It’s easy to get confused between creativity and innovation. In many ways they rely on each other. To be creative, an individual, group, or company must be able to come up with new ideas. But to be innovative, they need to act on these ideas.
What is creativity?
As the word suggests, creativity is about creation. It’s about harnessing the power of the mind to conceive new ideas, products plans, thought experiments, tastes, sensations or art. Creativity can be a form of expression or a way of solving problems. Anyone can be creative, and in any context. There's creativity in the marketing department, just as there can be creativity on a football pitch.
Creativity has traditionally been left to those ‘wacky’ companies that are deliberately trying to do things differently, with the majority of businesses tending to favour a traditional and monotone approach to running their organisations. However, the changing business landscape means that companies are beginning to consider a more creative approach to working.
Why is creativity important?
Creativity can help a company manage tasks, improve staff performance and create quality products. It is also vital in fostering a likeable and aspirational company image. With consumers now able to get a snapshot of what company life is like, businesses need to be able to depict their inner culture in a way that makes it seem appealing.
As new technologies continue to develop and become available, companies have to be flexible and able to keep up to date. Creativity allows them to easily identify new ways in which technology can be applied to help their businesses. Likewise, with social media and other interactive forms of marketing now available, it’s never been more important for companies to be able to be creative.
Allowing employees to be more creative can inspire them to come up with more interesting ideas as well as improve their overall output. Many of the world’s leading companies have started to adopt unorthodox methods of encouraging maximum creativity from their employees, such as sleeping pods and flexible working areas.
To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong. Joseph Chilton Pearce
What is innovation?
Innovation, on the other hand, needs stability and establishment. It’s about changing a common or long-standing process by improving it. It’s only by having a status quo in existence, that you can develop it in order to innovate. So, while creativity and innovation share strong links, the processes are entirely different.
Innovation is about taking newly created ideas and developing them into something useful and practical. In many ways, innovation is the process of converting theory into action.
The most common type of innovation is evolutionary, which means finding ways of making incremental improvements to your products and services. This type of innovation carries fewer risks, as it’s generally easier to establish demand for these improvements and to calculate the likely return on investment. However, it still requires a strategic, targeted approach – there’s little point in improving a product in a way that customers don’t value.
The best way to identify opportunities for evolutionary innovation is to talk to existing customers and find out what they value most about your products and services, and what aspects they’d like to see improved. If longer battery life is their number one priority, then it probably should be your number one target for innovation. However, if they also value the product’s easy portability, it’s probably not a good idea for your new version to be much larger or heavier.
Why is innovation important?
Innovation is important because it’s the only way that you can differentiate your products and services from those of your competitors. For customers and clients to choose your business, your offer needs to be distinctive and valuable, and the only way to achieve this is through innovation.
It can be tempting to let your rivals do all the heavy lifting of creativity and innovation, with all the investment, experimentation and risks that this entails. Then, when they come up with a dazzling new product or improvement, you can simply copy what they’ve done at a fraction of the effort. However, there are several pitfalls to this approach.
Most importantly, you’ll always be playing catch-up. However quickly you get your version to market, your rivals will always have the lead on you and they’ll already be planning their next move. This means customers will go to your rivals first, who will maintain a reputation for leading the pack. Your business won’t stand out because there’ll always be someone else who’s already met the needs and desires of your customers. You’ll harm your own brand, and could also risk infringing on your competitor’s intellectual property rights.
However, innovation doesn’t have to be focused on changing a product or service. If you can find an innovative new process that enables you to create a product more efficiently without compromising on quality, you’ll be able to stand out from your rivals by undercutting their prices. Similarly, your innovation could come in the form of a new distribution system, enabling you to stand out by offering the fastest delivery to customers.
Creativity and innovation in the workplace
Exploiting both creativity and innovation in business can boost performance and the bottom line. But first, you need to make space for both to happen.
Encouraging creativity can involve lots of different strategies, from enabling employees to work outside the office to letting people come into and leave the office when they feel ready to, not when they're expected to. The office itself needs to be creativity-friendly and there are ways you can adapt the working environment to support employees' talents.
It's important to let staff feel free when exploring new ideas – whether it's tweaking your existing product or developing a whole new concept. Involve the team, share accountability, reward good work and be ready to respond to market feedback. Remember, your ideas and innovation, no matter how amazing, still need to fulfil a need among customers.
There’s no guaranteed source of great ideas, but they do tend to be generated by the most engaged, positive employees. They don’t come from staff who are bored or stressed. Great ideas sometimes come from brainstorming sessions, but trying to force out ideas can be counterproductive. In reality, great ideas are equally likely to occur when a particular problem occurs that requires a solution, or even when an employee is on their way home, thinking about their day.
The key is to use your business’s culture and processes to capture these ideas when they happen, wherever they come from. Staff suggestion boxes and allocated creative time can work well, but sometimes all that's required is a clear message from the boss that all ideas are welcome.