We often get asked what the difference is between “creativity” and “innovation.”

Though many people use the words interchangeably, they are actually two distinct, though related, entities.

We like to keep the definitions simple:

Creativity: The act of producing fresh, original ideas.

Innovation: The act of putting creative thought to practical use.

Given these definitions, it’s possible to have creativity without innovation. After all, you can probably think up dozens of fresh, original ideas that would be of limited —or even no—practical use to anyone. How about a heat resistant pancake griddle? Tennis balls that don’t bounce? You get the picture.

Innovation, on the other hand, is dependent upon creativity. In order to innovate, you need to have the creative idea first. But then—and this is where innovation differs from creativity—you need to shape that idea into something that is actually practical, or on-strategy, for your intended market or business.

Being a best-in-class innovator means fostering creativity and innovation rather than just one or the other. Here are some ways to do both.

Ways to foster creativity:

Ways to foster innovation:

• Hold ideation sessions with trained facilitators to generate fresh ideas
• Stay on top of the latest trends inside and outside your industry
• Train your employees in proven ideation techniques
• Develop sustainable methods for collecting ideas from employees at every level of your organization
• Create multi-disciplinary teams to cross-pollinate ideas

• Use qualitative consumer research to explore and validate your organization’s creative ideas
• Hire leaders who remove obstacles to innovation (time/budget restraints, risk aversion) and cultivate a collaborative, blame-free environment that supports it
• Make innovation someone’s job and let it be their primary mission to do all the things we’ve listed above for fostering creativity and innovation


Innovation is a Team Sport

We often hear stories about famous inventors and the stroke of luck or genius that inspired their great idea (i.e. Ford, Goodyear, Otis). But the reality is that most of today’s innovations don’t come from just one person or just one moment of inspiration. In today’s business world, most innovations are the result of a deliberate collaborative effort by many people.

For innovation to thrive, it’s important to take the ego out of the idea development process and make it a team sport, so to speak. By building a cross-functional team and involving consumers and major stakeholders (i.e. vendors) in the innovation process, you’re bound to increase your chances for success. One of the benefits of an organization is that it brings together different thinking styles from people with expertise from a wide variety of areas that provide them with unique perspectives. Putting together an innovation team with people from every discipline—marketing, sales, R&D, operations, IT, HR, design—will give you better chances of “winning” at the innovation game.


Embracing Ambiguity

Shakespeare once said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” We can say from experience that the course of true innovation never did run smooth either. Sometimes when doing consumer research, you may realize that the “fuzzy front end” just isn’t getting any clearer. Or that you need to back up a bit before you can go forward. Real innovation circles back on itself as more information becomes available. An idea that yesterday you may have thought to eliminate, suddenly comes back into play when you make an unexpected discovery today.

For that reason, forcing innovation into a linear, one-way funnel process can unfortunately too easily kill a promising idea. Instead, you might want to think of your process as a dynamic vortex, where ideas are given greater freedom to move where ongoing insight and inspiration take them. Nascent ideas should constantly be informed by other elements in the vortex of new product activity, such as consumer/customer insight, technical invention and discovery, product form and packaging, branding, positioning, advertising communication, etc. before they can reach a critical mass of integration. These elements must have sufficient time to mix, match and inform one another until a confluence of learning, evidence and insight come together to create a high-probability-of-success concept.

Of course, sooner or later the ideas have to come back to earth. Decisions will be made, and resources allocated for those ideas with the greatest in-market potential, but only after they have been substantially improved, transformed or even entirely re-invented in the process.


Thinking Beyond New Products & Services

We’ve found many companies are so focused on innovation in the new product/service realm, that they forget to look for new ideas across other organizational functions—business development, marketing, cost-cutting, partnerships, operations, technology—any area that is integral to your business. It’s quite possible that a groundbreaking new approach to how you do business can be just as profitable as a new product or service.


Diversify Diversify Diversify!

We’ve noticed that one concept that is easily forgotten when it comes to innovation is the “portfolio” strategy (not all of your ideas and innovations will come to fruition, so it’s best to make sure you’ve got multiple options to choose from). Many companies are so focused on finding the next big game-changer that they forget to aim for a mix of both platform-changing innovations and smaller line extensions—or vice versa. Just like with your personal investments, the key message is “Diversify!”


Just ‘The Doing’ of It!

There’s a fundamental misconception that company-wide innovation requires painful, large-scale organizational change. Rather than turning your organization on its head with an overwhelming change initiative, simply start doing things to generate new ideas. To say it another way, you don’t innovate by changing the culture; you change the culture by innovating. Start ideating, gathering consumer insights or training your employees in creativity and innovation. The result of all of this kind of “doing” is that it leads to successes—new ideas, fresh consumer insights, an energized staff. And because success tends to beget success, once you get the momentum rolling, you’ll find you’ve done more to change your company culture by initiating these easy-to-execute activities than you would have by instituting an organizational overhaul. What’s more, you will have accomplished it much less painfully!