The Crucial Difference Between Creativity and Innovation

Cartoon with the slogan Create or Die

Image by Hugh MacLeod

Hugh MacLeod recently published an interesting take on the difference between creativity and innovation:

One of the buzzwords you hear a lot in the business world these days, is “Innovation”. Yes, it’s a genuinely worthy thing to aspire to. Genuine innovation creates lots of genuine value, every young intern knows this. Which is why people like to throw it around like confetti. It’s one of those words that sound good in meetings, regardless of how serious one is about ACTUALLY innovating ANYTHING.

Here’s some friendly advice for all you Innovation-buzzword fanboys: You don’t get to be more innovative, until you make yourself more creative FIRST.

“Innovative” is an “external” word. It can be measured. It generally talks about things that have been tested properly and found to have worked in the real world.

“Creative”, however, is more of an “internal” word. It’s subjective, it’s murkier. It’s far harder to measure, it’s far harder to define. It’s an inward journey, not outward. Which is why a lot of people in business try to keep the word out of their official lexicon, preferring instead more neutral, more externally-focused language like “Value”, “Excellence”, “Quality” and yes, “Innovation”.

Creative Dreamers vs Productive Innovators?

Hugh’s put his finger on an important distinction that I haven’t seen articulated quite like this before. He’s put me in mind of Theodore Levitt’s classic definition of creativity and innovation:

Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.

In other words, it’s no use sitting around dreaming up fantastic ideas unless you’re prepared to do the hard work of making things happen. Levitt expands on this theme in an entertaining tirade in the Harvard Business Review:

‘Creativity’ is not the miraculous road to business growth and affluence that is so abundantly claimed these days… Those who extol the liberating virtues of corporate creativity… tend to confuse the getting of ideas with their implementation – that is, confuse creativity in the abstract with practical innovation.
(Theodore Levitt, ‘Creativity Is Not Enough’ (1963))

Levitt doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to creative daydreamers:

Since business is a uniquely ‘get things done’ institution, creativity without action-oriented follow-through is a uniquely barren form of individual behaviour. Actually, in a sense, it is even irresponsible. This is because: (1) The creative man who tosses out ideas and does nothing to help them get implemented is shirking any responsibility for one of the prime requisites of the business, namely, action; and (2) by avoiding follow-through, he is behaving in an organizationally intolerable – or, at best, sloppy – fashion.

So for Levitt:

Creativity = Ideas


Innovation = Ideas + Action

Levitt highlights another important distinction between creativity and innovation:

the ideas are often judged more by their novelty than by their potential usefulness, either to consumers or to the company.


Creativity = Novelty


Innovation = Novelty + Value

Levitt’s article was written over 40 years ago, but it’s still commonplace for writers to distinguish between creativity and innovation on grounds of ideas and action, novelty and value:

Often, in common parlance, the words creativity and innovation are used interchangeably. They shouldn’t be, because while creativity implies coming up with ideas, ‘it’s the bringing ideas to life’ . . . that makes innovation the distinct undertaking it is.
(Tony Davila, Marc J. Epstein and Robert Shelton, Making Innovation Work: How to Manage It, Measure It, and Profit from It (2006))

Creativity: the generation of new ideas by approaching problems or existing practices in innovative or imaginative ways… Creativity is linked to innovation, which is the process of taking a new idea and turning it into a market offering.
(Business: The Ultimate Resource, Bloomsbury, 2002)

The distinction is alive and well on the internet, in cut-and-dried definitions of creativity vs innovation and Innovation vs Creativity, and among bloggers keen to confront us with ‘the ugly truth’ that creativity is merely ‘a way of thinking’ and therefore ‘a subset of innovation’.

The message is clear: creativity is all very well for intellectuals and bohemians sitting around on bean bags, but it takes an innovator to get things done.

It’s hard to argue with the logic. No reasonable person would claim ideas are more valuable than action – but then creative people are notoriously unreasonable.

Or are they?

Creativity Strikes Back

Most of the examples I’ve quoted so far are from business authors. But if we look at the psychological literature on creativity and innovation, it’s like going through the looking glass. (I’ve added bold to the following quotations to highlight the key terms.)

