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What, really, is Creativity?

August 10th, 2010 by admin Leave a reply »

Every year the students at UC Berkeley challenge me to identify some elements around Creativity. What is it? How can managers harness it within their organizations? What is the nature of great ideas – where do they come from? Is Creativity the same as Innovation?

A simple definition:

…if it’s useful, novel and not previously thought of, call it creative. This applies to works of art, businesses, events, etc.   If it’s a new idea that is put to some practical purpose for the first time anywhere, it’s an innovation. It’s possible to be highly creative but not very innovative. However, it would be hard to be innovative, without having gone through the creative process.

I’d like to challenge my readers – do you agree/disagree with the above? How do YOU define creativity? What is the difference between Creativity and Innovation?

(After hearing from several of you, I’ll post discussion by 8-9 entrepreneurs that I’ve interviewed recently on their thoughts on creativity and innovation.)



  1. Kevin Huynh says:

    I see the distinction between creativity and innovation with an idea’s usefulness/acceptance.

    Creativity is more raw, novel, not-previously thought of. One can be creative in their own right however an innovation must be deemed useful (and potentially inspire a willingness to implement or even pay).

    One cannot be innovative without being creative, and being innovative requires an alignment with needs and desires.

  2. Jason Dolan says:

    I always think of creativity as finding a unique approach. As I’m a singer/songwriter, I thought I’d post the lyrics to a song I wrote on finding your own path in life…

    I said under my breath as I was thinking back,
    I said “You know, life’s not meant to be like that.”
    And I, I turned as I heard a man laugh and say,
    “Oh, what’s life supposed to be anyway?

    It’s the bumps in the road and the hits that I took
    That remind me life’s not a scripted book,
    But these hits and these bumps showed me roads I’d have passed
    Trying to conquer life too fast.”

    But I told him, “I’m just stuck in maze of choices
    And I’ve lost my way.
    See I just got one shot at life
    And I’m looking back at too many yesterdays.”

    He said, “Hey listen I’m sorry to intrude,
    I just I thought I’d offer my point of view.”
    I said, “Ah no, it’s, it’s cool,
    It’s just see sometimes I feel like a damned fool.

    I keep bouncing around trying to find myself
    And it seems like I’ve stumbled upon just about everything else.
    And I keep wasting time, I feel I’m two steps behind,
    And I still don’t know what I want to find.

    And I’m following a trail of footprints,
    Too afraid to stray.
    See I’d let my own voice sing,
    If I could just find the words to say.”

    He said, “You know, it seems to me
    You’re trying to play life a little too perfectly.
    I mean, you’re gonna make mistakes
    And your heart will ache, but you can’t really live if you just play it safe.

    You gotta just take a stance and dance your dance
    And see who you could be.
    You gotta take a chance and find romance
    And let yourself believe.

    Cause I’ve walked through that maze of choices
    And I found there’s no one right way.
    It’s not always right or wrong or black and white,
    There’s a million shades of grey.”

    I said, “Yeah, I hear what you’re saying,
    Maybe I should stop looking back at yesterday.
    And maybe I should just take a stance
    And take a chance and give fate more than a passing glance.

    And try my own path and pave my way.
    And trust on that road I’ll find my own shade of grey.”

    He said, “Don’t be afraid to sometimes…
    Stray from that trail of footprints
    And find your own way,
    Cause it’s the journey itself
    That gives life meaning anyway.

    And just take a chance
    And let the chips fall where they may,
    And with each step you’ll paint your own shade of grey.

  3. Julián Limón says:

    I agree with the ones who said that we may spend too much time defining creativity and innovation without actually fostering them.

    I feel that the whole point of taking a class like this one is to find ways to come up with new ideas (be they creative or innovative) that provide business value. The least important thing may be how do we classify those ideas as long as we can find ways to estimate their impact within a manageable level of uncertainty.

  4. Brian Meagher says:

    While I agree with the author’s statement that it would be hard to be innovative, without having gone through the creative process, I somewhat disagree with the definition of creativity. The author implies that creativity must produce something useful and I don’t think that is necessarily true. For example, take a piece of very abstract art or music that few people can understand or identify with. Many would argue that the creativity used to develop the art or music produced something entirely useless. I believe this to be the case, unless you define usefulness as the internal satisfaction that the creator receives as a result of embarking on the creative journey.

