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MAKING SENSE OF: “Creative Intelligence”

What Seasoned Innovation Leaders Already Know!

Since the term “Creative Intelligence” has reresurfaced in the mainstream business media recently with considerable hype, we thought this might be a good moment to post a few points of clarification for our Humantific readers – many of whom are innovation initiative leaders inside organizations, engaged in continous learning and innovation capacity building. To do that work effectively understanding some innovation history is useful.

Unless you are just discovering the subject of Creative Intelligence, you will probably know that, by the late 1950s and early 60s, Alex Osborn, JP Guildford, Eugene Brunelle, Sid Parnes and others in the applied creativity community (also known as the CPS community) were already connecting creative intelligence to creative behaviors and to creative problem solving process mastery.

The notion that everyone has the capacity to be creative was brought forth and championed by numerous pioneers in the applied creativity community, including Alex Osborn, Sid Parnes and JP Guilford beginning in the late 1940s.

Regardless of the marketplace spin now in play, any enlightened graduate student of applied creativity knows that “Creative Intelligence” is certainly NOT a new form of cultural literacy”. That is the seriously uninformed narrative proposed by author and “Professor of Innovation at Parsons” Bruce Nussbaum in his 2013 book entitled Creative Intelligence.  It is a statement that no graduate student could get away with making as it has no basis in the literature and no basis in reality. It is essentially self-serving marketing lingo-dingo. Mr. Nussbaum seems to be on a steep learning curve aiming at an unenlightened audience.

That uninformed approach to the subject of Creative Intelligenceserves only to discount and undermine decades of methodology innovation and progress already made within the applied community of practice, which Mr Nussbaum evidently has no knowledge of and has done no research around. Sixty plus years after it began Mr. Nussbaum finally wakes up to the creative age but instead of being honest about his discovery of the subject he claims to have invented it. No graduate student could get away with such nonsense and this is coming from a person positioning himself as a faculty member of a high profile design school!

Why would anyone want to ignore the work of so many good folks who have already contributed to what the subject of Creative Intelligence is today?  Unfortunately strategic ommission and false narrative construction have become popular marketplace strategies for late arrivers seeking to position themselves as instant thought leaders. It is essentially a hacking strategy.

Among Nussbaum’s 2013 insights are these gems: “Listening to his students prompted him to consider creativity “as something you might train for, as a skill that could be accessed.” and “We can all be creative.”  As a “Professor of Innovation” this is an idea that he had not previosuly been aware of?

He proceeds to make the rather astonishing claim that Creative Intelligence is a term that was created in an “exclusive” insiders meeting that he attended at Stanford in 2010. If you are up for that, there is also a rather large bridge in Brooklyn that you might be interested in purchasing…:-)

The level of intellectual naivety, presumption and forceful self-serving aggression in this book is sky high! This book is a great example of how hacked timelines create false frontiers. 

The truth is Creative Intelligence is an extremely broad, and highly active, interdisciplinary subject with a long history.

In the applied creativity community of practice we recognize Creative Intelligence as a terminology and subject that was formally identified in the early 1960s by several applied creativity pioneers. Creative Intelligence was described (see image above) by Sid Parnes in his seminal 1967 book, Creative Behavior Guidebook. That was 43 years before the now infamous Nussbaum & friends meeting at Stanford.

Moving beyond just writing about the subject, Parnes and his numerous collaborators did much serious work to codify, into experiential learning workshop delivery form, a wide range of creative-intelligence-related knowledge that he has always been keen to share – in good faith. Many others in the applied creativity community have, since then, built extensively in many directions on the foundations of that early work.

Here is the original 1967 chapter in downloadable PDF form, entitled The Nature and Assessment of Creative Behavior: Its Relationship to Intelligence

Having been introduced and published by Parnes 46 years ago, the term Creative Intelligence has been in the public realm for multiple decades – and, thus, is open-source terminology. Not only that, but there are numerous communities of practice (including applied creativity and design thinking) already deeply intertwined with this subject.

Evidently unknown to Mr. Nussbaum, outside of his friends network, most leading design thinking practices have had Creative Intelligence knowledge from the applied creativity community integrated into practice for more than a decade. 

Without further ado, let’s take a minute here to briefly articulate a few basics that many savvy innovation-initiative leaders already know about creative intelligence:

What Creative Intelligence is not:

1. Creative intelligence isn’t a cool name that was dreamt up in a design thinkers meeting at Stanford in 2010. 2. It isn’t a branded term owned by any discipline, institution, firm, group, or person. 3. It isn’t a new subject that has never been researched. 4. It isn’t a terminology without hundreds of historical references. 5. It isn’t a topic being bounded by design thinkers. 6. It isn’t an attribute limited to play and playing. 7. It isn’t an attribute limited to dreams and dreaming. 8. It isn’t a subject that can be bounded by portfolio reviews. 9. It isn’t a subject without already-existing university programs. 10. It isn’t a subject without a huge, diverse, already-existing community of practice.

