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Lead Your Team Strategy

Creativity Is Not Innovation (But You Need Both)

Creativity Is Not Innovation (But You Need Both)
Credit: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

"Creativity" and "innovation" are two words that constantly get thrown around in brainstorming sessions, corporate meetings and company mission statements. There's no question that these values are highly prized in the fast-paced modern workplace, but do leaders who use the terms truly know the difference between them?

Shawn Hunter, author of "Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes," (Wiley, 2013) defines creativity as the capability or act of conceiving something original or unusual, while innovation is the implementation or creation of something new that has realized value to others. Business leaders frequently interchange creativity and innovation, without understanding what separates the two.

"Creativity isn't necessarily innovation," Hunter told Business News Daily. "If you have a brainstorm meeting and dream up dozens of new ideas then you have displayed creativity, but there is no innovation until something gets implemented."

Hunter noted that many leaders focus more emphasis on generating creativity on demand, instead of simply building innovative products, processes and interactions. [MORE: Innovation in the Workplace: How to Harness It]

"Innovation isn't a mysterious black box," he said. "It can be simple small tweaks to existing processes, products or interactions. And by focusing on the process [of innovation], and not the heroically creative individual, we can build innovation at scale."

In other words, process is replicable and scalable; a creative individual is not. Once leaders understand the difference between creativity and innovation, they can work on inspiring both among their team members — and building a culture that supports these values.

"While leaders can foster innovation, the organization as a whole must also support innovation through the makeup of its culture and the way it designs its processes," Hunter said. "Sometimes the best way to spark innovation is by allowing activity within the organization that deviates from the norm but that may lead to positive outcomes." 

Hunter cited the birth of Starbucks' now-popular Frappuccino drink as an example of how leaders giving their employees some room for deviation allows creativity to blossom into innovation. In the early 1990s, the staff at a Santa Monica, California, Starbucks invented a new drink and asked an executive to propose the product to headquarters, where it was ultimately rejected. Later, the same store invented another drink (the Frappuccino), and the executive asked the staff to quietly make and sell the drink to local customers. It quickly became a hit, and the management group implemented the successful idea companywide once its value was proved.

"The Frappuccino turned out to be one of Starbucks' most popular and profitable drinks," Hunter said. "And, according to [Starbucks' then-vice president of sales and operations] Howard Behar, it happened because someone was allowed, and even encouraged, to experiment with a new product that deviated from the company's core product line."

Originally published on Business News Daily

Nicole Fallon Taylor
Nicole Fallon Taylor

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.