I define creativity as a way of being in which we draw from the imagination, the intellect, and the world around us to bring something new into being. Innovation is the use of creative ideas (along with technical knowledge and practical thinking) to add new value to an existing idea, product, process, environment, or system. Purely creative action draws heavily from the intuition, maybe even the “collective unconscious,” while innovation combines a wider range of intelligences along with creativity. When we say that people, ideas, or work products are “creative,” usually we mean original, new, and unexpected. When we use the label “innovative,” we are acknowledging the creative characteristics of a person, idea, or product, but we are more focused on effectiveness or usefulness. Innovation has a connotation of advancing a genre or discipline forward.
Both creativity and innovation capture attention and make us see, think, and feel differently.
The terms are often used interchangeably. In a work of art, for example, one might describe the innovative aspects as the technical part—Van Gogh’s brushstrokes and colors and how they took the techniques of Impressionism a step further—while the creative part is how his unique psyche opened itself up to and responded to his emotions and the spiritual impulses that flowed into him. The Apple MacIntosh gave us the graphical user interface, the mouse, and other innovations, but it also gave us an experience and an aesthetic that were the products of creative work.
Creative geniuses receive the greatest acclaim in the arts and advertising, but innovators are the heroes in most other spheres. In the moment, investors, upper managers, and others who are seeking results value a program improvement or a new market-ready product more than they value a whole portfolio of creative ideas. That’s understandable. The impacts of innovation are more visible, immediate, and measurable, while the impact of a purely creative work is first an internal change that occurs in those who encounter the work, and then how that encounter shapes their thoughts and actions over time and often in concert with other stimuli, That means the original creative idea gets little or no credit for changing anything.
In other words, under the surface of every innovation is a network of creative thoughts, ideas, and artifacts that was humming and sparking and rippling and glinting and shimmering and whispering its magic into the minds and processes that created the thing of measurable value.