Psychological definitions of creativity generally contain two separate components. In the first place, creativity requires that we make or think something new, or a new combination of existing elements. This is the element of novelty or innovation… However, mere novelty is not enough. To be creative, the idea must also be useful, or valuable.
(Chris Bilton, Management and Creativity (2006))

Bilton is not just talking about ideas – note that he refers to ‘making’ as well as ‘thinking’. So on this side of the looking glass, the terms of the equations are reversed:

Innovation = ‘mere novelty’


Creativity = Novelty + Value


Creativity = Ideas + Action

He’s not alone in this view of creativity:

Like most creativity researchers, we rely on a product definition: A product is viewed as creative to the extent that it is both a novel response and an appropriate, useful, correct, or valuable response to an open-ended task.7

A ‘product definition’ means that a mere idea is not enough to qualify as creativity – action is needed to transform the idea into a product.

Sound familiar? Here are a few more definitions of creativity:

the concept of creativity is value-laden. A creative idea must be useful, illuminating or challenging in some way.’
(Margaret Boden, The Creative Mind (1990))

In business, originality isn’t enough. To be creative, an idea must also be appropriate – useful and actionable. It must somehow influence the way business gets done – by improving a product, for instance, or by opening up a new way to approach a process.
(Teresa Amabile, ‘How to Kill Creativity’ (1998))

The study of creativity has generated a wide-ranging variety of definitions… However, most contemporary researchers and theorists have adopted a definition that focuses on the product or outcome of a product development process… in the current study we defined creative performance as products, ideas or procedures that satisfy two conditions: (1) they are novel or original and (2) they are potentially relevant for, or useful to, an organization.
(G. R. Oldham and A. Cummings, ‘Employee creativity: Personal and contextual factors at work’ (1996))

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get a sense of déjà vu.

Chris Bilton confronts the discrepancy between the two worlds head on:

In the management literature on innovation, some authors reverse my distinction between ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’, with creativity equating to ‘mere novelty’ and innovation encompassing the dualism of novelty and fitness for purpose

Semantic differences aside, it should be noted that the argument – that two elements (novelty and fitness) are necessary to qualify as innovation / creativity is fundamentally the same.
(Management and Creativity)

So when you look carefully at the definitions, there is in fact no essential difference between creativity and innovation. Not for anyone who takes either of them seriously. Everyone basically agrees on the importance of ideas + action and novelty + value. From this angle, arguments about the superiority of innovation to creativity start to look like macho one-upmanship.

And this is why I like Hugh’s post so much – logically, the two concepts may be the same, but emotionally they have very different connotations:

‘Innovation’ has the feel of an external process, which corporate types are comfortable measuring and tabulating. But Hugh reminds us that you can’t have any of this without a creative fire in your belly.

Which means not being afraid to go to that messy, subjective, risky place where the difference between success and failure, praise and ridicule is balanced on a razor’s edge.

What’s the Difference between Creativity and Innovation?

What do the words ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’ mean to you?

Do you think they are basically the same or are there important differences?

Are you more comfortable describing yourself as ‘creative’ or ‘innovative’?

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a free 25-week guide to success as a creative professional, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.

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Responses to this Post


  1. This is a great article, Mark. Obviously there’s still some divided opinion on how to look at the definitions of the two words. It seems to me that I’ve used the words to function in different arenas: “creative” for the arts, “innovative” for the sciences (which includes the business realm). For myself, I’ve never really considered something “creative” unless it provides some tangible result (a book, sculpture, painting, whatever), same as “innovation”. The two don’t really differ from a results standpoint.

  2. This is a terrific review. This is how I addressed the question:

    I concluded that creativity is more a personal trait and innovation more of a process.

  3. Cheers! I can’t thank you enough for this post. As the lead facilitator for a year-long leadership program, we are examining “innovation” this month. I’ll be pointing the class to your post, for discussion later in May.

    We live in a northern community which has seen the demise of the forestry, shipping and mining industries. We’re on the leading edge of DNA and medical research – new industries in an isolated landscape. It’s an exciting time to be exploring both creative potential and innovative strategy.

