When we last heard from Bruce Nussbaum, on the occasion of the HarvardxDesign Conference, he mentioned his forthcoming book, Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect and Inspire (HarperBusiness 2013). Available now, it makes for a surprisingly good beach or travel read (Kindle version recommended, as the print version comes in hardcover), at least for those of you who prefer nonfiction for leisure reading.
But the insights and learnings from Nussbaum—a former editor at BusinessWeek and current professor at Parsons The New School for Design—are applicable for a broad audience, from recent grads to practicing designers to C-suite execs. We had a chance to speak to Nussbaum about those very insights.
Core77: What is Creative Intelligence?
Bruce Nussbaum: Creative Intelligence is a way of amplifying our creative capacities. It's a series of five competencies that we can all learn to bolster our skill at generating originality that has value, often economic value. Individuals and business organizations can increase their Creative Intelligence by getting better at Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making and Pivoting or Scaling. The concept embraces the notion that creativity is crucial to capitalism and the source of most economic value.
You write about "creativity anxiety, noting that "creativity scares us." Why do you think that is?
We have false notions of creativity. We are taught that creativity is rare, random, and reduced to special brains. We feel we should be creative but can't perform creatively. Rubbish. We are all born creative and can easily learn to be more creative and innovative. Creativity is a social activity, an ensemble or team play, not an individual gift of genius.
Many of us picture so-called creative types sitting alone in a studio or office, either filled with inspiration or waiting for it to strike, yet you write of interactive creativity and collaboration. Is there a difference between the two?
The "Aha" moment of insight, when we connect the dots of different things to come up with something new, are often done alone, walking or running, taking a long shower or slowly drinking your morning coffee. These insights come after intense social interaction and observation. They come after the research, the learning, the gathering of information and the engagement with the world. You need both.
How do—and should—today's "brainstorming" sessions work?
Brainstorming may be good for incremental change but none of the big disruptive innovations in our lives came out of brainstorming. We need to replace brainstorming with Magic Circles—places where two or three smart people who trust each other can come together and play at connecting disparate dots of knowledge in an open-ended kind of game. Look at Google, Facebook, ZipCar, Amazon, Match.com, Post-Its, the ink-jet printer, jazz, rock & roll, and the other innovations that have changed our lives and you see two or three or five or six people working together in a playground, a Magic Circle. That circle can be in a lab, a school, a biz dev conference room. Anywhere.
You write of an accumulation of knowledge, or Knowledge Mining: from past experiences, unrelated studies or skills development, or immersion in an area of interest. How does one find patterns, or "connect the dots" in order to become more creative?
Creativity is all about knowing what is meaningful to people. Not just their needs or unmet needs but their wants. Frank Knight, a founder of the Chicago School Economics movement said: "The chief thing which the common sense individual actually wants is not satisfaction for the wants which he has, but more, and better wants." Knowing these higher order wants is crucial.
You can learn to understand these higher order wants two ways. Most innovation comes from young entrepreneurs who embody the values, knowledge and technology of their generation. Mining that embodiment is a great way of getting to important dots, higher order wants.
And, of course, immersing yourself deeply into a culture, the traditional ethnography, gets you there as well. Mining the culture is key. Big Data is simply cultural anthropology, only shallower. It's without context and often without meaning.
Successful mining of meaningful knowledge reveals important patterns and shows you possible paths to the new. It can be rather easy. Play this game—connect the dots of "cheap," "shoes" and "social media" and you get Zappos. Connect "looking for girls," "sharing" and "social media" and you get Facebook. Connect the dots of "cars," "sharing values," "cheap" and "social media" and you get ZipCar. Know your dots and connect them in different ways is what entrepreneurialism is about.
When you refer to "framing," is this another word for our own perceptions of the world around us? Please explain the different kinds of framing where CQ is concerned.
Framing is a powerful tool of creativity and innovation. Framing is how we interpret the world and how we engage with it. It's about meaning and understanding, not simply perception. Understanding how we frame enables us to reframe, to change how we see and interpret. That's the core of creativity.
We frame our narratives, the storyline of our lives, how we make sense of the world and where we place new data and information. We can reframe that narrative.
We frame our engagement with the world as well. We used to be born into a small number of social engagements—family, village, neighbors. Now we make hundreds, thousands of our own engagements and frame each very differently. We engage with our Facebook friends differently than with our family or business colleagues. Understanding the Engagement Frames in our lives allows us to Reframe them and creative new engagements.
This sounds like branding, right? Brands are all about framing. Brands are the Narrative Frame of the business and the Engagement Frame with consumers. In fact, brands are simply the commodification of meaning. It you're a manager and don't know that, you don't know much about your brand.
You discuss "playing" as opposed to "problem solving," saying play turns problems or issues into games or challenges. Please elaborate.
