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What is Creative Intelligence?

The Traditional Definition and a Data-Driven Update
Brett Friedman

The Traditional Definition of Creative Intelligence

Historically, the most prolific creatives used varied strategies to generate their novel solutions. Generally, their processes took the same form; I've outlined this before, but in recap, idea generation consists of focusing incessantly on a single problem, forgetting about it in deep relaxation (often leading to an AHA! moment), then returning to the issue with a fresh perspective.

Creative Intelligence is an extension of that process; it is a concept innovated by Robert Sternberg in 1985 as part of his Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. In short, Creative Intelligence, also coined as Experiential Intelligence, involves intellectual flexibility and innovation in novel situations. This definition was reiterated by several marketers, such as Dr. Margaret J. King (The Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis), Zhen Tang (AI Law), and Jessica Bedenbaugh (Call It Moxie, Samaritan House), when asked "What is Creative Intelligence?"

Common themes from a couple dozen other answers include attuned intuition, transferring recently learned information to unique domains, and imaginative or innovative problem-solving (you can see all answers at the bottom of the article under sources). But above all, the most frequent response was that Creative Intelligence is an ability, a mindset, a potential to use information in a particular way.

That being said, there were some creative answers as well.

Jason Miczo of Good Vibe Designs said Creative Intelligence is to "be a continuous student of the world."
Chris Gadek of AdQuick said it's "a mixture of art and science."
David Morneau of inBeat called it a "combination of embracing uncertainty, being daring, and having adopted a 'test-and-learn' approach to problems."
Sidonie Smith, a Broadway Leading Lady, said "Creative Intelligence is just intelligence period. [It] doesn't need to be qualified."

While it may be true that Creative Intelligence is synonymous with all intelligence, for our purposes I'd like to distinguish it in a way that Chris and David hit on. Creative Intelligence is a mixture of art and science, an adoption of the 'test-and-learn' approach.

An Updated Definition of Creative Intelligence

Today, science is our new religion. We turn to science to answer the big questions, collecting evidence to support our arguments. Through the scientific method, we humans have created beautiful structures, entire societies, and of course, artworks. Artists are now experimenters more than ever. They fail, fail, fail, and finally succeed, just to fail again a hundred times more. But the point is, the process of the artist is, at its core, the same as that of the scientists. There's background research, hypothesizing, experimenting, and analysis.

What's more, the combination of the processes results in even greater achievement. Consider what Google has made with their art experiments. Using AI, complex datasets, and a little free time, Googlers have built hundreds of digital art projects allowing users to experience art in brand new ways, as well as creating new data in the process. With a focus on what kind of people enjoy which type of experiences, Google can make more and more relevant art.

In the same way, Marpipe users build ads that get more and more relevant with each use, isolating groups of people by their willingness to view, click, sign up for, and purchase from different elements in varying ads. From those experiments, we gather information about the parts of an ad that are effective - the color, the model, the product, the facial expression, the tone of the copy. By viewing KPIs as votes, we can put together a picture of what works and what doesn't. That dataset, that information bank that includes details of words and images which are most likely to make someone engage with them, is what we would call creative data, or, more specifically, Creative Intelligence.

For an AI rendition of Creative Intelligence, check out GPT-3, OpenAIs ability to learn from any body of text and replicate works similar to it's training data set.

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View Sources

Isaiah Ram, Blueprint Digital

I’m a creative at heart. On the enneagram, if you happen to have any knowledge in this, I’m a 4 – the most creative of types. I specialize in music, marketing, strategizing, and business. All of these things require creativity. To me, creative intelligence is much like emotional intelligence: being aware of one’s self, and those around them.

So, when creating something, intelligence comes in the form of intuition. Knowing the big picture, probably not getting lost in the sensory details. It all means being aware of the bench mark and expectations others have placed. It means knowing how ‘good’ your work or others work is. This can be used to harm others or to degrade yourself, but a true intelligent creative can recognize art in all forms and find beauty in it….and also know when something is below average.

