The terms “creativity” and “innovation” are often used interchangeably. But how similar – or different – are they? I spoke with my colleague, Teresa Amabile, an expert on workplace innovation. Here’s her take on the connection between these commonly used terms – and what it means for business.
It all starts with creativity
According to Teresa, creativity is essentially responsible for all of human progress. That’s a phenomenal force. Perhaps that’s why some people tend to think that it’s very mysterious. But they shouldn't.
The research over the past 50 or 60 years illuminates how creativity happens. Basically, creativity is the production of anything. It could be an idea, a tangible product, or a performance. What’s developed should also be different from what’s been done before in some way. Creativity in the workplace should also be appropriate to some goal or meaning.
Now, it’s difficult in some domains to talk about usefulness. For example, what does appropriateness mean in the visual arts? There, appropriateness means it expresses some meaning that the artist intended. But in business, creativity has to “work” in some way. It has to make a contribution to some valuable end.
The Misunderstood Connection of Business and Creativity
The connection between creativity and business success is very important, yet it’s often overlooked. Business people tend to think of what they do as being very organized and strategic. Of course it should be, but businesses cannot succeed, especially under modern competitive conditions, without innovation. And innovation depends on creativity. Creativity is the front end of a process that ideally will result in innovation.
Creativity is coming up with new and useful ideas. Innovation is the successful implementation of those ideas. One interesting connection between creativity and innovation: you can have quite a lot of creativity in a business organization without having much innovation at the other end. This occurs when people aren’t very motivated, or proper systems aren’t in place. Such workplaces have difficultyhearing the creative ideas, developing them, letting them grow, and figuring out how to implement them successfully.
In other words, you can’t have innovation without a healthy mix of creativity on the front end, and solid systems in place to foster that ingenuity.