It, Depends. The line between creativity and innovation (a reader question…)
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Great question from a reader who is “catching up” on my older posts. She asks “is there a difference between creativity and innovation?” It is a great question and one that deserves a little thought.

Creativity is an interesting conversation. First off because no matter what people see creativity differently. Some see it as a problem. Other’s see it as a process. One of my personal favorite songs about creativity was recommended to me by my father. He recommended it to me as a song about the problems in our educational system. I saw it as a problem of understanding creativity. Its from the Album Living Room Suite by Harry Chapin. The song is flowers are red. In this song there is a young boy who sees all the colors of the rainbow and tries to recreate them in his assigned artwork.

The teacher tells him that “flowers are red and there is no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen.”

Or to put it more simply “The way things are is the way things are.”

Creativity and innovation buck that trend. They have a gap however between them at times. Innovation can be incremental (simply making something that exists better) where for the most part creativity starts with something that didn’t exist before the artist found it. Where creativity lies more in the realm of artists, innovation lies between art and science.

The difference is only perceived which runs of course the risk of being “the way things are.” So for the most part it is simply a distinction that is the difference. Many innovators are incredibly creative, seeing things that do not currently exist. Many artists are innovators, taking a centuries old craft and applying new ways of doing that art to the very form.

There are innovators that live wholly in the science side of innovation. They take things that exist today and make them better and more effective. Having met and talked to quite a few of the people in that category they would not consider themselves artist.

So to answer the original question in a broad sweeping generalization yes there are differences and it has to do with the perception of the creative person and the perception of the innovator. As we are so often forced to say “it depends.”

It is hard to move past it depends here. People who perceive themselves as not being creative would in effect be insulted if you said their innovation was creative. People who are creative of course would see things differently.

The easy way to move forward is to simply ask the person. Are you an innovator or are you creative (and also end with or are you both).

it, depends.


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow.