As introduced, this Words Matter series will explore how different words affect our perceptions – of people, products, companies . . . even ideas.  Each article will spend time on just one word, and to kick it off, the first we’ll discuss is Creativity.

Seems harmless, right?  Rather simple, too.  Most children even know the meaning of creativity – Crayola has engrained it in their heads by age 3.  Today’s discussion, however, isn’t about the meaning of the word, but rather its perception.

In business, creativity and innovation are completely intertwined.  And they should be. Consider the formal definitions:

Creativity is defined as “The ability to make new things or think of new ideas.”
And Innovation: “The act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods.”

It’s literally impossible to innovate without being creative.  They are two sides of the same coin. And yet, in business, when used as labels, these words are perceived quite differently.

Innovation is revered.  No one’s going to argue with that.  Calling a company innovative is one of the highest compliments you can give – in tech, retail, healthcare, across all industries.  It’s about moving forward. It’s about progress and upgrades.  I once heard someone give a very interesting take on the difference between invention and innovation. They said that, at the crux of it, invention is coming up with something new for the first time.  An incredible accomplishment, no doubt.  But innovation is taking something to another level.  Advancing and making something better.  Without question, every company, industry, and person in business wants to be deemed innovative.

Creativity, on the other hand . . . now that label is a double-edged sword.

While most professionals, when pressed, will recognize creativity is directly aligned with innovation, few leaders jump to use that label when describing themselves.  Why?  Because somewhere along the line, people in business decided you were either creative or analytical.

That, right there, is a huge problem that I discuss in great detail in my book.  Most of that thinking took shape with the rise of the right-brained v left-brained philosophy.  People understood it as you had to be one or the other. It was a binary thing, a zero sum game.

We won’t go into depth into that at the moment, but suffice it to say – there are significant problems with making those two mutually exclusive opposites.

In addition to being a completely false assertion, that idea is just so terribly limiting.  Being good with numbers has nothing to do with one’s ability to exercise their imagination.  Just like original thinking has nothing to do with one’s ability to utilize logic or think linearly.  In the end, labeling people as one OR the other limits everyone’s potential.

It’s an important idea to consider, especially as leaders consider gender-dominated strengths in an organization.  Like it or not, when people label a person as ‘creative,’ they are often inadvertently pigeon-holing them from the beginning.  “Creative” people tend to find the most work in marketing or design, sometimes user-experience or the PR department.  This is a problem. Think of the talent the teams in operations and engineering are missing out on.

More importantly, perhaps, executive teams rarely use the word creative to describe their members.  Because that word has taken on an either/or association in business, those labeled as creative often have their strategic or leadership skills dismissed.  Executives tend to steer clear of the “creative” adjective and instead self-select with the more complimentary innovative label instead.

Because of the more traditional male / female roles in business, many start to sub-consciously associated innovation not only with leadership, but with men, and creativity as an inferior operational role, more often applicable to women. Far too few realize what they’re missing, and make no mistake, they are missing out.

We can start to change that by bringing attention and intention to these powerful words.

A wise Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, but thinking what no one else has thought”

Call it what you want, but that sounds like business innovation to me.