What’s 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?

Creativity and innovation are often seen as interchangeable. However, while there is overlap between them, they’re different. It’s important to understand and apply that difference in your innovation strategy.

Creativity vs. Innovation

Creativity is the act of conceiving something new, whether a variation on a theme or something wholly new. Innovation is the act of putting something into practice. It’s the difference between conceiving of the idea of a craft that could fly through space, and actually building a rocket that people can ride into space.

Why the confusion? One follows the other, and the two usually nest within each other as well. We often even use the terms interchangeably; look at how often a new invention is called both “innovative” and “creative.” 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 go to new creative heights, and then put those heights into practice. 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 other space agencies.

Can there be innovation without creativity? In the sense that you can build something just to see what happens, curiosity or wanting to know why can be a powerful force as well. However, innovation is strongest when it’s directed toward a goal. Creativity helps you find the goal, and innovation allows you to reach it. So how do you use this intellectual waterfall?

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

The Flow Of Innovation

Creativity should be key in the goal stages of your innovation program. Keep in mind, 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, and you’ll have to apply creativity each step of the way, and then innovate to reach your goal.

This means you’ll be using creativity constantly during your innovation process. It may be used as a way of solving problems, or it may be a way of reframing the problem. Look no further than the many, many 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 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.

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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