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.