One way to differentiate between the two is to understand creativity as the mental precursor to innovation; creativity is about imagination and ideas where innovation is about action and process. The authors of the new book SmartStorming: The Game-Changing Process for Generating Bigger, Better Ideas, Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer describe the difference between creativity and innovation as
Creativity is most often defined as the mental ability to conceptualize (imagine) new, unusual or unique ideas, to see the new connection between seemingly random or unrelated things. Innovation on the other hand, is defined as the process that transforms those forward-looking new ideas into real-world (commercial) products, services, or processes of enhanced value. The result of such a transformation can be incremental, evolutionary, or radical in its impact on the status quo.
Innovation requires creativity, but creativity does not always lead to innovation. Organizations that seek innovative thinking need workplaces and talent development systems that foster creativity, and they also need process systems that can translate the creativity into innovation. Understanding these distinctions between creativity and innovation allows us to understand, learn, and maximize each more comprehensively.
Since creativity is separate from, albeit necessary to, innovation, individuals can develop and utilize their personal creativity capabilities regardless of whether their jobs and workplaces explicitly require or seek innovation. Furthermore, an IBM survey of more than 1500 Chief Executives from over 60 countries and 30 industries found that “chief executives believe that—more than rigor, management discipline, integrity, or even vision—successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity.”2 Developing and using personal creativity in the workplace is no longer relegated to the “creative arts” or deemed as a “nice to have,” developing and using personal creativity at work—regardless of the work, workplace, or industry—is quickly becoming a competitive differentiator in talent and a core competency for leadership whether or not it is fostered in the workplace where it is valued.