  5. Siddhi Saraiya says:

    The theme of your posting is reinforced by looking at the etymology of the words.

    The root of creativity is “creare”, which means “to bring forth” in Latin and is related to “crescere”, or “arise, grow”.

    The root of innovative is “innovatus”, which means “to renew or the change”, which assumes that something had to be first created in order to be repurposed, renewed, or changed.

  6. Jerry says:

    I agree that creativity might be a source of innovation, but I don’t believe that it is the only source.

    Oftentimes creativity is something that arises spontaneously – a spark of inspiration so to speak – rather than methodically. But many of the innovations people talk about, the ipad for example, were developed through a very methodical series of iterations.

    I also disagree with the notion that innovation must be new. An innovation might very well be an old idea applied to a new area. I suppose you can label this a new idea that arose from an old idea.

  7. Miguel Buling says:

    When I think of innovation, I see it as the application of creative ideas in solving an existing, clearly defined problem. Faced with a problem with out an obvious solution, you innovate. Creativity is involved in this process, but is not necessarily limited to problem solving or well-laid out tasks. You can be creative in a whole lot of other ways with the common thread being the novel combination of ideas, techniques, etc. leading to an addition to the body of human knowledge.

  8. Lauren Kim says:

    One thing that I’ve noticed in the workplace is that some people are very creative but their ideas aren’t always useful. Often a more experienced individual is needed to take the creative idea and find an innovative application. From my experience, the process from creativity to innovation is a team effort.

  9. Carlo Woods says:

    Honestly, I think they’re synonyms and very interchangeable. I think we can be creative about our definitions of creativity and innovation to give us context for how we apply them to our personal and professional lives. But ultimately, we’re talking about the same thing.

    Webster seems to agree with me.

  10. Alex Chung says:

    In the processes management course (Info225), I learned about the three phases of building a game changing business: dreaming, building, and selling. Interestingly, they echo the three domains of ICE (Creativity::Dreaming, Innovation::Building, and Entrepreneurship::Selling). In that case, the meaning of innovation is building a working model based on one or more creativity ideas.

    Anyway, the take home point from Prof. Hansen was the whole she-bang being only as good as the weakest link of the three.

  11. Carlos Chiabra says:

    I think that in order for something to be considered creative it must to meet two requirements:

    1) It must present a shift from the current paradigm of thinking in a personal or collective domain of knowledge.

    2) It must be considered successful by others (or oneself) in accomplishing some purpose in that or any other domain of knowledge.

    For example, John Lennon once said that he got the idea for the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” from a drawing by his son Julian did in preschool — Julian had drawn his preschool friend Lucy flying with diamonds!

    Because that particular drawing was presumably significantly different from other drawings Julian had shown his dad (i.e. it presented a shift from the current paradigm of thinking in Julian preschool drawings) and it sparked off an idea in John Lennon’s head about a song (i.e. the drawing achieved ‘success’ in an adjacent domain of knowledge — music) it should be considered creative.

  12. Charles Kerman says:

    Two things I know about creativity:

    At first glance, Engineers* and Artists* are generally considered at opposite poles of occupation. In fact, Engineers and Artists are strongly similar in their practice of creativity. These are two occupations that demand creativity.

    Creativity is taking two, combining together and making one new. This could be people, ideas, materials, tools, stimulation*, algorithm etc. Creation is a human activity.***

    Innovation is a subset of creativity, when one of the two things combined is a result. If ANY idea is put to some practical purpose for the first time anywhere, it’s an innovation.

    [This discussion revolves primarily around semantics.]

    * I identify myself as one.
    ** Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures.
    *** Enter theology: man is creative as (in the image of) G-d being creative.

  13. admin says:

    Very helpful insight, Siddhi!

  14. admin says:

    Jason – YOU ROCK !!!!

  15. admin says:

    Andy – I can tell you are geneticist!

  16. Joe Six Pack says:

    Creativity is coming up with a solution when you have not other options – and nobody is kissing your ass.

    People that are not creative write books – people that are … do.

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