I admit it. I’m a long-time creativity and innovation geek. My most recent quest was an academic paper to help understand the differences between creativity and innovation. A long research project yielded some simple differences that are useful for exploring what leaders need to do to foster creativity and/or innovation in their organizations.

Defining our terms:

An easy-to-use definition of creativity is that it is “A process that results in a novel work that is accepted as useful by a significant group of people at some point in time.” (Stein, 1974) Innovation builds of this definition as, “Implementing something new that adds value or quantifiable gain, which requires many skill sets, usually a team.” (Horth & Vehar, 2012)

The key differences are that 1) innovation is about implementation (which is not required by creativity), and 2) usually requires a team.

Creativity leads to implementation. Innovation requires it.

Make no mistake, innovation requires creativity, which is the result of creative thinking. In fact, you can’t have innovation without creative thinking. Most people perceive that creativity happens at the front end of the innovation process. Yet creative thinking (and the resultant creativity) are required all throughout the process in order to ensure that the concept makes it to introduction to the world in order to capture value. Sure the iPod is innovative, but think of all the acts of creative thinking that were required to deal with issues around design, assembly, manufacture, software, user interface, music rights, interoperability, pricing, etc.

Innovation is a team sport

While creative thinking may happen as a solo act or with a team, innovation almost always requires people working together to make it happen from different places in an organization or throughout its value chain (for example for a consumer product: consumer research, product development, marketing, manufacturing, finance, sales, distribution, service, etc.). At each step along the way, creative thinking is necessary to break the inevitable logjams that block innovation. Yes, innovation is a team sport; Creativity, not necessarily so.

Creativity vs. Innovation

Teresa Amabile and her colleagues (1996) once wrote that, “All innovation begins with creative ideas… [Creativity] is necessary, but not a sufficient condition for [Innovation].” So Creativity is a crucial element required for innovation. But by itself, it almost never leads to the implementation of an innovation, at least not in an organizational setting. But yet it is crucial to the success and growth of an organization.

So as a leader, which do you focus on, creativity or innovation? And how do you know the difference?

6 thoughts on “Are you creative or innovative? What’s the difference?

  1. Tracey Bray says:

    This is such a simple yet excellent explanation. I work with leaders in financial services and they struggle with the concept of creativity, associating it with ‘art’ until I help them to understand that it is really just problem solving. Then they are usually quite happy to be thought of as creative.

  2. Tracey Bray says:

    This is such a simple yet excellent explanation. I work with leaders in financial services and they struggle with the concept of creativity, associating it with ‘art’ until I help them to understand that it is really just problem solving. Then they are usually quite happy to be thought of as creative.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for your kind words Tracy! It’s taken me almost 20 years of full-time work to distill it to this point. So nice to hear that it resonates for you!

  4. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for your kind words Tracy! It’s taken me almost 20 years of full-time work to distill it to this point. So nice to hear that it resonates for you!

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