Are Creativity and Innovation the Same Thing?

“Creativity” is notoriously difficult to define, with a common excuse for the failure to do so being that creativity is multivariate – it occurs in many different forms and in many different domains. “Innovation” also appears difficult to define, but I might argue that the difficulty here is sloppiness: it has become a buzzword so adored that it is used haphazardly.

Betwixt and between these parallel problems: the use of the words interchangeably.

A recent web headline reads: “What’s your innovation trigger?” The paragraph that follows is produced here in its entirety:

A person’s creative process may be influenced by their learning style, Gary Bertwhistle writes. While some people learn best with visual tools, others prefer to learn by hearing or by feeling. In the same way, creative people may have different triggers, with some innovators generating their best ideas from visual cues, and others from sounds or experiences.

Following this is a link to the original post at an innovation blog. Here’s what’s interesting: the original post does not contain the word “innovation.” The original poster understands the difference between creativity and innovation, while the linker apparently does not. There can be no such thing as an innovation trigger. A creatively-generated something is not an innovation until it is implemented, adopted and diffused. If something triggers an idea that could later be termed an innovation, it is a creativity trigger.

A more egregious example: in the book CATS: The Nine Lives of Innovation, the Fish! co-author Stephen C. Lundin defines his terms, managing to get both creativity and innovation dead wrong. Creativity he defines as “the act of generating a novel idea.” This is incorrect. An idea is by definition novel, otherwise it is a mere thought. Generating a novel idea is divergent thinking. This is far from creativity. Innovation he then defines as “fashioning something new and of potential value from a novel idea.” Wrong again: that’s what creativity is, if we remove the word “potential.” An innovation must be accepted and implemented and diffused, or it is a failure, not an innovation. (As you might have guessed, Lundin’s CATS spent its nine lives with me quite early.)

Innovation is just one possible outcome of creativity; it is not creativity.

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