Sidney Johnson, Three Time True

To me there's not a huge difference between creative intelligence and intelligence on its own. I see intelligence as the ability to use knowledge to solve problems. In order to solve problems, a healthy dose of creativity is often, if not always, required. The word creativity often scares people who feel that it must mean they're going to have to draw or something, but in reality everyone is creative every day.

I hope that helps. For context, I am a service designer and hold two design degrees so I'm very much a creative.

Kim Brown, Condo Control Central

I write for a living, and I think creative intelligence is having the skill and desire to find alternative ways of saying or doing things. It's finding a simple solution to stubborn problem, and when you've fixed it, others will say, Why didn't I think of that?!

I think that everyone posses creative intelligence, but not everyone takes advantage of it. It requires you to think deeply, and take a new approach to a familiar challenge. It also requires you to take a risk from time to time. You may put forth ideas that a lot of people don't like, and you may offer a truly bad idea. But that is part of the creative process.

Kathryn Haydon, Sparktivity

Creative intelligence is the ability to break through what I call the “inertia of no” (status quo thinking, what already exists, naysayers, etc.) to seek new possibilities and find, develop, and implement valuable solutions. Though it’s innate to humans, when it is practiced throughout the course of a life it becomes as natural as breathing. The skills that underlie creative intelligence can be pinpointed and reinforced at any time in life; if practiced enough, creative intelligence will be reawakened.

Craig Singleton, 4k Copywriting

As someone who spends an ample amount of time creating content, both behind a keyboard and camera lens, I think the term creative intelligence stems from pairing an unlimited imagination with a progressive thought process. The marriage of the two generally results in what most consider to be a unique idea or masterpiece.

Ken Rupert, Financial Black Belt

Creative Intelligence is the innate ability to take seemingly unrelated pieces of information, experiences, or knowledge and construct a collective and accurate deduction based on intuition.

David Morneau, inBeat

1) Embracing uncertainty. Accepting the unknown as a fuel for innovative and strategic change. Using intuition to forecast the future when there is not enough information available.

2) Being daring and innovative. Looking outside the mainstream to find divergent views. Challenging traditional knowledge to create new solutions. Feeling confident to take risks to unleash full potential.

3) Having an experimental mindset to allow mistakes. Adopting a “test & learn” approach to help make important decisions and to experiment. Putting the ego behind and accepting various ideas to solve a problem. Learning from mistakes and enabling others to learn from them.

In a nutshell, creative intelligence goes beyond your knowledge and experience. It always pushes boundaries and status quo. It enables you to solve unfamiliar problems or situations and to come up with novel solutions. The key drivers for creative intelligence are openness, curiosity, and bravery to push boundaries

Jaron Miczo, Good Vibe Designs

I define creativity as the efficiency one can draw clear connections between two far-spread ideas. True creativity is the ability to take seemingly unconnected ideas, and being able to show true relevant connections that link those ideas together.

Creativity is often spoken of as creation, and if something is not truly original, it is not creative. Although an original creation is inherently creative, the ability to draw conclusions where no one else has before can be even more impactful.

One great example is Simon Sinek's newest book The Infinite Game. The concept of infinite vs finite games is not one he himself came up with, he credits the original thought leader on this topic regularly. What Sinek did is take this concept, and apply it directly to business and day-to-day life in a manner that had never been done before. This shed a unique and
original light on the topic, creating new metaphors for the world in how we
understand different areas of culture, society, and life.

Leonardo Davinci is often regarded as one of the most intelligent people to have ever lived, with his greatest work being the Mona Lisa. But he did not paint the Mona Lisa as only a painter. He was an inventor and architect, with a deep understanding of both mathematics and engineering. He was a botanist and scientist, often obsessing over the human anatomy. He was an astronomer, studying the relationship between the sun, the moon, and the planets. When he painted the Mona Lisa, he approached the project with a deep understanding of the human anatomy, how the muscles in the face rested naturally. He understood light and shadow, after studying the moon cycles. He understood mathematically symmetry as well as color dynamics. He showed near-perfect creative intelligence because he did not pull his knowledge from one base. He pooled his knowledge from every sector of study.