    – Maggie

  4. I’m with Dennis on this. People are creative; products or processes are innovative. So creative people create (hey, same root, I wonder if that’s a coincidence?) innovative products.

    Ideas are in the gray area in between. You could talk about a “creative idea” or an “innovative idea”. But I prefer to describe an idea as original, or interesting. That way you’re focusing on what you like about the idea.

  5. Thanks for taking on the topic! I couldn’t agree more with the importance of rigor in language.

    As much as I appreciate your thoughts, I must disagree with the conclusions. In a research project on the definitions of innovation and creativity, I came to the conclusion that there ARE in fact distinctions between creativity and innovation. I presented these findings at the Creativity and Innovation Management conference at the International Center for Studies in Creativity last year.

    Based on an extensive literature review (including 65 published definitions of innovation), the study concluded:

    1) Creative thinking, creativity, and innovation are separate and distinct things. Creative thinking is a process that can be taught, creativity is a phenomenon about which can be taught, and innovation is more than creativity.

    2) While creativity is made up of the so-called 4 P’s, (person, process, product, and press), innovation involves the elements of people, repeated creative thinking, product/concept introduction, implementation strategies and internal and external press (or context).

    3) Using the terms interchangeably is damaging to the development of our field and researchers and practitioners should be deliberate in their choice of words and should educate others as to their preferred definitions

    4) The likelihood of settling on one definition for a construct as broad as creativity or innovation is remote, yet that doesn’t mean we should avoid the attempt.

    Ah well, at least we can agree on the last conclusion!

    More details, and a link to the article that was published in the Proceedings of the Creativity and Innovation Management Conference at:

    Interestingly enough, Davila et al., who you cite in your article, might say that Innovation = creativity + productivity. Sound familiar?

  6. I favor the first definition as it does not rely on the concept of novelty. Ideas can only be new combinations of old things. The first definition makes a more useful distinction.

    Innovation = Ideas + Action –> Companies can support innovation both by supporting action and creating a environment that supports creativity.

  7. I think something not mentioned, but relevant, is that “creative” and “creativity” are also terms used by artists (graphic artist, sculptors, painters, etc.) or people we think of as working on crafts (potters, sculptors (again), quilters, scrapbookers, etc.) where there is often a tangible product at the end of their process. You could argue that they are both creative and innovative if they come up with ideas then work to make those ideas real or to given them form.

    It’s also worth noting that “creativity” and “creative” are related to the word “creation” which is, of course, making something, or, something made.

    I guess Hugh’s point is that all of this innovation has to come from somewhere. Where ideas can be worthless without action, action can be worthless or fruitless without the right ideas. Moreover, I think he brings up the good point about the motivation and desire to make stuff having to come from somewhere and a little heart can go a long way.

  8. Great article and great discussion on the topic. Perhaps I have a jaded view of “creative” given the industry I work in. For me creative is different from innovation. And in fact in my industry, insurance, being creative can actually have bad connotations. e.g. AIG was very creative! I might even go as far as saying creativity is not always valued especially in my industry since the word creative suggests working around the rules, which I am sure also happens in other industries. For me creativity in a non arts world is doing what you have been doing but putting a new face on it. Refreshing it to reach people who have tuned out or were never listening in the first place. A true innovation is something new to sell them, that takes action – a new design and adds value. I like the comment on the use of innovation is like confetti. I couldn’t agree more. How often are products advertised as new and improved! Innovation is when someone came up with the idea of adding a fax function to a printer not printing out 10 more sheets in a minute. While someone had to be creative to come up with the idea and bring it to market, the reason to do it was to bring innovation to the product that differentiated the product and the company manufacturing it. My view is purely a business world view of these terms but I think it is a concept that some parts of the business world needs to get a grip on before the clients get “innovation” fatigue.

  9. That’s fantastic. I love Hugh’s definition of differences and think it’s great that you found the two different viewpoints saying essentially the same thing but cutting hairs differently. I was nodding along with the first one – but then I work in corporate R&D – and was very amused to see the second.

    I’d be wary of calling myself creative at work and wary of calling myself innovative in the arts. Creative at work would seem too flighty and not productive. Innovative in artwork would be like putting on airs and claiming I’d done something really different instead of just expressing in my own voice. Which fits right in with the internal/external bit.

