By Drew Marshall
There’s a lot of confusion surrounding creativity and innovation. “Creative types,” in particular, claim that creativity and innovation can’t be measured. Performance, however, demands measurement so you can identify what success looks like. In a world that changes every two seconds, it’s imperative that companies figure out the difference between creativity and innovation.
You better believe they’re different.
Innovation is Not Creativity
The main difference between creativity and innovation is the focus. Creativity is about unleashing the potential of the mind to conceive new ideas. Those concepts could manifest themselves in any number of ways, but most often, they become something we can see, hear, smell, touch, or taste. However, creative ideas can also be thought experiments within one person’s mind.
Creativity is subjective, making it hard to measure, as our creative friends assert.
Innovation, on the other hand, is completely measurable. Innovation is about introducing change into relatively stable systems. It’s also concerned with the work required to make an idea viable. By identifying an unrecognized and unmet need, an organization can use innovation to apply its creative resources to design an appropriate solution and reap a return on its investment.
Organizations often chase creativity, but what they really need to pursue is innovation. Theodore Levitt puts it best: “What is often lacking is not creativity in the idea-creating sense but innovation in the action-producing sense, i.e. putting ideas to work.”
Because creativity and innovation are often confused, it’s long been assumed that you cannot force innovation within an organization. It’s either there, or it isn’t. The introduction of a common language for innovation — design thinking — enables organizations to better measure milestones in their innovative efforts.
In order to employ design thinking, it’s necessary to understand it as a system of overlapping spaces, rather than a set of process steps to move through. Those spaces are: inspiration,during which the problem that motivates solution-finding is identified; ideation, the process of generating and developing ideas; and implementation, the activities that enable a creative idea to move from the drawing board to the marketplace. Any design thinking-based project may loop back to an earlier space more than once as a team explores, develops, and implements its idea.
Design thinking provides a consistent approach to defining challenges. It helps organizations identify problems before they even begin the brainstorming sessions most associated with creativity. Now, organizations can actually see what they were missing when previous ideas didn’t reach market sustainability.
Using design thinking, organizations can capitalize on creativity by paying attention to the life of the idea after its initial development. To be of value, applied creativity must always lead to innovation — linking a great idea with an actual customer need (or, better yet, the needs of a whole market!). The use of design thinking in this manner also demands the guidance of engaged leadership.
Leaders are critical to the success of any group’s long-term innovation strategy. It’s their job to ensure that innovation is consistently pursued and their employees don’t settle into business as usual. They set the tone for what is, and is not, possible in the business through their attention and action.
Companies to Model
Organizations serious about fostering innovation have to wrestle with two main issues: risk-taking and failure aversion. All innovation involves risk, and all risks include the possibility of failure. Failure should never be seen as a black mark; it is a learning experience. Leaders and their organizations cannot be afraid of failure — or they will never incorporate the innovation they need to truly meet customers’ needs. Design thinking offers a path to risk-taking that’s manageable, repeatable, and driven toward maximizing the effectiveness of the new idea.
Of course, the very term “innovation” connotes something new and different. Still, paying attention to companies that are consistently innovative in their industries is always a good practice. Consider these companies that use the principles of design thinking to achieve their strategic goals:
Proctor & Gamble embraced innovation under former CEO A.G. Lafley. During his tenure, P&G’s value increased by more than $100 billion. In 2000, it had 10 billion-dollar consumer brands; today, it has 22.
Kaiser Permanente is the largest not-for-profit health provider in the USA. Kaiser’s National Facilities Services group has, for over five years, been working on the Total Health Environment, a program applying design thinking to every aspect of Kaiser’s operations, from medical records to color palettes. The results speak for themselves: improved patient health, satisfaction, soundness of sleep, speed of healing, and cost control.
Square is particularly associated with innovation since its plugin device helps millions of mobile vendors and small business owners. No longer are they confined to cash payments or expensive credit card machines. Square noticed that the economy was quickly becoming paperless and provided customers a way to keep up.
Creativity is important in today’s business world, but it’s really only the beginning. Organizations need to foster creativity. Driving business results by running ideas through an innovation process puts those ideas to work — for companies and their customers. Creativity is the price of admission, but it’s innovation that pays the bills.