DesignThinkers 2013 Recap: Part 2 of 4

In Part Two of this four-part series, Sally Chan shares key ideas and personal reflections from her favourite talk at the recent DesignThinkers Conference.

Hosted by the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD), the event brought together thought leaders in visual communication, creative processes and strategic design thinking.

Bruce Nussbaum on Creative Intelligence

For this year's DesignThinkers, I was particularly looking forward to Bruce Nussbaum's breakout session, Creativity = Strategy, where he shares key insights from his book, Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect and Inspire. What was interesting about this talk was that professional RGD delegates were given the opportunity to invite a client to attend. Since Nussbaum's insights are applicable for a broad audience from different industries, it was a good chance for clients to understand the value of design and appreciate how the design process can benefit their businesses.

Nussbaum was once one of Design Thinking's major advocates, but famously declared that it was dead in 2011 and proposed a new conceptual framework called Creative Intelligence.

He believes that everyone is born creative, a characteristic not limited to gifted individuals. Creative Intelligence is something we must learn to develop and make use of. It’s about making the right connections, understanding what’s meaningful to people and embracing unexpected outcomes.

“Most disruptive innovations come from young entrepreneurs who embody the values and culture of their generation.”

Listed in the image above are old concepts that Nussbaum refutes with a list of new concepts. To summarize, he proposes five creative competencies to practice Creative Intelligence:


Knowledge Mining: Immerse yourself in something you want to learn more about. To get the deepest and richest information, you must invest yourself in the topic area. The ability to make connections between various sources can result in surprising outcomes.

Framing and Reframing: Look at a topic from a different angle and question what it could be, not what it is. He calls this ‘Donut Thinking’, which is to look for patterns that are not there.

Playing: Where traditional problem solving assumes you know what the problem is and have a solution for it, playing is more open ended, embraces uncertainty and explores new possibilities without judgement.

Making: With more accessible and lower-cost technologies and channels for distribution, the “maker economy” is easier than ever before. Making is to think with your hands, a process that is critical to creativity.

Scaling and Pivoting: Dissimilar to creating, this competency is to take what people have already created and scaling it for other suitable problems. With the proliferation of the web, and therefore the democratization of ideas, crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter enable entrepreneurs to scale their ideas at a much lower cost.

Although one can argue against Creative Intelligence, and that Design Thinking remains to be a strong business-design framework, I think Nussbaum’s points are still thought-provoking and pushes the conversation slightly further. If Design Thinking has really failed, then refreshing the framework and having clients sit in on this talk was a way to sell a service. Regardless of intentions, it is still important for clients to understand the value of investing in design, no matter the industry or size of the company. Whatever new modifications and semantics arise around the ‘method’ or ‘process', the ultimate goals are similar: to enhance and encourage continuous innovation through a creative lens to create more meaningful products and services.

Written by

Sally Chan

Sally Chan

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