  10. I’ve always been fascinated with the distinctions made between “artistic” and “scientific” creativity. I find such distinctions more political than real, given the similarity between mathematical and musical creativity for example.

  11. In some ways there is much cross-over between definitions.

    If there wasn’t then Leonardo Da Vinci would probably fall more into the “Creative” camp than the “Innovative” as he really didn’t bring as much stuff to fruition as came forth from his mind. But I think that would be wrong.

    I still like the Innovation=Creativity x Risk definition that I build upon here:

    Nonetheless, I have a tendency to lean more towards creativity as being that which is more in the realm of ideas and innovation as acting on them. Value has nothing to do with it in my book.

    People at home and at work are innovating all the time and being creative. Just depends on when and who’s watching to label it after the fact. 😉

  12. Great Insight, this is a conversation that needs to be shared as the word innovation has become an empty marketing slogan that’s denigrated its meaning. I’m personally going to start calling people for clarification.

    We call ourselves a “creative” company (in fact its part of our name) and at one point considered rechristening ourselves as an “innovation” company but felt the word had been too abused. we also use the word ingenuity to describe what we do.

    examples at

  13. I think of the difference this way – The Rubik’s cube came along because of very creative thinking – drawing from the parts of the brain which can reach far past anything conventional. (It took innovation to make it materialize, however.)

    The part of the brain that can SOLVE the Rubik’s cube is innovative. It is working within a structure. It draws on creativity in order to innovate the solution.

    The above can be flipped to the opposite and debated that way too. So.

    No matter how blurry the lines between creativity and innovation, we can make good use of our own distinctions. When we want to be creative, the brain can be more relaxed, spontaneous, even ridiculous. When we want to innovate, it’s time to get out the graph paper, so to speak. You can induce activity in the brain areas that accomplish innovation by supplying practical tools at that point. At least some people can.

    I’m with Hugh – more innovation comes after more creativity. Innovation is at the mercy of our creative ability. Our world is limited only by our imagination.

    Keep playing,
    Suzanna Stinnett

  14. This is a really fascinating topic. Although over the years I’ve read many different definitions of what creativity and what innovation mean I’ve still struggled to try and get clear in my mind what the difference is.

    Your post has really made me sit back and once again try and get clarity around what I believe it is. So here goes..

    To me, creativity is about the person, the way they go about solving problems or come up with ideas – their thought processes. Innovation on the other hand is more around how they put their ideas together – the practical processes.

    Take the classic invention of Velcro. The creativity was in the curiosity of de Mestral about why the burrs stuck to the dog and his trousers and then thinking about what it meant. The innovation was doing something about it by putting the two together – the loops in the trouser fabric and the hooks in the burr to create a fastener.

  15. That’s Hugh’s method, tautological wordplay, semantics. His distillation is the value he adds, not the words. I think most people read his work for the words, not the content.

    It’s funny that this whole post talks about talking and doing and nothing about doing and letting others do the talking. It’s all words. His cartoon is “create or DIE”, not “create or innovate”.


  16. Funny thing, when I read that post of Hugh’s, my first thought had been, “Hmm, I always think of ‘creative’ as a buzzword first.” Oh, semantics. I love how you unraveled one side of the story and then turned around to show up the completely flipped story.

    Semantically, it’s hard to argue a deep difference. But the connotations are definitely strong, as you’ve illustrated here. Interesting, though, if we actually look at a dictionary, it makes a distinction b/w innovative products and ideas, and innovative people. When talking about a person, it sounds no different than creative:

    innovative |ˈinəˌvātiv|
    (of a product, idea, etc.) featuring new methods; advanced and original : innovative designs | innovative ways to help unemployed people.
    • (of a person) introducing new ideas; original and creative in thinking : an innovative thinker.

    In the end, I guess the value of this semantic back-and-forth is just a big reminder that it’s all well and good to be original, but you’ve gotta CREATE something with it.

    Thanks for the though-provoking post, as always.

  17. Thanks everyone, great discussion as usual. And interesting to be reminded that ‘creativity’ can have negative connotations in some contexts.

