Creativity, or elitism?

Bruce Nussbaum argues that Design Thinking is a Failed Experiment. Some of this resonates with me. He thinks the ideas behind it have turned into a simplistic stagegate process effectively selling out to corporate notions of efficiency. And the term itself is alienating:

Creativity is an old concept, far older than “design.” But it is an inclusive concept. In my experience, when you say the word ‘design’ to people across a table, they tend to smile politely and think “fashion.” Say ‘design thinking,’ and they stop smiling and tend to lean away from you. But say ?creativity” and people light up and lean in toward you.

I’ve always felt a bit queasy about the term myself; it seems to take some very human ideas about working well together and turn them into something somewhat elite. When people say “Everyone in your organisation must learn Design Thinking”, I cringe.

So when Nussbaum suggests he wants to go back to plain old creativity I feel relieved. But when he starts proposing CQ, an apparently measurable Creative Intelligence, I fear we’re slipping off the path yet again.

One of the most useful guiding ideas in improv theatre is the value of the ordinary and doing the obvious. I get quite depressed that many conversations about creativity and innovation seem to make it an elite activity. There’s a terrible creeping pomposity around so many supposed innovation hubs, especially those with large amounts of funding and therefore hangers-on.

Nussbaum’s article is peppered with high status name drops, and nearly all of them fixed in one (American) culture. And take this paragraph near the end:

Let me end by telling you my 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.

That just makes my heart sink. Creativity, caring about each other, playing together, conversing… these are all good enough for me. We don’t need another concept or acronym.

4 thoughts on “Creativity, or elitism?

  1. Antony Mayfield

    This depends on what you mean by design thinking. Is he attacking Discover/Define/Ideate/Prototype/Iterate as an approach to a brief or challenge? If so, that’s silly. It works very well.

    If he’s attacking a kind of emerging dogma or over-promising by consultants – well, hurrah. We hate dogma and over-promising, don’t we.

    As you point out, Nussbaum has a stake in a new system: CQ. Fair enough, but also, meh…

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Antony, many thanks for the comment. Makes a good point that I didn’t really explore fully in the post.

    I’d agree there’s potential for babies getting thrown out with the bathwater. Terms like “design thinking” cover all sorts of activities and there won’t be a consensus about what they are.

    For me the difficulty with any model that says things are done in 5 steps is if it gets taken literally so that everything must be done in a certain order or it doesn’t count. This post from way back explores that.

    There is also a fine line between language that helps us to understand how something works, and language that alienates people. It’s the classic issue with jargon: it may be genuinely helpful to insiders but it easily creates an unhelpful barrier to outsiders. I wrote a post a while back about some interesting stuff by John Clippinger in this area. (The post itself manifests some of the jargon it questions.)

  3. Johnnie Moore

    Thanks for coming back Antony. I suppose what I resist about design thinking is its lure of apparent tidiness around what I think in real life is a messier process – as that waterfall post I referenced brings out.

    And there is a fair bit of bunkum around it too. Not that I take wikipedia as gospel, but it’s coverage of design thinking has a section on ideation that really repeats some old, largely discredited myths about brainstorming. The trouble with all these grand ideas is that they provide cover for all sorts of stuff much of which may be fine in one context and not another.

    I agree with Nussbaum’s critique that it becomes exclusive. And I agree with your “meh” on CQ as some kind of replacement.


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