Creativity & Innovation - what's the difference?

Innovation | Kiran Kapur | 20 April 2021

Everyone talks about creativity and innovation, but very few people have an understanding of what they really mean.

Creativity is all about idea generation

Creativity is simply the process of generating ideas that are both novel, in other words, hadn't thought of that before, and useful in that you can see how to make that novel idea work. So it's generating ideas. It's the ideation process. And it's all about that combination of novelty and usefulness.

Innovation is all about implementation

Innovation is the implementation thing. It's the doing thing, is taking that creative idea and implementing it to give you a step function change in the organisational context. So, big difference between the two. Creativity is all about idea generation and innovation is all about implementation.

Brainstorming brings up the past and provides nothing new

When I ask people, "Have you done creative problem solving techniques before?", everyone pipes up with, "Oh yeah, brainstorming. We do brainstorming on a regular basis," is often quoted as being a creative process, but is seldom, if ever, creative for a whole bunch of very good reasons.

We are naturally preconditioned by the past. So when we brainstorm, what we tend to do is rake over our past and identify what from our past we think is going to be relevant moving forward. So we very quickly generate a whole list of ideas that are entirely consistent with everything we've ever done before, which completely lacks any novelty. Novelty is a fresh connection in the brain effectively. It's relatively slow to form.

One of the rules of brainstorming is that you need to eliminate all filtering. We want people to come up with their ideas very quickly, thinking that that will add to the creative process. All it does actually is condemn you to more of the same thinking. We generate long lists of ideas in brainstorms, but they're all variations on what we've done before. So there's nothing new in there whatsoever.

A fabulous marketing tool for cultural revolution

Continuous improvement is incremental improvement on what you've always had. If you want novelty, we need to create space to make a new connection in the brain and that's quite, quite different.

'Kaizen', continuous improvement, 'Lean Six Sigma', call it what you will, is a fabulous tool for cultural revolution, getting everyone involved in the incremental improvement of the organisation. I am a huge fan of continuous improvement, but it is quite, quite different from the innovation process.

This is an edited extract from a podcast interview on 'Creativity and Innovation', with Dr David Hall of the Ideas Centre Group.

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