Problem solving assumes there is an identifiable problem with a proper solution. We don't live in that world any more. We live in a world of VUCA—volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. We don't know the problems, much less the answers.
Serious Play sees the world in terms of a game with rules that can change as you play, with outcomes that are open-ended, with effort that is iterative and focuses on what works, not the fetishism of failure. We are constantly "playing around" at finding new ways to get things done. We should embrace the concept formally.
as there been a return to homegrown manufacturing, or a "maker economy"? Please discuss how that affects our current outsource-happy economy and what role creativity plays. What does that mean in terms of globalization?
There is a strong revival of a Making Culture underway in America of enormous consequence. Lower-cost making technologies, such as 3D printing, new crowdfunding platforms, such as Kickstarter, and a switch in values are combining to mark a shift from globalization to localization. Kickstarter is the most important change in capitalism in 100 years. It makes us all investors, consumers, makers and patrons at the same time. It socializes capitalism again.
We have outsourced Making to Asia for a generation. Now we are bringing it home. We need to shift our R&D and policy focus back to Making.
Of course, making is critical to creativity. We learn to become creativity through the process of making. We need to make Art and Shop classes central to our public school curriculum.
You explain that to "pivot", in Creative Intelligence terms, means to turn from inspiration to production and that How and When to pivot are the key strategic questions creators should be asking. What are "wanderers" and how can they help find the answers?
Scaling creativity into actual creation of new products, services and engagements is the heart of capitalism—or should be. But the skills in scaling are not necessarily those of creating. Look at how new ideas in labs get into the marketplace or how young entrepreneurs build their companies and you invariably see a "wanderer," an outside person who can curate new ideas, decide what has the best chance of success and provide the finance and connections to make it happen. HP in its heyday, 3M, Nike—all have wanderers who play that role. In art, there is the gallery owner. In music, the producer. In sports, the coach. Businesses need to identify and empower their wanderers. They need to identify and empower their Magic Circles (many are not on the chart) and connect them to great wanderers.
Magic Circles and Wanderers are the key organizational components of creative organizations. That's true for start-ups as well as global corporations.
The big strategic questions are 'When do you pivot,' which means what new creativity you choose to scale, and 'How do you pivot,' which means what platforms, what sourcing and what people you choose to scale.
Are efficiency and creativity mutually exclusive? What is "Indie Capitalism" and how does it come into play in a new, more creative economy?
Most big, established corporations make their profits by squeezing more out of the same. Business Schools basically teach the analytics of efficiency. In times of stability, with little change, that may make sense.
Creativity is altogether different and pretending otherwise is foolish and wasteful. Creativity is about finding opportunity in uncertainty. The competencies are very different. You need to know the skills of a person living on the frontier. The U.S. military has a great saying: "Think on Your Feet or Die in the Mud." Creative Intelligence is about thinking on your feet.
The good news is that we have a lot of uncertainty in the world today. The task ahead is to amplify our creative capacities to find new opportunities that generate big profits and jobs.
Indie Capitalism is the antidote to Financial or Shareholder Capitalism. It's entrepreneurial capitalism in which we all participate dynamically as creators, investors, makers and consumers. Kickstarter capitalism, if you will.
It humanizes capitalism by recognizing that economics is about relationships, not simply markets. Capitalism is social, not transactional—or at least it should be. Capitalism is about the creation of the new (that's where the big profits are), not the efficient wringing out of the old. And it's about the local, not the global—local sourcing, local jobs, local making, local authenticity. "Made in Brooklyn" is a very hot brand in Europe these days. Indie Capitalism is what unites the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. We all love Steve Jobs.
You write that "the business degree is the most common undergraduate degree in America," but that in today's fast-changing world, most people are learning specialized, outdated skills. What message would you give today's graduates? How can they challenge the fear of creativity you speak of to find "pathways of possibility" to reinvent our economy?
Creativity is seeping into business schools these days mostly through courses on entrepreneurship. That's a good thing, especially if real entrepreneurs are brought in to teach them. There are growing numbers of courses in Social Innovation and Design Thinking as well. All good.
Some of the most creative people in the world are people who create new businesses—they are the ones connecting dots in new ways. So there are two problems to overcome. One is a Framing issue—open the narrative frame of business to include successful startups that have scaled. Make the frame of "creative" inclusive to business.
The bigger problem is creative competencies. The math-based analytics learned to promote efficiency can help in terms of scaling up creativity but not in the process of being innovative. That's a different set of skills that must be learned. It's more qualitative than quantitative, more a search for cultural meaning than a mechanism for maximizing. I wrote Creative Intelligence in a way that appeals to a business audience. I believe it is a good starting point to build up our creative capacities..
Hey, remember, the most successful entrepreneurs in the world have always been among the most creative people of their day.