Creativity, Innovation and Cake

by Jeffrey Baumgartner

Creativity, Innovation and CakeDo you know the difference between creativity and innovation? If so, good for you! If not, don’t worry. It seems an awful lot of people do not know the difference. Indeed, I am continually hearing people using the word “innovation” when they mean “creativity”. Among these mis-users of terminology are so-called creativity and innovation experts who really ought to know better.

Why does this matter? There are two reasons. Firstly, sloppy use of terminology suggests a sloppy mind and possibly a poor upbringing. Secondly, people believe they are doing innovative when in truth they are merely being creative. While being creative is jolly good fun, creativity without implementation does nothing for your business.

To understand why this is the case, let us define the words correctly and talk about cakes.

Definitions

Creativity is combining two or more different ideas or concepts in order to create a novel, new idea. Innovation is using those ideas to change your world for the better. In short, creativity is about the ideas. Innovation is about the implementation of those ideas in order to institute change. In a business context this would typically involve more money generated either through increased income (successful new product ideas), reduced costs or a combination of the two.

So, what happens when people talk innovation but do creativity? Not much and that’s the problem.

Creative Alone Makes No Cake

Imagine you launch a cake recipe competition in which the three most creative cake recipes, submitted to your competition web site, win rewards. The public loves the idea and submit thousands of recipes, many of which sound like they would be incredibly delicious! It’s a great exercise that generates lots and lots of cake ideas, but not a single cake. In short it is a creative exercise and not innovation.

Now, let us assume you want to innovate. You intend to bake the three most creative cake recipes submitted to the competition. But, you spent most of your budget on the recipe submission web site. So, the only resources you have available for making the cakes are a small kitchen, a small oven and basic cooking ingredients. You also have a really busy schedule, so there’s no time to cook anything complicated. What all this means, of course, is that you won’t actually be able to bake any complex or unusual cakes — such as the top three recipes. What do you do? You could do nothing and simply be happy that some creative ideas were submitted. You could modify the winning recipes to make them fit your limitations. You could review the recipes again, selecting only those that are possible with your limited resources. You launch a new competition.

If you follow the example of too many companies today, you will take the first choice: do nothing, be happy with the creative results and call it “innovation”. But, if there’s no cake, there’s no innovation. So, this is an example of creativity. Unfortunately, you also used up budget and resources for your creative exercise that delivered no innovation. You may even create bad feelings among the cake recipe submitters for not baking any of their cakes.

Innovative Cake

Clearly, a better approach would be to have a cake baking competition where people bake cakes and submit them to you for tasting. There probably will not be as many submissions as in the case of the recipe competition. But you will have cake. You will have innovation.

Alternatively, if you really want to use your cake recipe submission web site, you can run the competition but make your resource limitations clear to recipe submitters. Then only select winning recipes that fit within your limitations. You can readilyo bake the winning recipes. Of course, you might not get such a high level of creativity — owing to your limitations. But, critically, you will have cake. You will have innovation.

Your Organization

Think about the innovation initiatives in your firm. Do they involve submitting fancy recipes that will never be baked into cakes? Or do they result in cakes? If there’s no cake, there’s no innovation!

image credit: d sharon pruitt

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Jeffrey BaumgartnerJeffrey Baumgartner is the author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master; the author/editor of Report 103, a popular newsletter on creativity and innovation in business. He is currently developing and running workshops around the world on Anticonventional Thinking, a radical new approach to achieving goals through creativity — and an alternative to brainstorming.

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  1. So in other words halucinations without implementation could be the same as having ideas without implementations

  2. You had me at Cake! Seriously though, it’s an ideal analogy to set in a business context. No idea, however brilliant, can become an innovation without implementation – even if the sponge doesn’t rise on the first attempt. It’s all part of the wonderful creative process. Thanks Jeffrey!

  3. Thanks for the positive feedback, Jane!

  4. Jeffrey

    Loved the post and was not familiar with your book but will sign up for the newsletter and pick up your book! Would love to have you come to Tampa to do a joint workshop with me on Anticonventional Thinking….check out my business concept created from the great book & philosophy found in BLUE OCEAN STRATEGIES! The Golf Industry is stagnant and declining in this economy but our Golf & Entertainment strategy involves a “Portable Golf Country Club” set up model using our creativity to innovate and deliver new revenues! “ANYONE-ANYWHERE-ANYTIME!

  5. I enjoyed your article! Many people do get the words “innovation” and “creativity” mixed up quite a bit. Your analogy using cake was a great way to describe the difference between the two terms. Another popular term relating to innovation is “open innovation.” In one of my blog posts, I define what open innovation is and how it can benefit an organization: http://ow.ly/l2446

  6. I really liked your article and it is really worth reading! Want to turn myself from creator to real innovator!!

    • Thanks for the positive feedback, Sakthikumaran! And good luck with your goal of turning into a real innovator. But, note, very seldom are individuals innovators. It typically requires a number of cooperating people to see business ideas from conception through to implementation. Steve Jobs did not make the iPad. He had the vision and motivated people to follow that vision. But many, many people were involved in turning that vision into reality; turning that creative idea into an innovation.

  7. Hi Geoffrey, This is good. It’s a refreshing change to have someone talking sense on innovating. However, here a thought. How about talking about inventiveness rather than creativity? Inventiveness would fit neatly as a substitute for creativity in what you said. The word makes a more powerful pairing with innovation. I prefer to think of them both as processes or activities—inventing and innovating. Innovating is a process of adapting the raw idea of the invention so that it ‘fits’ into or can be accommodated or assimilated by exiting systems. Innovating is not so much a process of commercialisation, a common description, but one of socialisation. That is, a process of embedding in existing (strictly speaking) sociotechnical systems. Extant solutions, methods.techniques etc. More on my website on invention/innovation here. http://extreme-inventing.com/invention-vs-innovation/

  8. Hi Jeffrey!

    Nice article, but I am not sure I share your understanding of creativity. My understanding of latest discussions on creativity is, that it involves implementation. In order to be really creative you also would need to bake the cake.

    Best regards
    Jürgen

  9. Wow! Were you TRYING to insult your readers?

    “SLOPPY use of terminology”??? “SLOPPY mind”??? “POOR UPBRINGING”???

    There’s just ONE reason that accurate use of these two words matters, and that is “people believe they are doing innovative (sic) when in truth they are merely being creative.”

    Hopefully, no one but me noticed YOUR sloppy mind at work, because I’d hate for the valuable message you’re trying to convey to get lost in the insulting and sloppy word choice.

    • Cynthia,

      I took the “sloppy mind” as a joke. It’s something that my teachers used to say but in this context I think (HOPE) it was meant in jest.

      By the way, I too caught the type-o’s in the article but enjoyed the meat of the writing so much that I let it slide. I guess I have a high tolerance for sloppy minds. 🙂 <–Emoticon to ensure that you know I'm joking.

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