Book Review written by Judy Bernstein
Bruce Nussbaum seeks an economy based on innovation and believes that creative intelligence can get us there. In Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect and Inspire, Nussbaum describes five creative competencies and a vision for the future, Indie Capitalism, all intended to expand past the “vocabulary” of design and bring a fresh focus to creativity. As a current Professor of Innovation and Design at Parsons School of Design, regular blogger for Fast Company and Harvard Business Review, former Assistant Managing Editor at BusinessWeek and founder of both the Innovation and Design online channel and the quarterly magazine IN: Inside Innovation, Nussbaum directs his book not toward those “just interested in becoming more creative” but rather “for people…who want to create things that change our lives.” For Nussbaum, Creativity is essential to fuel innovation and an economic system based on innovation will allow us to “reinvent and revitalize our capitalist economy.”
Comprising three parts plus a short epilogue, Creative Intelligence urges us not just to practice creative competencies, but to apply them toward innovation. Part I, Reclaiming Our Creativity, debunks the myth of “mad genius” and relays some creativity research history. Here Nussbaum provides engaging anecdotes about Keith Richards and references the work of J. P. Guilford, Teresa Amabile, E. P. Torrance, R. Keith Sawyer, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, among others. In Part II, The Five Competencies of Creative Intelligence, Nussbaum names and discusses the skills and sub-skills associated with Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making, and Pivoting. Part III, The Economic Value of Creativity, lays out Nussbaum’s hopes for Indie Capitalism and the broad adoption of creativity assessments in arenas as diverse as education, government, the arts and industry. Nussbaum asserts that Creative Intelligence, also called CQ, should be evaluated along with domain specific skills and knowledge. The short Epilogue, Rethinking Creativity reiterates Nussbaum’s call to action, “…we must recognize the value of creative competencies and a creativity-driven society.” It also relays his conviction that creativity offers a new source for fresh solutions. “All the great challenges of our day are connected to a need for us all to recognize our creativity and hone our creative abilities so we can find those pathways of possibility.”
While the book seems directed more toward those just beginning to consider creativity rather than those already committed, I find many of Nussbaum’s thoughts both deeply important and appealingly familiar. Just as Keith Richards said and Nussbaum quotes, “…this is not one stroke of genius. This cat was listening to somebody and it’s his variation on the theme” so I appreciate that Nussbaum prizes creativity and identifies creativity skills. Like so many current and past thought leaders in creative problem solving, people such as Sidney Parnes, Ruth Noller, Vincent Nolan, Bill Gordon, George Prince, Gerard Puccio and Min Basadur, Nussbaum seems dedicated to the field of creativity and its advancement.
However Nussbaum breaks with creative problem solving convention in asserting that current conditions are too volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous to justify “problem-solving approaches.” According to Nussbaum, “problem-solving approaches work – but only when you know the problems. But today there are so many ‘unknown unknowns’ that we don’t know the questions we should be asking, let alone the answers.” He argues that “playfully discovering new answers to puzzles that do not have one right answer is a better approach” and asks us to cultivate not just a playful climate, but also a play-based process. For him, “serious play turns the process of play into an instrument of change.”
I’m quite taken with the notion of “serious play,” one I first encountered during my training for LEGO Serious Play certification. I do not agree with Nussbaum that problem-solving approaches are only appropriate “in times of relative stability,” nor do I think that the value of serious play negates the value of problem-solving approaches. But, I applaud Nussbaum’s attention to the advantages of “messing around” and the story he tells about an innovation team’s “free interplay” and the way it enabled the team to become “very directed and purposeful in our creativity.” His assertion that “Good teams require trust and skills and knowledge not simply unfamiliarity and modular furniture” strikes me a compelling, although harsh, variation on a theme.
If, as Nussbaum argues, Creative Intelligence can encompass design, five creative competencies (Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making, and Pivoting) as well as Indie Capitalism, then one would think it should also be big enough to include creative problem solving. I, for one, hope it does.
ABOUT JUDY BERNSTEIN:
Judy Bernstein heads Insights at CBA, a qualitative marketing research company dedicated to using deliberate creativity to unlock not just ‘what is’ but ‘what might be’. She is also currently pursuing a Master’s Degree at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. Judy’s fascination with creativity processes and instinct for what lies beneath was first kindled by improvisation and theater and grew stronger with formal training in Creative Problem Solving, Synectics, and LEGO Serious Play. Prior to joining CBA, Judy was a full-time qualitative consultant at Hall & Partners USA, on the Strategic Staff at Ammirati Puris Lintas and a member of the Artistic Staff at the Manhattan Theatre Club. She lives in the New York City area with her husband and sons.