What Creative Intelligence is:

1. Creative Intelligence is a broad, ever-expanding interdisciplinary subject that has existed for decades. 2. It is an open source subject that has always been open to everyone in every discipline. 3. It is a subject that many disciplines are already working in and have been for years. 4. It is a topic that contains considerable research, as well as a never-ending need for more. 5. It is a subject with thousands of historical references across numerous fields of expertise. 6. For decades, it has been a subject that extends far beyond considerations of play. 7. It has always been a subject that extends far beyond the mechanics of dreaming. 8. It is a subject, the boundaries of which are being redefined and generally expanded by each generation as research continues to inform. 9. It is a subject appearing in numerous university programs. 10. It is a subject with a huge, ever-expanding, global community of practice that has, for decades, extended far beyond the Design 1 & Design 2 communities.

Standing on Shoulders or Not / An Emerging Chasm 

Let’s take an extra minute, here, to talk about something that we see in the marketplace, related to this story, that few seem to be acknowledging or talking about. There is something going on in the marketplace that has the potential to have a significant impact – not only on how some subjects related to innovation, thinking, and creativity are perceived today, but also on what the playing field might look like going forward.

On Facebook last week, my friend Michael Iva posted this beautiful, optimistic text suggesting that, when it comes to innovation, we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

Michael Iva says: “The Evolution Of Creation And Innovation In A Nutshell: Those Who Come Next Are Inspired By, Imitate, And/Or Borrow From Those Who Came Before. The wise are wise enough to stand on the shoulders of those who came before them. All creators owe a debt of gratitude to their predecessors. Then future creators evolve and improve upon previous accomplishments. Then someone else replaces everything with something new, unique, different, and/or better. This journey of creation and innovation has no destination yet goes on and on, repeating itself. Stair steps are climbed, then another platform to traverse, only to find more stairs to yet another unknown platform, and so on, over time and accomplishments.”

Many, including myself, would agree with the spirit of Michael’s perspective. Of course, it is no big secret that the orientation towards acknowledging shoulder-standing comes from standards (some might call them values) that many of us learned in academic settings. With the best of intentions, graduate schools teach students the finer points and protocols of how to do proper historical referencing as part of everyday ethical behavior. Failure to do so in many academic settings, especially during thesis writing, can have serious consequences.  Any graduate student suggesting in their thesis writing that they have invented sliced bread soon encounters difficulties. Obviously a student’s discovery of sliced bread cannot be interpreted as, or presented as, invention of sliced bread. The message to students is made rather clear: ethics and referencing go hand-in-hand.

Historically, the assumption in academia has always been that when students graduate, they will take those learned referencing protocols and values with them into the marketplace and be good professional citizens. Even in the face of the “hacker mindset” craze, most graduates seem to choose to continue to model referencing behaviors for the next generation – not for the sake of doing so, but, rather, with the very practical realization that they want to belong to a professional community that is always evolving.

Much that goes on in any community of practice is intertwined with a mutual respect for common courtesy historical referencing. Anyone can have the greatest, newest, innovative idea and it is likely that some shoulder standing has taken place.

Now let’s jump to what is actually going on in the competitive marketplace today, whether we all like it or not.

Those readers who do ongoing scanning around the subject of innovation and thinking have likely noticed a chasm emerging into view in the last few years, between those in the marketplace who subscribe to referencing protocols and those who do not. The former, we refer to as “Referencers”, and the later as “Overwriters”. In essence, Referencers carry forth into the marketplace the protocols widely taught in academic settings, while Overwriters (for one reason or another) do not. Overwriting can occur by accident, by ignorance and/or by design. Overwriting can be a hacking oriented strategy.

For reasons unknown, there seems to be a lot of spinning and jockeying around the subjects of creativity, innovation, and thinking today. For some, overwriting might look like an attractive, short-cut way of attaining some attention and relevence in a marketable subject terrain. To others, overwriting might look like an aggressive, side-stepping, desperate attempt at relevence in a competive marketplace – an obvious red flag.

Of course, overwriting can make any subject difficult for others to get a grip on, as it generates distorted depictions – often naive and outdated – that are simply not real. Drive-by overwriting, based on McResearch, can set a subject back decades instead of moving it forward. The audience for overwriting appears to be folks who know little about the present state of a subject or its history.

Having said that, it seems to me that part of responsible creative leadership is to be honest about subjects being written about – and that would certainly seem to apply to creative intelligence. Aren’t leadership, ethics, and historical crediting all interconnected? If they are not, then what exactly are we teaching young people in our universities?

We might ask ourselves: Does it make any sense for our academic institutions to be teaching students the importance of referencing protocols, if their own senior folks, positioning themselves as leaders, routinely ignore such common-courtesy practices in the competitive marketplace?  It would appear to make no sense at all. In fact, it would appear to be a substantial hypocrisy. Certainly there could be no more bizzarre a spectical than to see academic institutions championing overwriters.

Overwriting is not only a recipe for forcefully injecting a lot of very nasty dynamics into a community; it is a sure path to going backwards not forward. Needless to say, overwriting is a recipe that we do not subscribe to at Humantific.

