Defining Creativity and Innovation

Creativity and innovation both sound pretty good, and a lot of people report that their work environments are sadly lacking in both.  I think in truth, most people use the terms interchangeably, and that’s completely fine.

There are, however, some different definitions that might be interesting to consider.  In management science, which is behind most MBA programs, talk about creativity, they are generally referring to the right-brain, colors, shapes, music types – artists, musicians, and let’s face it, those people over in Marketing…..   Creativity is about an environment that fosters the right brain thinkers and is generally more open, fluid, and colorful than most traditional workplaces.  Innovation is more about process – taking creative ideas and putting them into action. Terwiesch and Ulrich (2010) define innovation as “a new match between a need and a solution” – it is about the matchmaking more than about the dreaming up of something new and different.

In social science, the definitions are actually often the opposite. Innovation is about the spark, the idea generation, and creativity is about how you take that idea and put it into action. Maybe that’s because without the discipline of management, it seems like only someone who is very creative could figure out how to turn something into action.

However you define it, there are two important forces at play – one that opens the brain up to thinking differently about the world and can conceive of new patterns, relationships, and thoughts, and another that matches those dreams to the reality of the workplace and how to effect change for employees or customers by delivering on an idea. Over the next week or so, we’ll talk about both, using the traditional management science perspective that creativity is about ‘the spark’ and innovation is about ‘the action’.

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