The Real Difference Between Creativity and Innovation

Person cupping their hands together under a lightbulb.
A great idea is a good thing, but is it creative or innovative?

If you’re creative, you enjoy a good challenge. You can come up with new concepts on the fly. You embrace change.

But do all of these things make you innovative?

While creativity and innovation are often used interchangeably, there are a few notable differences between the two. It’s important to understand these distinctions and adjust your innovation strategy accordingly.

Creativity vs. Innovation

Creativity and innovation are not one and the same, but they do complement one another. In fact, one can’t function without the other.

The primary difference between creativity and innovation is that the former refers to conceiving a new idea while the latter involves converting that idea into a marketable commodity.

Creativity is the act of conceiving something new, whether a variation on an existing theme or something wholly original. Innovation is the act of putting that concept into practice. It’s the difference between suggesting the idea that an aircraft could fly through space and actually building a rocket that astronauts can use to get to the moon.

It’s best to think of it like this—creativity is to ideation what innovation is to implementation.

If it’s that simple, why all the confusion? Why are new inventions typically called both “innovative” and “creative” during business brainstorming sessions?

Take building that rocket, for example. The “space dividend” from a host of parts and materials created to solve a particular problem yielded research and ideas that allowed people to reach new creative heights and then harness the power of those ideas to build a rocket.

If you use a memory foam bed, scratch-resistant sunglasses, take a picture, or put an LED light into a lamp, you’re the beneficiary of the creativity and innovation of NASA and various other space agencies.So, can there be innovation without creativity? Can you build something just to see what happens or merely for the sake of curiosity? In short—yes. However, innovation is strongest when it’s directed toward a goal. Creativity helps you find the goal, and innovation allows you to reach it.

Watering a plant shaped like a human brain.
Both creativity and innovation need nurturing.

The Flow of Innovation

Creativity is critical during the goal stages of your innovation program. Keep in mind—these goals don’t have to include vast, world-spanning approaches. A creative goal can be modest.

Say you have a creative vision to reinvent the car. Along the way, you’ll have to reinvent all the systems within the car (most likely), you’ll have to produce creative solutions each step of the way, and then innovate to reach your goal.

This means you’ll be using creativity constantly throughout the innovation process. It may be used as a way of solving problems, or it might be a new way of reframing the problem. Look no further than the numerous electric vehicles that are about to hit the market.

Replacing the battery and motor has led to a whole host of changes. Ford’s electric F-150 can now pull one million pounds. Electric vehicles can be built on a “skateboard” platform, so models are experimenting with “frunks”(trunks in the front), “crawlspaces” to hide safety gear, and even swappable frames.

Creativity has even led to rethinking transit itself. There are concepts like folding cars that can be “popped” open, cars with spherical tires that do away with parallel parking, and more.

Why You Need Creativity and Innovation in Business

Both creativity and innovation play important roles in any business venture. After all, standard practices and business models are constantly shifting, eventually becoming obsolete. Successful entrepreneurs realize this and excel at pursuing new opportunities. They’re problem-solvers by nature and are always seeking new solutions to everyday problems.

We can’t stress enough the importance of differentiation. And if you want to differentiate your product or service, creativity and innovation management are paramount. 

The most creative ideas are generated by connecting dots that most wouldn’t think to connect, driven by a keen understanding of what consumers truly want and need.

That’s why there’s a growing demand for skills like creativity that can help propel human innovation to the next level.

Remember the key difference. Creativity lets you think of new goals for which to reach, and innovation lets you get to those goals and find new ones. To understand how to apply creativity to your innovation strategy, request a demo!

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