I’ve been thinking lately about differences between the words “innovation” and “innovative,” not so much in the dictionary sense though. More about what the two words suggest to people – where they overlap and where they are different.

For me, innovation implies something process-oriented, structured, and clearly intent on creating something markedly new and different from what existed before.

Innovative seems like something more subtle; more of a perspective than an end result. It might be a strategy for adjusting a process or pre-existing entity to make it better or more efficient without being a revolutionary change.

As part of the ongoing tweaks (i.e., innovative modifications) to the Brainzooming blog and its contents, I’m curious about how you in the Brainzooming community think about and draw distinctions (if any) between these two words.

Let me know your perspectives and what angles on each of them are of greatest interest and value to you. – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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6 Responses to “Innovation vs. Innovative”

  1. Mark Dykeman says:

    I partially agree with your definitions. Innovation is a process and the result of work designed to create new and different things.

    Innovative just describes the process and the results of the process, i.e. an innovative way of working or an innovative product. Basically, it’s just an adjective.

  2. This is making me have an innovative headache. 😉

  3. Einstein said, “If at first, the idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it.”

    Burt Rutan said a similar thing: “Innovation requires belief in nonsense.”

    As for the difference then, between innovative and innovation — you can make this distinction — Since innovation is so purposive, directed, ultimately convergent, and validated only by results typically within certain well-defined parameters, it fails Einstein’s and Rutan’s test. This is so common in the business world today and it seems that innovation consultants are giving companies the convergent processes they want, because that’s what they are buying. But they also aren’t stretching very much – and they are not getting much paradigm-changing innovation.

    Of greater interest to me are innovative cultures and individuals. These people set the stage, day by day, and moment by moment, for breakthrough transformation. It is a natural/cultivated elan that plays naturally and organically — and I believe allows for the “absurd” and “belief in nonsense”, so vital to true breakthroughs in every aspect. And this can be taught, practiced and cultivated.

    If this is the kind of distinction you were trying to make, I concur with you.


    Doug Stevenson

  4. Mike Brown says:

    Thanks for your perspectives Mark and Doug (and sorry about the headache Alex!). The depth and swirl you can get into thinking about word definitions reminds why I usually avoid these kinds of posts. It often leads to lots of conversation without much forward movement on anything.

    What brought me to this post was reading about very structured innovation processes lately and wondering how “innovative” perspectives live outside those. This was especially the question when an individual thinks of themselves as “innovative” but their work isn’t plugged into a big formal system for innovation. When it’s simply part of trying to improve things for a customer or an internal workforce, does that make it “less” in the world of innovation vs. when it’s about fundamentally changing a business model.

    Maybe it does come down to what Mark said, “It’s just an adjective.” Maybe it’s enough that people can apply “innovative” your actions and approach, no matter what type of formal process you’re plugged into.

  5. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Anybody can randomly do something in their life that results in innovation. But to be innovative implies the process is continual, a habit.