3 Basic Principles of Creative Intelligence

November 23, 2016



In today’s world of speed and technology, the words Innovation, Creative Intelligence and Design Thinking are used interchangeably to respond to all things disruption related. But what do these words really mean, how are they different from one another and why does it matter?


My understanding of these three concepts is grounded in 25 years of professional and personal experience as a consultant, facilitator and performing artist catalyzing Creative Intelligence in community groups, businesses and educational organisations. The past decades of fieldwork have inspired me to share how I define these concepts and their interrelatedness.


I see innovation as a measurable, consequential output to a set of catalytic conditions designed to generate novel solutions. Organisations who wish to generate innovative outputs invest in growing the Creative Intelligence or CQ of their internal team. From my experience, the main defining feature of heightened CQ is an ability to embrace ambiguity and to engage in a sophisticated, nuanced relationship with complexity.


Where does Design Thinking (DT) fit into all of this?  Tim Brown, president and CEO at the Design and innovation firm IDEO, defines Design Thinking as, “a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success.”


Stanford University’s late design icon, Rolfe Paste, framed it as a, “formal method for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues, with the intent of an improved future result.”


I see DT as both a process AND a mindset - a way of thinking, feeling, being and doing - that responds to complexity, uncertainty and change with empathy and wonder.


DT has become so popular because it enables those who do not consider themselves to be ‘artists’ to learn how to think like one. If you regularly exercise your innate creativity muscle, then DT is a way of transferring creative capacities to others in a systematised way.


To be clear, this is not SKILL development, but rather cognitive development. That is teaching others how to think and make meaning of circumstance beyond what is habitual.


In my work, I use DT as a means of cultivating the 3 basic principles of CQ, which I frame as:


  1. Humility – always start a project, decision-making process or inquiry from a genuine posture of, I don’t know, it could be?

  2. Empathy – a willingness to stand in the shoes of another, to look as they do at the system they are a part of. Every perspective, however partial, significantly informs design, whether it be public policy or a toilet bowl.

  3. Curiosity – placing one’s attention on sincere exploration, play and discovery with awareness of, but non-attachment to, personal agenda or expected outcome.


Paradoxically, the skillful move from divergence to convergence arises with the ability to sense deeply into systems, and the people in them, using these capacities. The timliness of action always reveals itself when we are fully present with what IS in the system.




Those who use DT masterfully with their clients are able to transmute these principles into enacted behaviours that include:


Perspective taking – looking AT and reflecting upon a system and it participants through context.


Perspective seeking – looking AS a partial perspective from within the system.


Perspective coordinating – mapping multiplicity in a way that makes complexity visible without reductionism or distortion in translation.


Perspective synthesizing – looking through a system and all of its complexity to alchemise multiplicity and begin to converge on the things that really matter.


Playing – feeling safe to take risks, think differently and step outside the box.


Collaborating – bringing ease and trust into the co-creative process by listening to the ideas of others with genuine receptivity rather than an impulse to respond and/or compete.


Enacting – prototyping and testing ideas for feedback and adaptation. The outcomes generally include AND transcend intended expectations.


Managing the Both/And dynamic of divergence and convergence – learning to dance the DT Tango, which is all about sensing into the signals for the timeliness of both open exploration AND concrete action.


Ultimately, DT is a way of cultivating the capacity for people to embrace ambiguity, thrive amidst complexity and adapt to change. Organisations that invest in cultivating Creative Intelligence through Design Thinking will generate Innovation for decades to come.


Susanna Carman is a trans-disciplinary designer, researcher, facilitator and writer specialising in Design Leadership and Creative Intelligence. With backgrounds in adult development, design, brand, business strategy and the arts, Susanna works with leaders of enterprise and organisations to embed Design Thinking into the cultural fabric of human systems. To work with or read more by Susanna Carman, please visit www.susannacarman.com  or contact her directly at susanna@susannacarman.com.




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