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  • Nigel Nolan

The Difference and Relationship between Creativity and Innovation

Managers need to understand the difference between creativity and innovation

The terms ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’ are frequently used interchangeably as if they have the same meaning. But they are actually two very different concepts, and managers and leaders in organisations need to understand their separate meanings in order to properly encourage or foster either. The conditions conducive to one does not necessarily encourage the other.


The Collins Dictionary defines ‘creative’ as having the ability to create; characterized by originality of thought; having or showing imagination. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘creative’ as describing someone who is ‘imaginative’, or ‘inventive’, and who has the ability to ‘form out of nothing’.

However, creativity is not just about coming up with a new idea – the idea has to be useful and answer a need. This newness doesn’t have to be about originality either, because creativity is frequently about linking existing knowledge or ideas in a new way. This notion lies behind many idea generation techniques.

To be truly creative, an idea has to be of value. It is not sufficient to be original or different, the idea has to have a purpose and be fit for that purpose. So the idea must be apt or appropriate.

A useful definition of creativity is “the ability to link information in new ways or apply existing knowledge to a different situation.” (Creativity and Perception in Management – Jane Henry, 2001).

On the other hand, the Collins Dictionary defines ‘innovation’ as ‘something newly introduced, such as a new method or device’; and ‘innovate’ as ‘to invent or begin to apply an idea or method’. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘innovation’ as ‘the introduction of a new thing’, ‘the alteration of something established’ or, ‘the introduction of a new product on to the market’.

The Difference

There is one important difference between these two different sets of definitions, and that is that there is no mention of ‘introduction’ in the definitions of creativity. This single word ‘introduction’ is what differentiates innovation from creativity. Creativity is coming up with the idea – it is about idea generation. Innovation is doing something worthwhile with the idea.

The Relationship

Innovation only happens when the idea is actually implemented. If nothing is done with it, the idea just dies. Innovation is when the idea is brought to life – it is when someone takes the idea and does something of value with it. So the relationship between creativity and innovation can be expressed thus:

Creativity + Implementation = Innovation.

Jane Henry expanded her definition above to define creativity and innovation combined as:

The ability to link information in new ways and to develop the resulting ideas into implemented solutions.”

A Challenge for Managers

Understanding the difference between creativity and innovation establishes two separate but linked challenges for managers in organisations: Firstly, getting people to be creative, to come up with new ideas – and secondly, to actually do something about those ideas. The challenge for managers is to find a way to foster an environment that encourages people to be creative. However, if something isn’t done with the ideas people share – if the organisation is not conducive to innovation – people stop being creative. So a linked but separate challenge for managers is to foster an environment that facilitates the implementation of ideas – that encourages innovation. There are two separate processes involved in fostering creativity and innovation.

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