The difference between Innovation and Creativity, ابتكار and الإبداع

الإبداع / ابتكار

I’ve spent three of the last 5 weeks in Saudi Arabia working on an Innovation Project for a Government Agency. I had a wonderful time. The Saudis are so kind and generous (and fun) to work with.

One interesting issue that you are faced with when talking about innovation in the Middle East is the distinction between innovation and creativity. It’s a language issue. Many people translate innovation as الإبداع which phonetically sounds like “alib-dar” which is also the word for creativity. There is a word in Arabic word for innovation which is ابتكار which is pronounced phonetically as “iptikar” but it’s lesser known.

For native English speakers it’s a simple difference; creativity is the act of imagining or conceiving something new and innovation is the act of creating or implementing something new. Innovation means innovation and creativity means creativity. In the Arabic World, you have to explain the difference.

I always feel that if you have to explain a word, it’s a word to avoid but that’s rather problematic when you are being paid to help make an organisation more innovative (or did they hire me to help make them more creative?)

My problem with calling it creativity is simple: We all learn (or are told) – probably at primary school whether we are creative or not. Usually it’s by dis-association in that they are not one of those children that can paint, sing or play a musical instrument. When people come to an innovation or ideation workshop I regularly hear people say therefore “I’m not creative”. I’ve never heard someone pronounce “I’m not very innovative”!

Actually, the reverse is true. My friend Eihab Othman of Idea Paint Arabia put it brilliantly; “we are all creative to some extent. When we match a shirt with trousers in a shop or when we serve food and deliberately place the components on the plate to look nice, we are demonstrating creativity”.

We can’t say the same about our ability to innovate – it’s a skill that we need to learn and be actively engaged in doing.




There are 2 comments

  1. Interesting article about cultural perspectives on innovation. However, I’m not so sure that creativity is natural but innovation must be learned. Don’t most young children both imagine and create new things all the time? And many engineers I know make things all the time but complain that, “I don’t have any new ideas.” It seems that they need help in generating new ideas rather than implementing them.

    April 18, 2016, 3:58 pm
  2. Dan,

    Thanks so much for your comment. Of course you are right, it is a generalisation and one that is far less appropriate for some groups and engineers being a good example of this.

    One of the tools I developed to explain innovation or the innovation process is the 12 bricks game ( I give everyone 12 bricks and set three challenges – group 1 are asked to make a small box just big enough for two pills – something I can put on my desk to remind me to take the pills at lunchtime. Group 2 gets a challenge to make something useful for my desk then I give them some suggestions; a coaster, a holder for my phone or USB cable etc. The third group I say, let your imagination run wild. Without exception, that group spends ages getting started – they sit and look at the bricks trying to conceptualise what to make before they get started. Children don’t spend any time thinking about it, they just put bricks on bricks and see what happens. We’re conditioned as we grow older not to take the risk of doing that – starting without knowing that they are going to make in case they fail. This is why the first group – the group that were told precisely what to build finish first. This game proves the paradox that FOR MANY PEOPLE creativity is easier when we are given a tight brief and harder without any brief at all. Again, another generalisation, but I hope you take my point.

    April 18, 2016, 4:18 pm