The difference between Innovation and Creativity, ابتكار and الإبداع

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.