The Difference Between Imagination and Creativity

What’s the difference between imagination and creativity? We often hear the words creativity and imagination thrown around interchangeably. But are they the same thing? According to experts, they are closely linked but not the same thing.


According to the Cambridge Dictionary, creativity is “the ability to produce or use original and unusual ideas”. It’s the ability to use your imagination to create things. Creativity is where imagination meets the real world. Imagination feeds creativity. There are many definitions of creativity, but what they all share in common is action. Contrary to what most people think, creativity isn’t just about art or music. It can show up in whatever you’re doing. I’m on the board of a local organization that needs to do some fundraising. We are all employing our creativity to come up with ways to reach potential donors. Similarly, if your kids are designing a science experiment, creativity can play an important role.


So that brings us to: What, then, is imagination? According to the Collins Dictionary, your imagination is “the ability that you have to form pictures or ideas in your mind of things that are new and exciting, or things that you have not experienced”. The dictionary goes on to say that the ideas or images are often baseless or fanciful. We can glimpse kids’ vivid imaginations by observing their make-believe play. My sons used to play that age old game of the floor being hot lava; or during a family hike they would run along the trail with their arms out, pretending to be velociraptors. Every child is born with imagination. It's the capacity to envision things that aren’t real.

My husband is an avid chef. He spends hours watching Instagram reels and dreaming up new dishes. He uses his imagination to dream up ideas that sometimes are not possible to actually make. Then his creativity comes into play, asking questions like “Will this flavor work with the other flavors?” “What could I add to change the color to make it more visually appealing?” Sometimes the difference between imagination and creativity isn't visible to the naked eye.

Our son has a life-threatening tree nut allergy, so my husband uses his imagination to come up with wild ideas about how to create a nutty taste without nuts. Then he sorts through his ideas and tries to figure out exactly how he might implement one of them. Sometimes when I cook, I find his constant creativity a little irritating because he often eats what I've cooked and then says: “You know what I’d try differently next time?”

Make sure they have a lot of dots

Personally, I like Steve Jobs’ definition of creativity, that it’s just connecting things. Jobs felt that creativity was just connecting the dots, or making connections between seemingly unrelated things that others don’t necessarily see. In order to have lots of dots to connect, our kids need to actively engage their imaginations on a regular basis and be exposed to new things. These can be as simple as new foods, new music, driving home a new way to see different scenery, or reading a different genre of book. Open ended creative projects are another great way to bolster your child's creativity. That's why our Kids Art Boxes and Insider's Club projects aren't too prescriptive. Try an Insider's Club project for free here.

When my middle son was in half-day kindergarten, I didn’t work on Fridays. So, for a couple of months, when I would pick him up from school each Friday, he’d choose a new ethnic cuisine to try. Then we’d go out to lunch or try to make dishes from that cuisine. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., author of Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, points out that creativity is not simply about participating in the fine arts. It's about approaching the world with a spirit of adventure.

You can nurture your child’s imagination by encouraging wild ideas that aren’t realistic. Write stories together. Dream about what it would be like to have a super power. When the kids were young, if we had a long layover in an airport, we’d make up wild stories about each person walking by. Unstructured free time can play a huge roll in nurturing imagination - the time and space to dream!

Difference between imagination & creativity? imagination fuels creativity 

What’s the difference between imagination and creativity? Imagination fuels creativity; and they are both necessary for innovation. This is why sometimes awesome advancements come from people on the fringes who aren’t invested in the current way of doing things. Have you ever suggested a new way to do things, only to have people immediately tell you: “We tried that once five years ago and it didn’t work.” Or simply: “That won’t work.” The secret to improvement and innovation is the ability to see things in new ways. So the next time your child comes to you with a problem, instead of giving him a solution, ask: “What ideas do you have?”