Creativity vs Innovation

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It has always been frustrating how these two words have been ill-defined and interchanged in the workplace. The confusion over their definitions has added to the cynicism with which they are greeted and acts as an impediment to their beneficial application.

While differing contexts and needs determine variations in definition, complicated definitions are ultimately unhelpful and only serve to confuse people. Simple definitions with clarity and are most likely to elicit action.

Accordingly, I’d like to distill multiple definitions into simple, broad terms and add a few simple rules of thumb.

“Creativity is somehow bringing something new into being.”

“Innovation is applying that creative something to add value.”

It is only through application and value adding can creative output become an innovation.

Not all creative output will add value, so creativity is not a guarantee of innovation. Organisations needs “idea-creativity” because the development of new ideas and concepts that are developed for “a purpose” have objective value.

Depending on our industry it is important to differentiate between “artistic” creativity and the harder-edged “idea” creativity. I can do some wonderful finger-painting and sit around a team-building campfire singing kumbaya, but is it going to add any form of business value? Artistic creativity may have a subjective place in organisations but when seeking to add value to service delivery and the bottom-line, a far greater focus and objectivity is required.

To spend time arguing about definitions beyond this is often little more than a mental form of punishing that proverbial primate. Argument about strict definitions is counterproductive for two reasons:

1) It wastes time and stops people from moving to action in the form of the experimenting, proto-typing and probing required to uncover new value, and 2) the very nature of creation indicates whatever is produced is new, so how therefore can it be appropriately categorised with any foresight?

Many people argue endlessly about the definitions of creativity and innovation and when this happens more mental energy goes into this, than into the generation of value adding ideas. Debate on the exact definition is unhelpful and acts as a fallback position that simply provides an excuse for a lack of action.

Organisations should take the hint, “Create” and “Innovate” are both verbs and if you’re still talking about them, you’re not doing them.

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About the Author

Frank Connolly is the Principal of “Think Quick”, a business that adds value through thinking differently. His work history covers all sectors and includes initiatives that have yielded bottom line benefit in the 10’s of millions of dollars.

Current clients range from Exxon-Mobil to Government Depts within Australia to Global NGO’s.

Much of his working life has been split between Australia, the South Pacific and Asia where he has trained and facilitated Lateral Thinking techniques, and been acknowledged by Edward de Bono as one of the foremost practitioners of the de Bono thinking methods worldwide.

Frank believes strongly that if we can improve the way we think, the actions that follow also improve.


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