Do we have a creative intelligence?

There is no conclusive agreement about what the concept of intelligence really is. Some concepts of intelligence focused upon achievement, i.e., how much a person really knows relative to others in an age group, or aptitude orientated, i.e., the person’s ability to learn1. Traditionally intelligence has been considered as a general trait “g” where people would differ in the level they possess. However as separate abilities (e.g. verbal, memory, perceptual, and arithmetic) were recognized as intelligence, the concept of intelligence widened2.

Howard Gardner took an interest in Norman Geschwind’s research concerning what happens to normal or gifted individuals after the misfortune of a stroke or some other form of brain damage. Gardner was amazed at how a patient, counter to logic would lose the ability to read words, but could still read numbers, name objects, and write normally 3. This suggested that different aspects of intelligence originate from different parts of the brain.

Gardner synthesized his knowledge of the study of brain damage with his study of cognitive development and believed that peoples’  endeavors were not based upon any single type of intelligence, but rather a mix of different intelligences. Intelligence needs to be applied in various ways for survival in different environments and thus the abilities of a banker, medical doctor, and Eskimo looking for fish are situational specific, all requiring high levels of competence. Western society heavily values verbal, mathematical, and spatial competencies while other competencies may be more important in other cultures. Intellectual competence must therefore entail the possession of a set of skills that can enable someone to solve problems, resolve difficulties they may find in day to day living, have the potential to find problems, and have the ability to acquire new knowledge from their personal experiences4. Every form of intelligence can be seen as a specific paradigm having its own symbols and logic that will define, enable evaluation, and solve problems.

Gardner hypothesized the multiple intelligence theory in recognition that broad mental abilities are needed in society and that every person has a unique blend of different intelligences5. Gardner initially listed seven types of intelligence,body-kinesthetic, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligence. Gardner also affirmed that our separate types of intelligences may not just be limited to the seven above and that others may also exist. Brilliance and achievement most often depend upon the individual finding the right vocation in life that suits their intelligence mix.

One of the other forms of intelligence that Gardner speculated about was spiritual intelligence. Zohar and Marshall postulated that spiritual intelligence is a moral base enabling us to question issues of ‘what’ and ‘why’ about things, and whether we should or shouldn’t be involved in particular activities6. Unlike general intelligence which is logical and rational, spiritual intelligence enables us to question, which is central to the concept of creativity.

Expanding upon Gardner’s concept of interpersonal intelligence is the concept of emotional intelligence (EQ), which has become very popular over the last two decades. Emotional intelligence places emphasis on a number of characteristics that are important for creativity within a group or social setting7.

However emotional intelligence may have a dark side. Some individuals are able to utilize only the perception traits of emotional intelligence without feeling the emotions of sympathy, compassion, and altruism. They are better able to manage and manipulate others emotions better than their own8. This ability to manipulate and deceive others, albeit creatively, has been dubbed Machiavellian Intelligence by Andrew Whiten and Richard Byrne9. This appears a primal ability in humans as primates have been observed manipulating groups in order to gain support and rank10.

Intelligence and creativity are very different. The narrower definition of intelligence tends to be the basis of convergent thinking, while creativity is about divergent thinking in this regard. Creativity is a much wider concept than intelligence. Our creative style has very little to do with our general intelligence11. Our creativity has more to do with the particular characteristics of our intelligence and thinking styles we rely upon (see figure 1). Creativity relies upon imagination to assist us see patterns and similarities between unrelated things through metaphor and analogy, etc. Creativity occurs across our various intelligences, bringing them into synergy12. Original thinking is about making these connections.

