At the Institute of Imagination (iOi), we are often asked what the difference is between imagination and creativity. We answer by referencing our Institute of Imagination champion Sir Ken Robinson’s definition: creativity is the application of imagination.

Is There A Difference Between Imagination And Creativity?

Through imagination we can step outside of our current context, revisit the past, time travel to the future and imagine and reimagine the world around us. Through creativity we can apply our ideas with tangible constructs or through creative expression. Through the ‘creative process’ we are modelling, testing, iterating, re-modelling and building up ideas – essentially bringing imagination into a reality.

through the creative process we are bringing imagination into reality

When MIT’s Mitch Resnick was building his now global computer coding platform for children, ‘Scratch’, he was surrounded by LEGO bricks. Long a collaborator with the world’s best selling toy, it was the brick that inspired him to create a platform that taught children to code using building blocks. Through Scratch you can imagine new worlds and then bring them to life in a digital playground, modelling your story’s narrative, debugging and testing your code and creating an animation or even, today, building basic AI programmes. This is play, this is interdisciplinary and this is creative. 

Rebuilding The World

We know that imagination and creativity work hand in hand, so we were delighted when LEGO Group asked us to join their ‘round-floor’ discussion to support the launch of their first ever global campaign which recognises the important of creativity: Rebuild the World.

Alongside colleagues from a range of disciplines and drawing from their own research – which includes a YouGov survey1 of 500 children, 500 parents and 500 professionals – the round-floor shared insights and reflections on the importance of creativity. More importantly it involved children and families too!

creativity is not a ‘skill’, but a human quality that we keep working at as we journey through our lives

What stood out from the discussion for me was that creativity alone is not necessarily a ‘skill’, but a human quality that we need to keep working at as we journey through our lives. This was interesting, as the survey commissioned by YouGov revealed that 56% of parents believe creativity is something you’re born with, with 85% agreeing some people are more ‘naturally’ creative than others. At the iOi we challenge this notion and focus on imagination and creativity as a muscle that needs to be developed and worked on. If we can deliver that approach from a young age, we will all have the opportunity to grow and develop our imaginations and creativity throughout our lives. The results of the survey show there’s work to do to change this mindset.

What Subjects Are ‘Creative’?

Another finding from the survey was that ‘artistic’ was the most common word used to describe what it means to ‘be creative’, with 69% of parents saying it was the word they most associated with creativity. Risk-taking and critical thinking were some of the words least associated with being creative at 17% and 24%, respectively.

This is another interesting finding, as in order to imagine new scenarios, prototype and iterate you need to apply imagination to harness really powerful problem-solving skills. To find a solution to a difficult problem requires a creative mind.

to find a solution to a difficult problem requires a creative mind

Art, Drama and Music were the subjects most parents believed required creativity. Just 21% thought maths required creativity. We believe that interdisciplinary approaches are the most effective for real learning outcomes. Combining subject disciplines and being aware of the creativity needed to approach a scientific, technological or mathematical problem will lead to more flexible thinking. Through the use of open-ended and non subject-specific learning environments and play, we can change this mindset so that in the future, creativity is considered an essential, cross-subject skill.

Creativity And Resilience

Against the backdrop of unprecedented change across societies, in our natural world and through the disruptive forces of technology, the iOi believe it is vital that we build creative resilience in all, but particularly in our younger generations.

our ability to use our imagination to react to change in a creative way might be the single most important attribute we have

Our ability to use our imagination to be responsive and to react to change in a creative and positive way might just be the single most important attribute we have. We look forward to continuing to champion this message, alongside partners like LEGO, as we provide opportunities to positively rebuild the world for children and young people. You can find out more about how we’re doing that through our programmes on the iOi website or come and join us at the Imagination Lab in London.

Who was on the panel?

The panel of thought leaders: 

  • Tom Doust, Director of Experience and Learning at the Institute of Imagination
  • Adanna Steinacker, medical doctor and digital entrepreneur promoting positive family living
  • Bill Lucas, Professor of Learning at the University of Winchester and Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning
  • Dara Huang, Founder of award-winning architect firm DH Liberty
  • Sarah Douglas, Editor in Chief of international design magazine Wallpaper*

Learn more about the Institute of Imagination.

1. Survey commissioned by the LEGO Group of over 500 UK business leaders, over 500 UK parents and over 500 UK children (aged 6–15) – August 2019, YouGov

Posted by:Tom Doust, Director of Experience and Learning

Tom leads the development of the Institute of Imagination’s public programming and pedagogy. Tom has spent 15 years dedicating his career to public engagement and participation programmes across the education, cultural and design sectors. He is founder of Pop up Parks, was a 2013 Clore Social Fellow with Nesta and is co-founder of the social action charity Envision.

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