If you are a graduate or post-graduate student at this moment, and you are encountering the “You Reference / We OverWrite” dynamic, don’t lay under that bus. Now is the moment to begin speaking up! Get yourself equipped to be constructively involved in the fabric of your profession, as it is one that you will soon inherit.

If the rules of professional conduct and engagement are changing, let’s level the playing field for everyone and just say so. It does not take a rocket designer to figure that if overwriting is allowed to become the industry standard, then we all better get ready for a much, much bumpier ride. Sparks are bound to fly.

Hope this is helpful.

Good luck to all!


Key Applied Creativity Theme Origins

These are earliest known, published appearances of these themes. Most of these themes have had hundreds, if not thousands, of subsequent appearances in literature and in practice materials after these early dates.

Everyone is Imaginative Alex Osborn, How to Think Up, 1942 Alex Osborn, Your Creative Power, 1948

Everyone is Creative Alex Osborn, Your Creative Power, 1948 Alex Osborn, Applied Creativity, 1953 Sidney Parnes, Creative Behavior Guidebook, 1967

Creative Intelligence (Download the PDF below) J.P. Guilford, The Nature of Human Intelligence, 1967 Sidney Parnes, Creative Behavior Guidebook, 1967 Paul Torrance, The Search for Satori & Creativity, 1979

Creative Behaviors J.P. Guilford, The Nature of Human Intelligence, 1967 Sidney Parnes, Creative Behavior Guidebook, 1967

Making Your Self More Creative Alex Osborn, How to Think Up, 1942 Alex Osborn, Your Creative Power, 1948 Alex Osborn, Wake up your mind, 1952 Sidney Parnes, Creative Behavior Guidebook, 1967

Blocks to Creativity Alex Osborn, Applied Creativity, 1953 Sidney Parnes, Creative Behavior Guidebook, 1967

Indicators of Creativity Jacob Getzels, Philip Jackson, Creativity and Intelligence, 1962 J.P. Guilford,  Progress in the Discovery of Intellectual Factors, 1964 MA Wallach & N. Koga, Modes of Thinking in Young Children, 1965 Liam Hudson, Contrary Imaginations, 1966 Sidney Parnes, Creative Behavior Guidebook, 1967

High IQ/ High Creative Concept Jacob Getzels, Philip Jackson, Creativity and Intelligence, 1962 Liam Hudson, Contrary Imaginations, 1966

Importance of Imagination in Modern Society Alex Osborn, Applied Creativity, 1953 J.P. Guilford, Creativity: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, 1966-67 Sidney Parnes, Creative Behavior Guidebook, 1967

Lack of Imagination in Business Alex Osborn, How to Think Up, 1942 Alex Osborn, Applied Creativity, 1953

Engineering Needs Creativity Alex Osborn, Applied Creativity, 1953

American Business Needs Creativity Alex Osborn, Applied Creativity, 1953 Sidney Parnes, Creative Behavior Guidebook, 1967

American Business Schools Need Creativity Alex Osborn, Applied Creativity, 1953 Sidney Parnes, Creative Behavior Guidebook, 1967

American Business Schools Need To Change Alex Osborn, Applied Creativity, 1953 Sidney Parnes, Creative Behavior Guidebook, 1967

Associative Theory S. A. Mednick, The Associative Basis for the Creative Process, 1962

Importance of Organizational Adaptability Alex Osborn, Applied Creativity, 1953 Sidney Parnes, Creative Behavior Guidebook, 1967

Framing in Applied Creativity Sidney Parnes, Creative Behavior Guidebook, 1967

Play in Applied Creativity J. Piaget, Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood, 1962 William JJ Gordon, Synectics, the Development of Creative Capacity, 1961 William JJ Gordon, The Metaphorical Way of Learning & Knowing, 1966

Divergent & Convergent Thinking J.P. Guilford, Creativity, American Psychologist, 1950 Sidney Parnes, Creative Behavior Guidebook, 1967 J.P. Guilford, The Structure of Intellect, 1969 J.P. Guilford, The Analysis of Intelligence, 1971

Applied Creativity Themes Research If you have questions or suggestions regarding a creativity or innovation-related theme origin not seen here, feel free to write to us at research (at) humantific (dot) com.

SidTrilogy* Humantific uses the term SidTrilogy when describing the three book collection of Creative Behavior Guidebook, 1967, Creative ActionBook, 1976 and Guide to Creative Action, 1977. In the later 2 volumes, Sid Parnes collaborated with Ruth B. Noller and Angelo M. Biondi. Inside SidTrilogy, in a mixture of elementary and advanced states, is what amounts to the roots of all future applied creativity workshops.

Note: Dr. Sid Parnes authored 17 books from 1960 to 1997, including: Toward Supersanity: Channeled Freedom (1972), The Magic of Your Mind (1981), A Facilitating Style of Leadership (1985) and Source Book for Creative Problem Solving: A Fifty Year Digest of Proven Innovation Processes (1992). That list can be found on Wikipedia.


Recomended Reading:

If you are interested in the history of innovation, creative intelligence, integrative thinking, applied creativity, and/or creativity in general, it is always best to read some original source materials. If you are looking for more of an overview historical compellation, there are a couple that we recommend (none are perfect) as follows:


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