Creativity: the source of innovation?

Creativity and innovation are concepts that are often used interchangeably. Are they the same thing or are they different? Does one have a relationship with the other at all?

In this piece, we attempt to answer these questions.

To fully understand these concepts and if one causes the other, it is important to first put these concepts through scrutiny and define them.

“The use of imagination or original ideas to create something”.   

The process of “making changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas or products.”

From these definitions, it becomes clear that creativity precedes innovation. It is the act of creating something original whereas innovation would be the introduction of a new aspect to an already existing system.

The second way in which these two are differentiated sometimes is by seeing creativity as the thought process and innovation as the implementation. If this is the case then creativity is definitely the source of innovation.

Let us now dissect these ideas to see if this above notion holds.


Creativity is generally seen as being the process of imagining. One ‘imagines’ something that does not exist in reality at that time. It is something new.

A research conducted on Darwinism by Simonton also explored Creative Darwinism. It referred to a hypothesis that was put forward by David Campbell in 1960 and which stated that creativity is a process in which “multiple ideational variations emerge in an individual’s mind and then a subset of them are selected for preservation and execution” (The Sources of Innovation and Creativity).

So if creativity is the process of thinking of an idea, it is also useful to consider what kind of ideas are being discussed here- new is the keyword.

The gist of the matter is put more succinctly in the following words by Sternberg and Lubart in their book defying the Crowd.

They say:

“The bigger the concept and the more the product stimulates further work and ideas, the more the product is creative.”

In a nutshell, then, creativity is the process of thinking up an idea that is new and big so it can inspire work and further development when executed.


A very interesting collection of definitions exist on this topic. Nick Skillicorn conducted research on the definition of innovation by asking 15 innovation experts what it means to them. Below are only some of the answers.

  1. ‘The application of ideas that are novel and useful’- David Burkus
  2. ‘Innovation is about staying relevant’- Stephen Shapiro
  3. ‘The introduction of new products and services that add value to the organization’- Kevin McFarthing
  4. ‘The fundamental way the company brings constant value to their customers business or life and consequently their shareholders and stakeholders’ – Paul Hobcraft.
  5. ‘Work that delivers new goodness to new customers in new markets’ – Mike Shipulski.

Altogether there are 15, these are only 5 of them. The purpose was to show how vast the meaning and pool of interpretation for the term ‘innovation’ is. It is a very dynamic concept and means a multitude of different things to different people. Especially in business, each company’s relationship with innovation varies from the other.

If you are a business owner, you need to define what it means to you.

If you are a business owner, you need to define what it means to you.

The bottom line

Coming up with an idea is a creative process. Once that idea is chiseled and then implemented to add value to a product, service or experience, that is innovation.

It is not the egg and chicken conundrum. It’s a rite of passage. Innovation will proceed with creativity to complete the process.

Creative thinking on its own is just an idea. It manifests through the act of innovation.

An example of this in business should make the importance of executing the idea to completely clear.

Imagine this

Company ABC is a cosmetic company. They are doing well but the competition is tough and they have to keep peddling hard to keep themselves afloat.

Someone from the production team one day happens to find a bit of inspiration from something they saw in a movie about the way the makeup was being done. They think they can introduce something to the foundation’s packaging that will make the experience much better for the user.

They sit down with their team and start brainstorming. They come up with many new ideas. The aim is to think outside the box and come up with something that has not been done before. This is the creative part of the process.

They finally decide on a very safe and efficient pump and a smaller bottle inside the packaging that can be used for travel because the original bottle is quite big.

They design the pump and the new smaller bottle. They change the box the product comes in. They send the design to production and get a prototype. It is good enough so they order the first batch and start including them. It will be safe to assume that ‘innovative’ will be part of most of the reviews they get if their idea works.


Creativity and innovation are concepts that are often used interchangeably. Are they the same thing or are they different? Does …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *