The Difference Between Innovation and Creativity

The world has become a-buzz with innovation. Your company has innovation on top of its efforts and investments. But do you know what innovation is exactly? You might be innovating without even knowing it. And yet you might not be, and still give yourself a pat on the back thinking you are. This is very dangerous since you could be deluded for months on in, encapsulated in a bubble that sooner or later will burst exposing you to the reality of your efforts. It is critical then to clearly define what innovation is and how it differs from discovery, problem solving and creativity.

When we think of creativity, we envision this mystical abstraction of ability that only geniuses possess. The likes of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and the folks at IDEO come to mind. Being a creative has shot up the requirements list in even the most blue collar jobs. This breed of creative engineers have become extremely sought after as potential saviours for your company. So what exactly is this abstraction called creativity?

Creativity is the ability to reformulate, reshuffle or connect existing insights in new ways.

You are not creating something out of thin air here.

Discovery, on the other hand, is uncovering an element that previously had not existed.

Unlike creativity, you are in fact finding something completely new. This could also be unintentional. Take the discovery of Penicillin as an example. Alexander Fleming, credited with the discovery, seemingly “discovered” Penicillin by accident.

Innovation. The word that has garnered so much attention lately.

Innovation is creating new value in new ways.

This definition is two-fold. First, you are creating new value. That means there is action. There is execution. Unlike creativity, you are no longer talking about the abstract. Instead, you are implementing in the form of products, services, business models and experiences. It is also worth noting that this implemented creativity is providing value that was previously unfound. Second, this new value is accomplished in new ways. This is where creativity comes into play. If we think of innovation in terms of an equation, it would be:

Innovation = Creativity x Implementation x New (Added) Value

How is that different from problem solving? Well, let’s make the case for the difference through an example. Let’s say you work at a petrochemical company as a piping engineer. There is an issue at site with one of the valves, and you’re called in for assistance. Now let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you found a way to reroute that spool of pipe in a way where you wouldn’t need the application of that valve. The line is back live, and you are commended for your “innovative” efforts. Let me be the one to gladly burst your bubble: you did not innovate. You merely solved the problem. Let’s see why that is. You did figure out a way, creatively, to solve the problem. You did implement. Any new or added value? No. It is of value for the production unit that the line is live. However, you did not provide any new value that was previously nonexistent. What you have just accomplished is creative problem solving.

What about China? Is China innovative? If you take the stereotype, again for the sake of argument, of China being the producer of cheap knockoffs, then they wouldn’t be considered innovative, right? Wrong. Let’s dissect this. The final product lacks creativity, so naturally it wouldn’t be an innovation. However, it is in the manufacturing processes, tooling and labor structure that the innovation lies. It is creative, has been implemented and provides additional value (end products that are considerably cheaper than what’s out there in the market).

As you can see, it is critical to make sure that you are innovating when you are and avoid mislabeling when you are not. The terms “innovation” and “creativity” have been tossed around in organizations to make leadership at ease and able to sleep at night knowing that they are achieving their goals. Make sure you are not deluded, and know the difference between discovery, problem solving, innovation and creativity.

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