Design Thinking vs. Creative Intelligence: Who Cares?


To me, design has always felt elitist. As a profession, it seems unattainable. In the arts world, it has to do with having better taste. In business, it's about making more money. In engineering, it's about solving bigger problems. And your way of problem-solving is "human-centered," which means you have more empathy than others. If you haven't had a job at IDEO or given a talk at TED, there's no reason to know you. You have to go to art school, design school, engineering school, architecture school, to claim your credentials. You go to Stanford and abbreviate the name of your school, because everyone already knows what the "d" stands for. You don't have to explain yourself because it's supposed to make sense. And if people don't get it, they probably don't need to. You win international awards for "excellence." You have a pattern of exhibiting exhibitions or publishing publications. You know the right vocabulary. And you often jot those words down on whiteboards or sticky notes. You know the difference between low-fi and wi-fi. You know how to ideate. And test prototypes. You don't think disruption is annoying. You follow frameworks and paradigms and methods for thinking, because the way other people think is apparently not efficient or rational or creative enough. You can use both sides of your brain as quickly as you can say "bespoke." It's also not a weird thing that you're T-Shaped.

I'm being facetious, for sure. I love design—from graphic to social to universal. That's why I created this blog. And humans are designers by their very nature. So it's impossible for design to be elitist. But design—or, rather, the thinking of it—is still failing.

Bruce Nussbaum, a contributing editor to BusinessWeek and "one of the 40 most powerful people in design," writes about how "Design Thinking Is a Failed Experiment." There are many pros and cons of Design Thinking, as others have already adequately elucidated. For one, the term is hard to define. It has come to be the standard crutch that executives use to innovate their uninspired businesses. It has also created a lot of wannabes, who can't decide between an MFA or MBA. Other people, like blogger Fred Collopy, think that the term puts too much emphasis on thinking and not enough on doing. Beyond that, as Nussbaum adds, it has lost the very thing it was supposed to deliver: creativity.

The master of design is now pushing for a brand new framework for solving problems: Creative Intelligence, or CQ (as in "Creative Quotient.) Just like Design Thinking was supposed to be, it is "the ability to frame problems in new ways and to make original solutions."

Still sounds pretty vague to me.

"It is a sociological approach in which creativity emerges from group activity, not a psychological approach of development stages and individual genius." Great. So now we have to worry about designers being more social than the rest of us, too?

I mean, I get what he's saying. The term "design thinking" is over-used. People were messing it up. It doesn't hold the same meaning it was intended to have. And the process is getting lost.

The very creative Nussbaum ends his critique of design thinking by sharing his "dream:"

It’s 2020 and my godchild Zoe is applying to Stanford, Cambridge, and Tsinghua universities. The admissions offices in each of these top schools asks for proof of literacies in math, literature, and creativity. They check her SAT scores, her essays, her IQ, and her CQ.

Well, with all due respect, that doesn't seem very creative. By 2020, how is Zoe going to pay for school, since college is becoming more and more expensive, even for the wealthy? And at the rate the planet is going, who's to say Stanford won't be under water after catastrophic ice-melting or earthquake-induced tsunamis? And will students even need physical schools? Surely, by 2020, education will evolve into being a technology-based interactive experience, co-created by learners and educators, that transcends distance and time and tuition?

The same man who declared that "‘Innovation’ died in 2008" is now claiming that "Design Thinking" is dying in 2011. I'm starting to see a trend. "Creative Intelligence" better watch out and enjoy this life while it can.

But who cares? Language changes. Buzzwords gain and lose popularity (you only hear the buzz, after all, if it's for short bursts at a time, not a drawn-out humming background noise.) As long as Creatives and Designers and, dare I say, Benevolent Media Creators stay logical, collaborative, adaptable and communicative, the world's problems will be solved. However you want to label it.