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IQ. EQ. We Need CQ--Creativity Intelligence. How Much Do You Have? How Much Does Your Organization Have?

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on March 25, 2010

There is an extraordinary moment in “Horse Soldiers,” a book about the US Special Forces team that went into Afghanistan right after 9/11, when the men realize they need to ride horses into battle to defeat the Taliban. Dropped into a culture they knew little about, in a land of unknown and threatening terrain, with tools that were insufficient for the mission, and dependent on a group of distrustful people, the SF team did what it was trained to do—design a valid new pathway to their goal.

The 12-man, multi-disciplinary team went through the ritual of innovation—they observed and empathized with the local culture, collaborated among themselves and with their partners, brainstormed to generate new options, iterated a few and chose the best one. In the end, that best option was to get on a horse. The team mounted up to show respect to the culture, establish their social position as warriors, and effectively transport their high tech GPS and laser sights across the mountains and desert to call in air support and achieve their goal of victory in battle.

The Special Forces have a very high CQ—Creativity Quotient. Another way of putting it is that they have a high DI—Design Intelligence. Teams know how to go into unknown, changing, dangerous cultural spaces, do fast ethnography, brainstorm, collaborate, iterate options, choose the most valid solution for the situation and execute. They would never call it Design Thinking, but that is what it is. They learn it in training, through education. It is no accident that this paradigm of “as if…” organization and behavior is spreading not only through militaries around the world, but through the smartest global corporations as well.

So it is time for individuals and organizations to ask themselves—what is our CQ? Just as IQ and EQ has proven to be measures of specific capabilities, the capacity for creativity is increasingly the core to building value in these uncertain and treacherous times. And just as IQ and EQ scores can be raised significantly for anyone by teaching and training, so too can CQ be bolstered for individuals and organizations. When Rotman’s DesignWorks holds a workshop, it raises the CQ of the participants. Ditto for IDEO, ZIBA, Continuum or Jump.

At a recent symposium on the Future of Design at Stanford University, a group of design/innovation practioners and educators (including myself) came up with the concept of Design Intelligence/ Creativity Quotient. We hope it takes Design Thinking and the conversation around innovation to the next level. The concept really came home to me when Bill Burnett, the Executive Director of the Stanford University Design Program, said he wanted to add an additional screening measure to the SATs and GREs that students submit for admission to the school. “We measure math, verbal and writing capabilities, why not creativity?” Why not indeed.

There are two roads that need to be taken to build out the concept of CQ/DI. Within the design/innovation education space, at Stanford, RCA, Einhovin, Parsons, IIT, Rotman and other schools, the next step is to use the idea of Design Intelligence to deepen the notion of Design Thinking. DT, which focusses on creative and generative methodology, can take DI to embrace ideas emanating out of behavioral and social economics, systems design and behavioral sciences.

Just as important, Design Intelligence requires the creation of a serious, self-conscious culture of criticism that puts the ideas of design and innovation through a visible process of vetting. Where are the failures? What can we learn from them? What are the assumed values of the design/innovation process? For decades, design and business focussed on mass consumption, without much discussion in public on its value to economic growth, sustainability, etc. Now there is focus on post-consumerism and multiple bottom lines without much public discussion either. What does post-consumerism mean to India or Africa? A platform for Crit is needed, in print and online. Where should it be situated? Who should participate?

The other road ahead lies in business culture--corporations and B-Schools. The notion of CQ circumvents the business culture's allergy to the word "design," and unpacks the methodologies of Design Thinking to make them more accessible. Knowing that Special Forces teams--and sports teams--have high Creative Intelligence Quotients and use the same methodologies as in Design Thinking, should encourage business culture to promote their adoption and B-Schools to teach them. Right now, B-Schools teach the rituals of reliability, leadership, strategy, choice and efficiency. They also need to be teaching another set of rituals--of validity, cultural empathy, generation, collaboration and experimentation--the rituals of creativity. The notion of "CQ" captures this.

Now let me wrap up my longest blog item ever by taking it to the next level. In a previous item, I suggested the need for a post-Liberal Arts paradigm, calling it Innovation Arts. The concept of Creative Intelligence or Design Intelligence is part of that discussion. In a world of rising and falling nations and generations, of spreading social media technologies and mass urbanization, where every institution is in transition--and everyone in these institutions is struggling to find a new way--a pedagogy that focusses on making and doing, learning through exploring, is required. An Innovation Arts form of education is uniquely "American," in that it fits right in with Dewey's emphasis on practice and pragmatics.

The notion of CQ, Creative Intelligence, returns the US to its roots as a tinkering, making, innovative, future-minded society. It's what we all need to have and what we all need to be learning.

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Reader Comments


March 30, 2010 04:00 PM

Good article, but the idea in not new, looks like FAST (Function Analysis Systems Technique) devoloped by Charles W. Bytheway.
He write a book very interesting that teach how to be creative with a methology

Tom Springer

March 31, 2010 03:22 PM

Great comments about the ingenuity of the SF troops and let me add an often overlooked point to help augment this argument.