Thus, the way to sharpen creative intelligence is to be a continuous student of the world- learn across multiple sectors, study anything you find interesting, and continue to find new ways to apply what you have learned to what you continue to learn.

Camille Hugh, In Stitches Games

I am the owner of In Stitches Games (www.institchesggames.com), and the designer of Cards That make You lol - a game of hit or miss party tricks. Creative intelligence to me is twofold: it is the ability to identify a problem, inefficiency, or lacking, and come up with an imaginative solution. For example, I identified a problem with many games being overly competitive, complicated, and stressful. My imaginative solution was to start a company that only made games that encouraged people to laugh out loud, release their inner child, and have fun, win or lose.

Sean XLG Mitchell, Hip Hop Activist, Rap Artist, Author

Creative intelligence can be described as organic innovation. Coming from a background in hip hop, the best example
that I can give to explain creative intelligence is when Kool Moe Dee created a rhyme scheme where he rhymes one word with the syllable of another word; super and recuper-ate, and continues his flow. This became a powerful way of innovating poetry because it had never done before.

There are many other examples as well. In the field of psychology, for instance, a group of African American scholars formed their own discipline of Black Psychology which is to use the black experience as the subject in understanding Black people. This is equally an example of creative intelligence because it's problem solving by thinking outside the box.

Paul Miller, Lokus Nutrition

Creative intelligence is also known as the subconscious mind. It is the power within every person that knows instinctively what to do.

Margaret J. King, The Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis

Creative intelligence is the ability-which can be learned as well as innate-to generate or connect ideas that are solutions for problems or result in an entirely new concept for thinking or applied thinking. I am a cultural analyst who is a member of the Creative Education Foundation and the American Creativity Association.

There is always a distinction between imaginative thinking and applying imagination to problems as creative solutions.

Zhen Tang, AI Law

The concept of creative intelligence or CQ seeks to understand the dimensions of life and intelligence, which can activate new ideas. Creative intelligence is concerned with much more than thinking, it’s about learning through executing and learning how to achieve the new in the ambiguous, unclear, and complicated space of our world today.

Creative intelligence can be defined as the ability to frame problems in new ways, with new genuine solutions. CQ can be placed within the intellectual context of systems and design thinking, game playing, and scenario planning. It’s a sociological method in which creativeness comes from the group experience, and not a psychological approach of development phases and personal genius.

David Foley, Unify Cosmos

In the simplest terms, creative intelligence is one’s ability to effectively use their imagination to create something from scratch. This could be a colorful, visual piece of art out of an empty canvas or a riveting written piece on a blank page.

Creative intelligence also allows you to ask deep questions and see things from different angles to create judgment. It is another layer of your brain that is greatly important in daily life.

Adele Gilani, Artist and Gallerist

Creative intelligence is your personal toolbox of problem-solving skills. You get more tools by making more mistakes and coming up with new ways to fix them. The more tools you have, the bigger and more unique problems you can solve.

Lauren Mendoza, Swipecast

I want to start by saying: Creative intelligence is a mindset, not a methodology. It is a fundamental shift in the way that people approach the world around them; something subconsciously pulled on in daily life to tackle problems in new ways. Creative intelligence is about looking beyond what you know and having the openers, and curiosity to constantly push boundaries and challenge the status quo.

In other ways, it's a uniquely human skill, the ability to understand, interpret and act with imagination.

There are five traits of creative intelligence:

1. Look outside of the mainstream
2. Beware of the curse of knowledge
3. Embrace ambiguity
4. Develop an experimental mindset
5. Mix it up


We all can embrace our creative intelligence, start generating activities that help you develop your mindset in regards to specific topics that you want to be creative at. And remember, there’s always the possibility to think outside the box, and generate new ideas.

Jessica Bedenbaugh, Call It Moxie, Samaritan House

There are a number of different categorizations that breakdown intelligence in an attempt to define and refine how humans are able to do what we do.

For example, emotional intelligence has become a well-studied topic and is written about a lot in the leadership realm as it's associated with successful management styles and winning human resource strategies.

