Picture of cake by D Sharon Pruitt

Creativity, Innovation and Cake

Do 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 sloopy mind and possibly a poor upbringing. Secondly, people beleive 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.


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 Organisation

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!

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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium




My other web projects

My other web projects

CreativeJeffrey.com: 100s of articles, videos and cartoons on creativity   Jeffosophy.com - possibly useful things I have learned over the years.   Kwerps.com: reflections on international living and travel.   Ungodly.com - paintings, drawings, photographs and cartoons by Jeffrey