    Several of you mention the distinction between people and the process, which could be the theme of another article…

    @Rosanne – Re the word innovation being ‘tossed around like confetti’, it reminded me of this, quoted by Chris Bilton at the start of Management and Creativity:

    ‘Creative’, ‘creation’, ‘creativity’ are some of the most overused and ultimately debased words in the language. Stripped of any special significance by a generation of bureaucrats, civil servants, managers and politicians, lazily used as political margarine to spread approvingly and inclusively over any activity with a non-material element to it, the word ‘creative’ has become almost unusuable. (John Tusa, On Creativity)

  18. @Jonathan – I think I’ll have to return this compliment. 🙂

    As much as I appreciate your thoughts, I must disagree with the conclusions.

    Seriously – thanks for sharing your conclusions and the link to your research. I can’t go along with such hard-and-fast distinctions as you make, but I think we’d probably agree on what constituted effective thinking and action.

    And sorry for the delay in your comment appearing, it got caught in our spam filter.

  19. I think of creativity as a prerequisite to innovation. In Personal Brilliance and for audiences I attempt to simplify the semantic wanderings we’ve indulged in here by defining the terms this way:

    Creativity is generating something new. Innovation however, is the practical application of creativity.

    One not better than the other, rather a symbiotic relationship. There is value in not reaching a practical application and certainly value in something that results in what we call innovation.

  20. Pius Onobhayedo says:

    The Difference between Creativity and Innovation.

    A closer look at the Latin origins of the two words would help to throw some more lights on the differences. Creative comes from the Latin creâre (to cause to exist) the ability to make something exist. On the other hand Innovate comes from the latin word innovare (to renew, alter) from novus ‘new’.

    Both words have to do with novelty. However, with respect to principle of causality, creative is more radical in the sense that it’s primary focus is the fact of bringing into existence what did not exist before. The less the material cause, the more perfect it is as a creative act. Hence, creative act per excellence is that which brings something new into existence out of nothing (i.e. zero material cause) which we normally attribute to God only. Conceptually, creative tends to be blind towards other existence but focuses on the substance and accidents (qualities, etc) of the new “being”. Creativity in man has to do with his ability to bring into existence new ideas from within his spiritual (immaterial) self. The less the reference to other realities as material causes, the more perfect it is as creativity. It’s good to note at this point that, less reference to other things in existence does not mean that the latter cannot be source of inspiration for the new idea. Inspiration however does not imply share copying as new ideas are just that, new.

    Innovation tends to have a reference to what already exists (way of doing things, what is done, etc). Often times, products of creative acts find their true ‘meaning’ in the context of association or interaction with other realities (created man finds it’s meaning in relation to God. Eve finds her meaning in relation to Adam and vice-versa). In the context of an organization, one can argue that it is more appropriate to talk of innovation as a corporate goal rather than creativity in the sense that, every new idea (creative) generated must find its ‘meaning’ in the context of the organization. Thanks to the new idea, the organization through an act of innovation can ‘alter’ the way it does somethings, ‘modify’ some products, ‘add’ some new products to the catalog (analogously, the addition of Eve to the human society is an innovation in the human society, while the fact of existence of Eve is a creative act), etc.

    In summary, one can conclude that following the chain of causality, creativity gives rise to innovation. Innovative organizations are those that know how to make good use of creative minds to achieve it’s organizational goals in a more efficient and effective way. Creative minds alone will not take the organization anywhere.


    Innovation = creativity + appropriation of creativity output

    • Brian A. Lee says:

      True words of an entrepreneural philosopher that goes the required steps to go beyond creativity and innovation. Bravo!

  21. Creativity means getting novel ideas .

    Invention : By spending time/money you get something new
    Innovation : quantifiable gain from your idea/

    Tesla spent money to create his inventions but was unable to monetize them. Innovators produce, market and profit from their innovations. Inventors may or may not profit from their work.

  22. the movie The Ugly Truth is an interesting movie and i really love Katherine Heigl _

  23. actually, i watched this movie twice because i sort of laughed a lot on the ugly truth movie “‘-

  24. Brian A. Lee says:

    A little long winded and I hope food for thought.

