I heard a good story last week. My chum, a sales director for a packaging company, had a meeting with a very important client. A man from the creative team had flown in for the occasion. The first problem was getting him through customs. Where others had a briefcase, he had a vintage oil can cut in half and hinged, specially designed for him. This raised eyebrows. Inside that he had a handcrafted carbon fibre knife. That was confiscated.

Finally they got to the meeting. The besuited business clients at first ignored the exotic creature at the end of the table. He was so obviously ‘creative’ they decided he was incapable of talking about business. Then, when everyone else took out their laptops and tablets, he took out a miniscule notebook, the kind with pages and covers. Then he got out his fountain pen and wrote notes in tiny perfect script. He had their attention. Whether they liked it or not, they couldn’t stop staring.

The creative guy had quietly taken over the meeting. He’d changed their view so they saw his team as a creative company with something different to offer, not just negotiable commodities. He presented his ideas, and they got the business.

Creativity and innovation. What’s the difference?

Although these two words have the same meaning – doing new stuff – in practice, creativity and innovation mean different things. People use creativity to talk about the arts; they apply innovation to business. Creativity is boundless; innovation can be applied. It’s as if creativity is going to cost you, and innovation will bring in the beans.

The fear seems to be that a creative team could spend a week absorbing new stimuli from the universe – walking through forests, reading poetry, staring at the stars – until an idea develops. And then it might not be useful. Whereas innovators sit down around a table and have brainstorms – borrowing, combining and adapting ideas to come up with hundreds of new ways to do what they do already, but better.

Secretly – because no one likes to say this out loud – here’s the problem: Creativity looks like fun. Innovation looks like work.

And it’s always harder to justify fun when the beans are being counted. You get people wagging fingers and asking, ‘It’s all very well being creative, but when’s that going it put money in the bank?’

Which is better for your brand?

Creativity is for the long shots, the big strategic moves to take you somewhere new. It might not pay off this year. Innovation is the stuff you do when you want to show results the next quarter. Although sometimes creativity is the one thing you need to make the deal, as our chum pointed out.

We think you need both. Of course you do. You really can’t get by without pure creativity, no matter how hard you work on applied innovation.

Just one tip. Have people on your creative team who can write down their ideas and explain them clearly. Because the ones who can’t articulate what they’re thinking will be a waste of beans.

But we would say that, wouldn’t we?