Creativity and Innovation: Two Sides of the Same Coin

The words creativity and innovation are often expressed as if they’re one word, and subsequently, their individual meanings tend to blur. Creativity and innovation are in fact two distinct concepts that rely on one another. The Oxford English Dictionary defines creativity as the “ability to create.” Innovation is defined as, “the alteration of what is established by the introduction of new elements or forms; a change made in the nature or fashion of anything; something newly introduced; a novel practice, method, etc.” These differences, while somewhat minor, are significant. Creativity suggests processes, or a set of conditions that are conducive to making things (objects, services, ideas, and so on). Innovation, on the other hand, implies that the “things” created are in some way unique or previously non-existent. What I will attempt to do on the DBL Blog is explore each of these concepts as well as how they overlap. What follows is my current thinking about the relationship between creativity, innovation, and library service design.

Contrary to popular perception, creativity is not a quality that a person is either born with or without. Creativity can be nurtured, or squashed, by environmental conditions, procedures, techniques, and interpersonal relationships. Librarians have it within their abilities to engineer workplaces that allow creativity to take root and flourish. On the flip side of creativity is innovation. Innovation is the outcome of creative processes. Making something that is considered new or novel is the result of a series of creations, some of which fail and some of which succeed, and all of which move the innovations forward. Innovations, as I see them, also foster creativity. By introducing a new element into the mix, innovation opens up new paths for creation.

Throughout this exploration, I will assume that both creativity and innovation are intrinsically beneficial for library services. Libraries exist in a marketplace that is more crowded with goods and services than ever before. People have a seemingly endless array of options for fulfilling their information and community needs. To thrive in this competitive environment, librarians must develop novel approaches to designing services and experiences so that they connect with the people they aim to serve, satisfy unmet needs, and achieve enough visibility to gain awareness. Furthermore, the pace of change is always accelerating. Creative and innovative libraries will be able to adapt to these changes, while libraries that don’t innovate their service designs on a routine basis will quickly lose traction. It’s true that not everything that’s new is by definition good. But since innovation feeds back into creativity, even innovative failures are useful in that they allow us to view problems in different lights and to create in different ways. This point leads to another core assumption I will make: creativity and innovation entail risk and risk is good for libraries. Librarians with low risk tolerances will not be able to sustain the environment necessary to support creativity or innovation. We must concede that if we want the benefits of creativity and innovation, we must accept the inevitable failures that result from trying something new and welcome them as learning experiences.

I hope this gives you a good sense of how I’m thinking about creativity and innovation as they apply to designing library services. I’m interested to know your thoughts and questions on these topics too so that I can address them as we move this conversation forward. My upcoming posts will focus on what the literature and case studies have to teach us about these topics, which I consider to be some of the most important in librarianship today.


One thought on “Creativity and Innovation: Two Sides of the Same Coin”

  1. In an earlier post I made a reference to IDEO, perhaps the world’s most recognized design firm. While I’m sure they’ve got lots of creative minds within the firm, IDEO is not know for its creations. Rather they are recognized for their innovations. What they most do is take existing products and look at them in very different ways so as to determine how to create change that makes the product easier to use. IDEO may take its products through thousands of different iterations as they study how people use the product. So thanks for pointing out the differences between creativity and innovation as they are quite different – and we need to better understand what stimulates us to be creative as well as innovative.

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