Innovation, Invention, Creativity and Artistry are not the same

Innovation, Invention, Creativity, and Artistry are not the sameLast night I was at an event where I woman said, “I want to get in touch with my creativity. I used to paint and play music, but no longer do that.”

This got me thinking about how we throw around a lot of terms with no real clarity around what they mean.

Here are four terms that people use interchangeably.

  1. Invention, from my perspective, invention is the creation of something that previously was not in existence. The focus is not on commercial value but rather on novelty.
  2. Innovation, on the other hand, is an end-to-end process that starts with a specific problem, challenge or opportunity and results in commercial value (however that is defined for the organization).
  3. Creativity is one step in the innovation process. When you have a defined problem/opportunity, creativity is the act of finding a solution.
  4. Artistic endeavors are things like music, painting, and photography. There may be commercial value. But the primary focus is often on the experience.

You might think I am splitting hairs discussing the differences between these terms. But language is important to any culture. And distinguishing these words can be quite useful in helping an organization grow.

Commercial organizations (including non-profits) really want innovation. Putting people through creativity training is interesting, but if the resulting solutions are not relevant to needs or are not ultimately implemented, there is no point. In fact, it can create extra work that detracts from the real opportunities.

Invention can be great. But I know a lot of broke inventors. Developing something new does not mean there is a market need.

Equally, I know a lot of great artists who never want to “sell out” and as a result are struggling to get by.

Innovation is the key. The resulting change does not need to be radical, it only needs to be relevant to the needs of the market. It does not need to be fancy, as long as the solution is commercially viable an implementable.

Getting clear on these distinctions can help you focus your energies on what matters most.

Build a common language of innovation on your team

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Stephen ShapiroStephen Shapiro is the author of five books including “Best Practices Are Stupid” and “Personality Poker” (both published by Penguin). He is also a popular innovation speaker and business advisor.

Stephen Shapiro




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No Comments

  1. Sukh on September 15, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Invention is the child of Necessity.
    Innovation is the adopted child of management Consultants – think Angelina Jolie
    Creativity is a God-given talent nurtured by liberals.
    Artistic endeavors, like blogs, are attempts at immortality.

  2. Sean on September 15, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Good technical distinction, but I can say from experience that the core psychological feeling when I’m being artistic, being creative, being inventive, and being innovative is exactly the same. There are other writings elsewhere, no doubt, on the deep psychological processes and regions of the brain that get activated, but suffice to say a corporation is probably shooting itself in the foot if it tries to force a policy that encourages innovation but shuns less profitable/pragmatic creative, artistic and inventive thoughts and endeavors.

  3. Ernesto Tan on January 24, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Innovation is like creating something useful out from ordinary or unrelated!

  4. Dr Ram Niwas on December 23, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Creativity is very, not existing before

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