Are creativity and innovation aspects of the same thing or process. Can you say that something that is creative is innovative? Can you innovate without being creative? These are questions that I have assumed the answers to without any deep investigation or contemplation.
On the surface it appears logical that the two terms are bound tightly together, but is this a bidirectional relationship, lets examine the normal or common understanding of the terms for a start point to the conversation.
Innovation is a noun meaning ‘the introduction of something new’ or ‘a new idea, process or thing’ (Websters Dictionary). So innovation refers to novelty, but not creativity. Scratching a little deeper we think of novelty meaning new, but innovation means so much more than that. for instance if I buy a new bottle of shampoo, same as the last bottle of shampoo I bought, there is newness, and perhaps a touch of novelty, that newness feeling, but you can’t apply the term innovation to the situation. So innovation is deeper that just something new, there must be a newness of the idea or thinking that comes with the idea, process or thing for us to use the term innovation.
Lets look at the term creative, I’ll use the same reference of Webster’s Dictionary: ‘marked by the ability to create’ or ‘having the quality of something created rather than imitated’. These terms refer to both novelty and uniqueness, not a copy. Creation also has the connotation of something from nothing, or a transformation at least. The creative definition captures the novelty, and also refines this to exclude a duplication or copying.
Can we innovate without creating some thing or some process? can we create without innovation? lets start with creating first. If I were an artist, I could paint some pictures, sketch, perhaps I am involved in the performing arts, choreography for instance. Commonly this work of painting, or dance would be considered creative. I would be creating original art work or performances, those that could only be performed by me in my own unique way. Consider that the artistic creativity may be a repeated performance, or a recreation of a painting, an expression. A painting although more than an image on a canvas, is still an image on a canvas, paintings and art, artistic expression in graphic or dance, are appreciated for the aesthetic, and their expression more than the innovation. I would conclude that creativity does not have to be innovative, although many times it is.
Lets examine innovation, typically applied to a process or idea or thing, sometimes to art form or expression, Rap music, for example, when it started was considered innovative. To be innovative there must be novelty and this may be novelty of invention, where nothing like it existed before, or novelty in the application of a process or thing, like business strategies or models; Facebook was an innovation in use of the internet for communication, and perhaps more importantly as a business model that did not exist before. But Facebook is a BIG innovation, they don’t happen often. How about something that is more incremental but less of a ground-breaker. Take the iPhone5, this is an excellent phone, a brilliant design, and certainly an improvement on it’s predecessor the iPhone4S. Why is it innovative? Because there is new design, new technology, new software, new user design and ergonomics, new uses, new features. Maybe more importantly, the test of innovation is if people value all this newness in the device, are people willing to express this sense of value by spending their money to get it (even if they have a perfectly working and adequate iPhone4 or 4S). Based on numbers of units sold this has to be a resounding yes. We must note a couple of points of caution here: a.) this assessment of innovation is not a measure of ultimate superiority in a phone market, and some devices may be more innovative. b.) there is room to add business and marketing innovation into the qualities of the iPhone5 which supports the numbers of people buying the device, the brand, the ecosystem.
I would assert that the assessment we make of innovative is related to the novelty of the idea, process or thing, and the value we place on it which can be assessed by how many people use it, one could add a measure of the value is also related to how much people are willing to pay for it, but that I think may be missing a key point. That key point is that many innovations should not be monetized and sold to the highest bidder. There are many innovations being worked on to solve major world problems, like malaria, water distribution, food production. These are innovations for the rest of the globe where an iPhone5 is almost irrelevant. Other innovations are happening in the Open Source domain where free has an enormous value that cant be paid for with money, and the products that are developed are really innovative, Think about this, the iPhone5 runs on a derivative of Linux.
To conclude, I think that innovation requires creativity, as creativity is the spark that brings the new, the novelty, the increment that adds value that we are seeking. Is creativity on it’s own innovative, probably not, one can be creative in many ways without creating an innovative idea, process or thing. Creativity on it’s own is extremely valuable, but of itself is not innovation.