Ask questions such as “What if…” or “How would this work…”
  3. Continually learn, not just in your field of expertise but also in totally unrelated areas.
  4. Let your ideas incubate by taking a break from them. This will allow for different points of view to become visible and possibly change the ideas and concepts.
  5. Recognize patterns in what you do as they can be part of both the problem and the solution
  6. Write your ideas and thoughts down so you don’t lose them.
  7. At some point all the thinking, writing, and hypothesizing has to end because the work must eventually begin. As Nike says, “Just do it!”