    Another thought(s) perhaps? We all have our own definitions according to our particular prejudice (prejudice not to be confused with simply negativity, but to mean a ‘particular feeling about something’).

    Creativity and Innovation to me have many meanings! In my reality, most of it is in not ‘reinventing the wheel’, but in giving the old wheel a new function and perhaps the resulting outcome will be Innovation.

    I may have a ‘creative’ thought that I can put into form as:

    1) a media applied to a medium (such as oils to a canvas or word to a written document), painting, literature, poetry, entertainment, etc.


    2) an innovative idea about how to utilize an existing ‘product’ that is not what it was originally intended for, such as taking a product at the end of it’s marketing life and giving it new life through function OR perceived image. (A bit self-serving perhaps), but years ago (1968/9?) I sat in a client strategy session between a major advertising agency (as an employee of the agency) and a major manufacturer of a consumer laundry detergent. This was during/after the American Recession of the 70’s brought about by an ‘oil crisis’. The product was Cheer. The question/problem was a ‘new’ more appropriate slogan for a product at the end of its’ marketing maturity or into the decline cycle. I listened to dozens of ‘ideas’ being bantered about while studying the package. On the package was a slogan – All Temperature Cheer. Finally, after hours of creative ideas were passed and rejected and thousands of billable dollars were spent, I stepped out of my defined functional boundary, and suggested “All-Tempa-Cheer”. As far as I know, it is still the current slogan. Creativity or Innovation?

    3) Another personal business circumstance in the 1980’s ended up being the birth of the concept of “sales force automation” – an ‘accidental’ utilization of new technology that was engineered/introduced for another function. What resulted in (#4 Below) to me is a clear example of creativity leading to innovation.

    As a consultant, I was helping a client automate their sales and order process. In this period of ‘ancient’ history, when a Sales Representative would make a sale, they would fill in an Order Book (carbon paper – not NCR), mail the order back to the main office and then the order would be fulfilled. This sometimes could take weeks. The company wanted to speed this process up, if possible. New technology had been introduced that allowed ‘data’ to be transmitted via the acoustic coupler (not a consumer product), which used a telephone handset and transmitted at a speed of up to 300 baud. To transmit information the acoustic coupler converted data into sound signals, sent those signals over phone lines, and then the receiving acoustic coupler interpreted those signals. A typical 1-page order form could take as long as 5 minutes to transmit, but that was certainly more efficient than sending the form via US Postal Service. Faxing (fascimile) was not reasonable during this time period as a fax machine sold for as little as $4,500 and as much as $20,000 in l982.

    According IBM Corporation, I am the ‘father’ of what is known widely today as Sales Force Automation – though I did not do anything more than take existing technology and merge it together to solve a problem other that what the technology was originally designed for.

    This was accomplished by porting their Order Entry sofware to a laptop/portable computer (also a new technology for the time) that would output a plain text (ASCII) document. It worked and the client shortened the Order Fulfillment process by weeks! Again, Creativity or Innovation?

    4) The first test sales representative was driving a 1982 Ford Econoline Van. His laptop was ‘stored’ on the passenger seat. He was forced to slam on his brakes on a freeway and the laptop went airborne and crashed into the dash board, which at that point in history was not a cushioned part of the vehicle. It fell about two and a half feet to the floor of the van and broke into pieces. When he brought it into the corporate office, the question asked me was “what do we do now”?

    Having just been to the dentist the thought came to mind that perhaps the solution was some kind of ‘table’ or ‘desk’ that would mount to a vehicle floor to hold the laptop more securely. Within 9 months I had designed and Patented (a vast waste of money) a platform/device, with assistance of a mechanical engineer friend and introduced the first “The Mobile Desk”. A device that mounts in a vehicle to hold an electronic device(s). Again, Creativity or Innovation?

    5) Lack of Business Creativity or Innovation? I took this finished product concept to independent investors and financial institutions seeking investors and/or SBA money. The results were a resounding “no” or “your are nuts – this product will never take off”. Above I mentioned that to me “No is not an option”. I had seen it work and I knew or projected that it would be a viable product, so I slowly, because of limited resources, moved forward on my own.

