The difference between creativity and innovation

The terms ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’ are frequently used interchangeably and many people perceive them to mean the same thing. Such usage of the terms confuses managers and others who need to lead change, creativity and innovation in organisations. The reality is that the terms have different meanings and refer to completely different functions within the creative and innovative process.

Creativity is the sparking of an idea – it is the birth of an idea. It is that “aha” moment when the solution to a problem suddenly comes to you – usually when you are not thinking directly of it as you are having a shower or taking a relaxing stroll! At other times, the creative idea comes from a long process of discovery such as through scientific investigation. Either way, it is still only an idea – a thought until something is done with it.

Innovation is taking that idea and doing something with it. Innovation brings the idea to life – it is when the idea is turned into something useful, something of value.

A good example that shows the separation and difference between idea generation (creativity) and doing something with the idea (innovation) is the invention of the Post-It pad. Post-it pads were created by accident at 3M. One of their scientists, Dr Spencer Silver, was working on developing a very strong adhesive when one of his attempts produced a weak adhesive instead. However, there is no such thing as failure in 3M, as they seek to learn from every experiment (that is why they are probably the most innovative company in the world). So Silver presented his results to others in the company. One of those present, Art Fry, remembered the idea five years later when he was contemplating how to keep bookmarks from falling out of his hymn book. He thought of the not-so-sticky adhesive and developed it into what we all now know as Post-it pads. Here there was a five year time gap between the idea and making something of value with it.

creativity innovation training
There is a difference between creativity and innovation

The difference between creativity and innovation has implications for how managers encourage and facilitate both in organisations. Fostering, encouraging and enabling creativity requires particular actions and measures. These are quite different to the processes and activities that are required to ensure that ideas are brought to fruition – that facilitate innovation.

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