Confused between Innovation & Creativity?

posted by Ravi Arora August 13, 2016

Innovation has newness and it generates value. Creativity results in newness and sometimes generates immediate value. Do you see the difference between the two?

Most innovation consultants and trainers I have met, heard and seen are creativity experts and help companies in generating ideas using creativity tools and techniques. This has led to creation of a perception that innovation is creativity or ideation. Over time, the difference between the two have blurred and are used interchangeably people.

While idea is the starting point for innovation, the journey to convert ideas into innovations is much longer and tougher. It is therefore important for managers to differentiate the two and avoid focusing solely on creativity to drive innovations.

Theodore Levitt’s said, “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” I don’t agree with this because creativity is not limited to thinking in many situations. I have explained this later in this article.

Innovation generates value but is much beyond creativity:

Creativity is needed to generate new ideas. Hence every innovation begins with creative thinking. Ideas don’t have any immediate commercial value. (Read three examples: Google-map of potholes, Google-map of train stations and Impact of traffic on hotels). They need to be worked upon for months and years to turn them into reality. Ideas encapsulate value only after they are successfully implemented and that is when they are called innovations.

Is innovation the only route to capture value from creativity? Not at all! If creativity by itself didn’t have a commercial value, then there wouldn’t have been confusion between the two.

Creativity also generates immediate value!

If the manifestation of creativity is in the form of an idea that we discussed above, it has negligible (commercial) value. But there are other manifestations that have immediate commercial value (aka ‘creative piece’) after the manifestation. Painters, writers, music composers, sculptors are examples of people who use creativity to produce their output. These manifestations (painting, book, music etc.) have commercial value as soon as they are completed. All these artists are creative but not necessarily innovative.

Such creative manifestations are accomplished not only by mere thinking but needs effort in converting thoughts into something (painting, music etc.) that could be consumed (used, enjoyed, and appreciated) by others. The fact that such manifestations of creativity need effort much beyond thinking makes me disagree with Levitt’s definition (‘Creativity is thinking’).

Creativity is an individual trait. It could be enhanced by the involvement of other people and by using tools and techniques. But it is not necessary for someone to be creative to innovate. One can use the ideas of others.

To declare something innovative, it must be novel (Innovation is ‘novel outcomes that generate value’). Value generated from an innovation largely depends on its perceived novelty, which has an element of subjectivity. The value generated from creative outcomes (music, painting, book etc) also depends on novelty, which is mostly subjective.

Creativity Innovation
Process Dominantly thinking and imagining followed by Doing Dominantly doing to convert the idea (creativity) into reality
Measurement Largely subjective Has an element of sujectivity
Risky Sometimes risky Mostly risky
Investment Mostly Individual’s time followed by team’s time & financial investment Mostly team’s time and financial investment

To summarize,

If creativity results in an idea that has negligible commercial value but needs effort and investment to encapsulate value, it is likely to be an innovation.

If creativity results in something that encapsulates value immediately on its manifestation and needs only selling efforts to capture this value, it is not likely to be an innovation.

When it comes to understanding and comprehending innovation, there are two other types of confusion:

  • Between Innovation and Invention: This is easy to answer (I like the simple one – Invention consumes cash and innovation generates cash).
  • Between Innovation and Improvement: This is difficult to resolve because we need to consider multiple variables some cases might still be left debatable. Organizations can create their own guidelines to help employees resolve this confusion.