    While I was not the market leader of this product when I ‘retired’ in September 2010, I had sold over 500,000 of the product in a variety of versions. The last industry numbers I saw were that over 5,000,000 of this concept, in various forms, had been marketed. Once again, Creativity or Innovation?

    5) The introduction of the last named product “Epitome®” entailed further innovation of what a mobile desk could contain and in fact did provide 12V DC, 110V AC, USB, IEEE Firewire and Bluetooth technology to the product – all power provided from a single 12V source.

    The biggest outgrowth result of the introduction of this product concept was the spawning of a retail industry that caters to the mobile office. At one point my company had over 40,000 SKU’s. I had many competitors that parroted my ideas. I was never concerned as competition spawns creativity and creative growth. Again, Creativity or Innovation?

    Sadly, now that I have ‘retired’ I find that I do not really want to be ‘retired’ but lack the creativity or innovation to take my knowledge to developing Third World Countries to try to teach what little I know – but I am working on it and have relocated to Honduras to see if I can do so in a country that has grown to expect ‘entitlement’ much as the US has!

  25. Jonathan Miller says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    I’ll start by saying your conclusion of innovation essentially being equal to creativity doesn’t really follow from the arguments you give. My reasoning is this: ideas + action is not the same as novelty + value. From what I can see, no one seems to be arguing that creativity involves physical action, but innovation does not. Similarly, no one seems to be arguing that innovation by definition involves only valuable ideas, while creativity is indifferent. Thus it seems to me that a point can be made for their distinction. The real question, then, is whether it is more important to have valuable ideas, or whether it is more important to act on them.

  26. Chandrika Kaushik says:

    I think that valuable ideas and their implementation, both are important in their own way.
    Good ideas will be put into action sooner or later. But till such time, that they are implemented their value is notional. Real value comes out of implementing good ideas. Similarly, if you have a lot of good ideas but don’t have the resources to implement them, you cannot derive value out of these ideas.

    Valuable ideas and their implementation both are important and complementary to each other. Value can be achieved only be using both as complements to each other. We really cannot say that one is more important than the other.

  27. Ernest Abaho says:

    I have just found this out and presumably I took time to appreciate the discussion on “creative”, “creativity” and “innovation”. My questions are; can one be innovative when he/she is not creative? then, what makes people more creative (and some times more innovative) than others? I need your opinions on their antecedents.

    • Hi Ernesto,

      I’ll reply to your question with Mark’s permission. Hi Mark, great post by the way. For me, Hugh and Levitts beautifully summed it up.

      For the past 10 years I have been flirting with creativity (and innovation) whether in the artistic, scientific and legal field. I have been a scientific inventor and an innovator in the legal and artistic field. Now I also teach what I have learnt (as a creativity coach) and I also write about it.

      I personally cannot come up with an innovation without first thinking creatively. I need to enter my creative state of mind and search for creative sparks, hints, analogies or metaphors. Very often most of the ideas are not worth pursuing. Sometimes some ideas might seem interesting at first sight, but are hard to apply or far from being appropriate or useful. Then, there are those ideas that seem to fit perfectly with what you are looking. You still have to work on them a bit to match perfectly what you are looking for. Now, if my idea is a completely new product, you’ll call it invention. If the idea improves on an existing idea or process, you’ll call it innovation.

      Whether it’s an invention or an innovation, everything starts from my creative state of mind.

      Don’t get caught up with definitions if you really want to create and innovate, you’ll end up spending all your time defending positions and feeling happy that you know the meaning, at least on paper.

      We are all different and not all techniques apply to everybody. Techniques that work for me might not work for you. The only way to know is to put them into practice and see for yourself. Creating should be a fun process, though I don’t disagree it can be painful when you become too strict with yourself. But it’s great fun.

      Haven’t answered your question as it would be as long as the whole chapter in my book – Discover Law Through Art : Combining Art, Science and Law to stimulate Creativity.

