Every company I consult with or speak to wants their employees to be more creative and innovative when solving problems. The big question is always “how.”

First, it’s important to understand what exactly creativity is. In its simplest sense, creativity is a function of knowledge, curiosity, imagination, and evaluation. The greater your knowledge base and level of curiosity, the more ideas, patterns, and combinations you can achieve, which then correlates to creating new and innovative products and services. But merely having the knowledge does not guarantee the formation of new patterns. The bits and pieces must be shaken up and iterated in new ways. Then the embryonic ideas must be evaluated and developed into usable ideas. In other words, there really is a process.

To help you master that process, you first must understand three important levels of creativity, which are discovery, invention, and creation.

#1. Discovery: The lower level of creativity is discovery. Just as the name implies, it’s when you become aware of or stumble upon something—discover it. For example, there is art called “discovered art.” It might be a rock with a unique shape or a piece of wood with an interesting pattern. If you have ever purchased a piece of natural stone or wood art, that art was discovered art. Many inventions start with a discovery.

#2. Invention: A higher level of creativity is invention. For example, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. But you have to ask yourself, “Would the telephone have been invented without Bell?” The answer is yes. Eventually the telephone would have been invented because the science was there. It might have taken longer, but it would have happened. So while invention is higher than discovery, it’s something that is going to happen. If you don’t invent it, someone else will.

#3. Creation: Creation is the highest level of creativity. For example, the stage play Othello is genuinely a creation. Elizabethan drama would have gone on without Shakespeare, but no one else would have written Othello. Similarly, there are things that only your organization can create! The key is tapping in to what those things are.

Here’s an example of how this could play out in your company. While at a conference you might discover a tool, a technology, or a process that you didn’t know before. You purchase the tool for your staff, and that discovery helps everyone work better. After some time, that discovery may also spur an innovative idea of how to apply the discovery. You may then use that innovative idea as an inspiration that yields something never seen before, something created by your company that helps you and your customers. That’s how the three levels of creativity can work together.

So how can you develop your creativity and use it to innovate so you’re not competing with others? So you’re not copying what others do? So you’re not chasing the hottest new trend and never quite catching it?

The secret ingredient is to identify and leverage the inner you; that’s what makes your creativity come to life. You have to tap into that inner magic that comes from deep inside of you. And that magic is tied more to a gift than a talent.

Let’s face it … we all have multiple talents, but the key is to understand that we also have a unique gift. Some people have drifted into their current profession using their talents, and they have been struggling because there are others who are equally talented and can do the same thing. No matter how hard they try, they eventually get to a ceiling they can’t seem to break through, and I would suggest that’s because they’re in the “talent zone.”

Talent relates to competency, not your unique inner magic, and it can only take you so far. To maximize your talents, you have to identify your unique gift. Once you identify your true gift, you can then direct your talents to support the gift. That’s when your creativity, innovation, and career really soar.

I know this is true because I used my talents to start five companies before using my gift to start Burrus Research. The other companies did very well, but in reality, they were holding me back. I was so busy using my talents that I had no time to discover and use my gift. Once I identified my gift and made my talents support my gift, I was able to create Burrus Research. As a result, my speaking, writing, and consulting business has been growing for over 30 years, even during several recessions, because I continue to use my gift to innovate while always maintaining my focus.

So what’s your gift? What makes you different from all the others who have the same talents as you? When you focus on your unique gift as you navigate through the three levels of creativity, you become a true innovator—one that others try to emulate.


DANIEL BURRUS is considered one of the World’s Leading Futurists on Global Trends and Innovation, a top LinkedIn Global INfluencer, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books including The New York Times best seller  Flash ForesightFollow Daniel on Twitter andLinkedInwww.burrus.com