Comparatively Speaking—Creativity vs. Innovation

In this philosophical discussion, Tony O'Lenick considers the differences between creativity and innovation, and how they can lead to success in the consumer market.

Creativity is the ability to develop new ideas. To be creative requires: 1) knowledge of the subject matter, 2) the ability to see individual parts of a product or technology, 3) the ability to see how the different parts might be assembled in a new way, and 4) the motivation to make the combinations work. In short, creativity is thinking differently about what is known, to develop an idea of what can be. Innovation is the concrete use of creativity to make products that deliver on the promise of creativity, in the form of a useful product. Simply put, creativity is thinking up new things while innovation is doing new things.

The ability to turn creativity into innovation is a critical step in commercial success. The idea of how a product can be made is a thought process; making the thought a product is a physical process. Often, both processes require different abilities. Innovation often requires engineering and physical science abilities, not just technical ability. Without innovation, creativity would not result in commercial success.

Charles H. Duell, 1899 commissioner of the US Office of Patents, once lamented, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Clearly he lacked the creativity to see the potential of American innovation. A better way to think about it is: “Everything that has been invented will be re-invented.” Creative people will re-shuffle components of a technology and innovators will develop and commercialize the resulting products.

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