  28. Just came across this article recently. Great topic and interesting discussion! Regarding the conclusion at the end of the article:

    “So when you look carefully at the definitions, there is in fact no essential difference between creativity and innovation. Not for anyone who takes either of them seriously. Everyone basically agrees on the importance of ideas + action and novelty + value. From this angle, arguments about the superiority of innovation to creativity start to look like macho one-upmanship”

    As far as superiority goes, I agree that there is no NEED to define the difference between creativity and innovation. But what if we view the issue from a different angle? What if we temporarily forget about the words “innovative” and “creative”, and focus instead on…





    Is there a NEED to define the cognition/synthesis of an idea separate from the cognition/synthesis + action? Similarly, is there a need to define ideas that are novel versus ideas that are both novel and have value?

    What if a member of our creative team produces content that has 3 of those 4 points? Do we tell them, “you’re creative/innovative minus that value bit at the end?” Do we use the words creative or innovative to describe this situation at all? Are there words other than creative or innovative that we can use to more accurately describe the situation?

    For me, there IS a need to define the two things separately… because, well… I like use a single word to describe the situation… it saves me a lot of time 🙂

    Now the question becomes, which words do we use? Unless there is an official “word definition committee” that we can submit a review request to… I don’t think it matters as the two are already being used interchangeably. I think the trick is to know what you NEED it to mean… make sure this definition is in alignment with your team… then use it accordingly.

    For myself… I lean a bit more toward the definition provided at the beginning. Why? Well, it just seems to be how the majority of people are using it, and I spend less time having to align my definition with theirs.

    I have rarely heard a painting described as innovative, but I have heard it described as creative. And I have more frequently heard that new all-in-one “blender/pancake-flipper/baby-diaper-changer” product defined as innovative.

  29. Hi, I am looking for a really reliable web host. Could you recommend a good host? I’d sign up via an aff link you give me. Mine is pretty flaky right now. :/

  30. All in all,innovation has something tom do with creativity.Innovation is a process towards implementing creative ideas while on the other hand creativity is simply ideas whether outwardly expressed or inwardly expressed.

  31. Aruna T Hettiarachchi says:



  32. I think that poth creativity and innovation is closely link because of “creativity is making an idea but not enforce this idea” whereas “innovation is making an idea and then enforce this idea to reach you goal such as prestige, produce more e.t.c”

  33. Is distinguishing between creativity and innovation not akin to distinguishing between create and innovate?

    Creative= Having the ability or power to create
    Create= To cause to exist; bring into being.

    Innovative: Marked by or given to innovations
    Innovate: To begin or introduce something new

    To me, with usage of ‘create’ the emphasis is often on the making or creating of something original, whereas with ‘innovate’ the emphasis tends to lie more on the changing, renewing, reformatting, improving, etc- of that which is already there… What do you think?

  34. This is the most brilliant article I have ever come across in the internet.

    The question is: do we say “Creative Idea” or “Innovative Idea”?

    My view is that:

    Creativity = thinking + doing ”instantly”

    Innovation = thinking + availing (the thoughts) for use

    1. Creativity is about thinking and putting into action a new way or in a new way to solve a problem at hand. Creativity is therefore about thinking and doing something to solve a problem ”instantly”.

    As an example, one can say the boy is very creative when molding a pot or the girl is very creative when drawing or painting. Creativity has the doing act embedded in it.

    2. Innovation is coming up with a new idea and availing it for use or implementation either by yourself or by any other person. Innovation is therefore about generation and availing new ways of solving a problem or problems or improving on usage of an already available tool or idea to solve a problem.

    As an example, in my country Kenya, the generation of an idea to use the mobile phone for banking purposes known as ”M-pesa” (”M” standing for mobile from the mobile phone and “pesa” meaning money in Kiswahili language), was an innovative idea that has taken the world by storm. With this idea which has since been implemented, one can bank while sitting in the toilet.

  35. This is really the third article, of your site I actually went through.

    However I actually enjoy this 1, “The Crucial Difference Between Creativity and Innovation |
    Lateral Action” the very best. Thank you ,Lawerence

  36. For me, innovation is the turning of ideas into value; taken things that are a known entity (not new to the world) and applying them in a new way to add value. Creativity on the other hand is coming up with new ideas. It probably takes a bit of creativity and a lot of innovation in order to be successful in my mind (as most things have been thought of before, they just need a catalyst or new application to make them successfull).

  37. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.

    I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message
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    A fantastic read. I will definitely be back.

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