Creative intelligence is an application of knowledge in a new way or a new environment, it's the ability to pivot and innovate, the creative problem-solving skills and forethought that can be attributed to street smarts rather than book smarts. The power to harness creativity is invaluable in life and especially in business.

For creative entrepreneurs, creative intelligence is how they make a living, allowing their art to take shape, and then figuring out how to profit. For other non-creatives, the use of creative intelligence is pivotal in the persuasion of team members, in the closing of negotiations, in the pivoting of a business model to fit a new world due to an epidemic. There is no new business without creativity.

Andrew Taylor, Net Lawman

There are different kinds of intelligence and to be a genuinely intelligent individual, one must have all aspects and draw on them equally.

Creative intelligence is the ability to react, theorize and successfully cope with new and unusual situations. The ability to problem solve and to think on your feet are examples of creative intelligence.

It is a little different from 'practical' and 'analytical' intelligence. Practical drawing from knowledge and analytical using 'common sense'. As you can see, all forms of intelligence are needed in order to create an intelligent solution to an issue.

Matt Edstrom, GoodLife Home Loans

When I think of intelligence, I think of the ability to grasp new concepts, the ability to problem-solve, etc. Creative intelligence is just an extension of that as far as I'm concerned. Some people don't possess the intelligence to have certain concepts laid out for them and be able to understand them, let alone apply them to real-life situations.

The latter is the first identifier of a creatively intelligent person to me. If you have already demonstrated that you can understand something conceptually, then you're already further ahead than a lot of people. Being able to take a concept and apply it logically to an outside/foreign situation, that demonstrates a layer of creative thinking to what you already knew and understood.

Kacey Cardin, Accomplishment Coaching

I'm an Executive and Leadership Coach, former professional opera singer, and the creator of the Energetic Intelligence (EnQ) framework. Creative Intelligence is a component of EnQ, and I view it as the ability and space one provides oneself to explore and express from emotion, desire, sensation, and intuition. Creative Intelligence stems from the part of our energy we tap into when we let our analytical brain give way to our unreasonable, illogical, innovative self. Creative Intelligence leads us to results that have never previously existed; therefore, there can be no perfection or even judgement, really, because true creativity leads to a place without comparison.

Chris Gadek, AdQuick

Creative intelligence is a mixture of both art and science - blending two facets together that can ignite a powerful force with which to be reckoned. You may have heard that extremely intelligent people are often lacking on the creative scale, with most of their innovative methods based on pure data and research. However, it's absolutely possible to use your creative side in an intelligent manner.

Many people can be creative and inspired, but using or producing the results intelligently is something that is truly valued in the workplace.

For example, think along the lines of a team member devising a unique marketing campaign. That's creative, right? Turning that creativity into creative intelligence would also encompass taking that campaign and knowing how to implement it, based on the current marketing and sales trends.

Alexandra, Zamolo, Beekeeper.io

Creative intelligence involves having just the right amount of creativity to devise something unique and truly innovative, but having the intelligence to understand how to showcase that creativity. Unfortunately, many creatives don't always gain the recognition that they hope for, as they don't tap into the intelligence that is required to make their works, ideas or other content visibility. Creative intelligence is based on the perfect balance that is achieved when using both sides of the brain.

Sidonie Smith, Broadway Leading Lady

Creative intelligence doesn't need to be qualified. It is intelligence period. Genius no matter the area is equal, and a lot of times creatives can get confused as if their area of genius is any less or needs to be qualified and that's simply not the case.

Being able to write a sonata, or solve incredibly difficult equations or break someone's heart by telling a monologue that is so riddled with truth you can't look away, it's all genius that's all intelligence. So I think artists need to keep in mind that creative intelligence is just intelligence period.

Creative Intelligence is not just for artists, its not appreciated by people who step into the theatre or notice someone's entrepreneurship, or reads plays or happens to listen to an artists music. It's all genius and its all intelligence. That's what we need to keep in mind, creative intelligence is intelligence all by itself.

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