Creativity and Innovation

12 Distinct Characteristics

In an ongoing internal effort to be as precise with our language as we can, I set out to investigate a couple of words which are, more and more frequently, being used interchangeably: Creativity and Innovation. To start with, I looked up the words on Merriam-Webster. Creativitythe ability to make new things or think of new ideas Innovationthe act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods So, I can see the source of the confusion, these are undoubtedly related concepts.  The difference appears in the outcome of the processes. My understanding of these terms is that creativity can lead to innovation.  Further, based on my research and monitoring of the terms, I’m not the only one who thinks this way.
“The difference being that creativity is needed to generate great ideas while innovation is needed to implement those ideas into practice.”
In the last few years there have been some great articles defining what innovation thought-leaders think about creativity and innovation.  Most agree that there is a  difference between creativity and innovation.  In my own words, the difference being that creativity is needed to generate great ideas while innovation is needed to implement those ideas into practice. So, how do we begin to separate the words from one another? How do we begin to establish the difference between creativity and innovation, two seemly interchangeable words? Moreover, how do we begin to successfully use creativity and innovation in the workplace? For me, it’s a process of thinking through all the characteristics of these words to arrive at a working definition which I can easily relate to other people.  Here is my list:

Creativity vs Innovation, 12 Characteristics

  1.  Creativity can’t be quantified. Creativity is often subjective, and therefore not easily quantifiable. One could roughly quantify creativity by counting the number of ideas generated during a brainstorming session, but how do you qualify the value of those ideas? Additionally, assigning values to the quality of ideas is counterproductive to brainstorming.  If your creative team thinks their ideas will be graded, they will be unwilling to be open and creative for fear that any invalidation of their ideas will reflect negatively on them.
  2. Innovation can be quantified. Since innovation is about implementing ideas into practice, there is something measurable.  Whether it’s a physical product or a virtual service, something about that product can be measured, tested and quantified into its positive and negative characteristics. It also means that, through a test and refine process, you can iterate an innovation to create a better product that meets the needs of its consumers.
  3. Creativity costs nothing. We have a saying, “ideas are free.” Quite simply, creativity does not require money. It may cost time and energy, but since nothing is being implemented there is no cost in terms of production or additional man-hours.
  4. Risk is inherent in innovation. Since the only ingredients that go into creativity are time and energy, generating numerous ideas does not have a risk of failure. Conversely, when an innovation is implemented there is a quite large risk – often of labor or capital investment – that the innovation will not bring a return on the investment.
  5. Creativity isn’t always focused. As Drew Marshall says in this Business Insider post, creativity is about unleashing the potential of the mind. The outcome of creativity is the  generation of a lot of ideas and unique approaches to problem solving.  Most of the time, creativity starts with a general idea like, “I’d like to do something,” or “an idea just popped into my head.” For instance a creative person might decide to create a piece of art or write a song, and to do so requires only some inspiration and time.
  6. Innovation is implementing ideas. Innovation has a structured process for implementing ideas and for creating actionable ideas within defined parameters. We refer to this process as Design Thinking, which includes research and interviews, insights, ideation, prototyping, iteration, and testing.
  7. Choosing everything vs choosing with purpose. As I mentioned previously, creativity unleashes the mind. This means that there’s no need to be selective in the process of ideation or brainstorming. However, when implementing an innovation – “thought before action” should be the prescribed path to implement innovative ideas.
  8. Imagination vs Product. Creativity is a process of imagination, its outcome is an idea which, in most business senses, is intangible.  Innovation is a process used to create a product or service which is real and useful
  9. Creativity can lead to innovation At our core, all humans possess the ability to be creative. An innovative idea cannot be obtained without first using our imaginations.  However, it is useful to have a process that frames a problem so the idea can be used to to solve a specific need or challenge.  This is where creativity can lead to innovation.
  10. Three types of innovation. For simplicity, let’s say that there are three types of innovation: Incremental innovation, breakthrough innovation, and disruptive innovation.  Each of these types of innovation require the innovators to solve for “x” whether it’s for human progress or market impact.
  11. Creativity is often solo.  Creativity is generally (but not always) a solo endeavor because creativity is usually unique to an individual. Creative individuals often work by themselves and are able to generate qualitative work without help or input from others.
  12. Innovation usually a team effort. In general, innovation is taken on by teams and, more often than not, the teams are multidisciplinary. The reason for this is that the most innovative ideas usually are an amalgam of different viewpoints which keeps the innovations from having too much tunnel vision.
As you can see, creativity and innovation are not the same. They differ in the key characteristics of cost, risk, application, quantification, qualification and other factors. Beginning to divest the idea of creativity and innovation as the same is the first step to a better understanding how to leverage creativity to bring about innovation in your organization.  Once you understand the difference it gives you more clarity on how the activities you undertake with your teams will generate different outcomes. While anyone can come up with an idea, working in teams and focusing creative efforts is what can lead to innovations.  This happens by defining the problem within specific parameters and approaching the problem with a perspective that allows the team to be productive with their creative efforts.
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