The majority of on-the-ground Special Forces troops -- like the ones in Afghanistan -- are enlisted soldiers. Basically, that means they're sergeants, most of whom do not have four- year college degrees. Some may have little formal education beyond high school. What they've receieved, instead, is some incredibly effective non-traditional training and experience, provided by the Army, that draws on their native creativity and ingenuity.

In that respect -- and here's a paradigm leap -- they remind me a lot of the Amish who live near my home in southern Michigan. For 15 years, I've hired an Amish crew for their carpenter expertise: they've built my family a wonderful wooden barn and remodeled our own farmhouse. As a volunteer with the local Conservation District, I've also worked with them more recently around some locally grown produce initiatives. In all cases, what amazes me is their ability to invent and fabricate tools, low-tech machines and processes that would impress and even astound any certified engineer or architect. And these are men with an 8th grade education. By custom, all the "schooling" they need after that comes from family apprenticeships.

My point here isn't to bash higher education or diminish its value. Rather, it's to say that much of what gives people a "creativity quotient" gets drummed out of them by a system that over-values specialization and abstract book knowledge, as dispensed in the artifical confines of a 16-week course curriculum.

So why can an Amishman with a middle-school education design and build a barn that may last 200 years? Perhaps it's because no one ever told him that he's unqualified to do so. Instad, he draws on a deep well of collective cultural experience, rooted in centuries of hard-earned knowledge to complete the task.

When we free people in organizations to use their own creativity, unhampered by excess layers of sanction and certification, then maybe we can achieve similarly creative results.


April 1, 2010 02:00 AM

To the contrary...

This article reveals a false truth that has many blind to a new and growing reality in US education, design, business and the the military.

The US is now obsessed with failing and failure. In the classroom, in the market, the media and on the battlefield.

This seductive philosophy is slowly dismantling the once creative momentum that the US economy was once known for.
Deliberately generating failure in order to "study" it will not lead to success. Full stop.

The successful Apollo program was not built on a philosophy of failure. Failure analysis which is a discipline useful for maintenance of a system or product, grew out of the successful Apollo program. The Amish man is not thinking about failure when building a barn. He is thinking about building on his successes.


April 1, 2010 09:08 PM

Nothing new here.

This article is pretty much a regurgitation of concepts discussed in Daniel Pink's "a whole new mind." google it.

looks like the author needs to apply some of the CI concepts he teaches to his own blogs. it might result in a new perspective.....

Heather Fraser

April 2, 2010 03:50 PM

Great article, Bruce. Couldn’t agree more on the concept. We have actually started a long term project on that very idea at Rotman. We have aggregated a number of proven individual indicators that line up with the ‘design characteristics and behaviors’ (e.g., openness, EQ, adjustment, etc.) along with some new ones we observe in our work, to constitute a Creativity Quotient. We are also gathering performance measures.
The hypothesis for our research is that 1) Creativity is directly and measurably correlated with performance (individual and collective), and 2) One can enhance or unleash their creativity (and therefore performance) through training (like the work we do with students and executives at DesignWorks).
We measure everyone (students in a business design program, executives in an enterprise transformation program) before and at subsequent points in time. We have just begun our fielding of this in January, and have plans for many students and enterprises to participate. Interest in this from both individuals and corporations is high, so we expect to build a huge data base from which we can draw learning.
If anyone is interested in joining us in this crusade, please do.

Rich Winefield

April 2, 2010 07:25 PM

The idea of a CQ is important, and where it first took root is not so important. I would suggest that the lack of a creativity-measure insures that creativity will not be addressed by our test-happy schools. Creativity-development, or the nurturing of creative abilities, should from children's earliest years. At the Bay Area Discovery Museum in the Bay Area, where I work, we are focused on creativity through unstructured, child-directed play. Without the opportunity for such play, children's innate creative spark is stifled, or even extinguished. So let's broaden the conversation beyond a college-level, design-focused definition of creativity. Thanks Bruce for a great post.


April 5, 2010 10:31 PM

Design intelligence smacks of the intelligent design nonsense. I'd encourage you to use the CQ term, as it avoids the previous problem and also fits nicely in the IQ, EQ, *Q vernacular which everyone is clamoring to invent a new version of like you are.

Kelley Wagg

April 7, 2010 09:33 PM

Interesting idea and comments. I would add another perspective that hasn't been brought up, which is the value of team work. At our company we find that creativity and solution design is greatly immproved when a team is involved. Each of us bring our unique perspective to the design process and the interaction of those different view points leads to a superior solution. Of course having a structured design process is a necessary backdrop in which the team can operate. I suspect the SF team achieved the results they did because they functioned as a team.

I think a challenge is how do we create an organization and culture that allows team work to generate innovative design solutions.

Susan Crowder

April 11, 2010 03:43 PM

Great article, and I particularly appreciated the comment about the enlisted nature of the Special Forces. I'd like to see a lot more broad-based approach to creative thinking in businesses, which tend to stratify based on education levels. For those interested in the childhood education side of it, you should check out Sir Ken Robinson's speech on TED:

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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