Figure 1. The four major thinking typologies

Multiple intelligence recognizes that different skills originate from different areas of the mind and offers a different insight into how we think. There are multiple paths of perception and reasoning patterns. A single form of intelligence restricts the very way a problem is seen, what data is useful, how the data is organized and analyzed, and what alternatives are acceptable.  In addition, domain paradigms that the majority of people have been trained within, can act as barriers to breakthroughs and this is often why a person from outside a domain may have an advantage. Prior knowledge can be restrictive and anchor one to existing assumptions and beliefs that prevail within the domain. This is why prodigious performance is much more likely in fields where prior knowledge is not so important like chess, music, and mathematics, than in fields that require extensive knowledge like medicine, biotechnology, and nano-electronics, etc. Some entrepreneurs are able to successfully enter new domains without any formal training because they are not restricted by the patterned thinking of the relevant disciplines to the industry13. The ability to change thinking paradigms is a pathway to creativity.

If we view intelligence as a wide concept and focus upon the outcomes then intelligence becomes cultural, geographic, time-bound, and a situational and contextual process rather than a trait14. Therefore it’s not intelligence itself that is important, but how knowledge is processed and what is done with it. Recent research into children with learning disabilities indicates that it is the capacity of the working memory, i.e., the capacity to store and manipulate information and domain related knowledge, is more important than IQ in academic attainment15.

However social bounding restricts acceptance of what is original and what is not. For example whether Yoko Ono’s avant-garde art expression is considered original depends upon her peers. The Royal Society overlooked Edmund Stone’s discovery that willow bark relieved fever, leading to the discovery of aspirin.

The consequences of something new may not be seen for many years. It took more than a decade for the value of powered flight to be realized, as it was only when a need for spotting on the battlefield emerged during the Great War that led to rapid development of the aircraft industry. While the development of the automobile industry was restricted in England with laws requiring a man with a flag to walk in front of any automobile on the road, the European industry grew rapidly and flourished without these social and legal restrictions.

Although the cognitive processes of creative thinking may not change, the knowledge, surrounding culture and applications will.  Thinking is usually based upon historical precedent and thereby path dependent, focused upon solving contemporary problems. Over time the paradigms, values and ethical orientations we think within will change. Thinking tends to be dominated by major themes and contemporary issues (societal patterning) of the time such as centralization and mechanization in the 1950’s, technology in the 1960’s, low cost labor intensive manufacturing in the 1970’s, capital intensiveness of the 1980s, globalism of the 1990’s, sustainability in the 2000’s, and localization over the last decade.

Economists, medical doctors, psychologists, scientists, and managers are bounded to the current thinking of their respective fields, anchored to the current values and philosophies (domain patterning). Organizational thought is often restricted through the assembling of ‘like minded’ people sharing the same beliefs and values where differing opinions may be subtly suppressed (organizational patterning)

The tacit influence of political correctness is intrinsic censorship that is much more powerful that formal means of censorship ensuring compliance to the beliefs and values of the time and place. What we read, study, and learn most often dominates our thoughts locking us into existing flows of ideas, anchoring our thoughts to the current ‘realities’ that society defines as ‘truths’. Peer and group acceptance is a very important personal need which may inhibit the expression of ideas unacceptable to the group.

To be creative in the social arena, a person should have a high level of emotional and spiritual intelligence16. Sternberg mentioned the concept of practical intelligence which is necessary for a person to adapt, shape and make selections in everyday life in order to cope with everyday issues and problems17. Practical intelligence is thus a measure of tacit knowledge, where tacit knowledge is what is needed to survive and be successful in a given environment18.

In the same article Sternberg mentioned the concept of creative intelligence. This concept is also mentioned by a number of other authors, although the term is used broadly and there is little consensus upon what it really constitutes. Creative intelligence is a term grouping together the cognitive and non-cognitive aspects of creative generation like intense interest, motivation and other social influences19, or a term that refers more to styles of creative thinking 2021.

So both concepts of creative intelligence widen the concept of creativity by placing importance on the contextual and environmental variables on one hand and on thinking processes, applications, or styles on the other. Rowe outlines four styles of creative intelligence;

  • Intuition which is based on past experience to guide action,
  • Innovation which concentrates on systematic and data orientated problem solving,
  • Imagination which uses visualization to create opportunities, and
  • Inspiration, which emotionally focuses on the changing of something22.

Khandwalla focuses on a number of personal characteristics like sensitivity, problem restructuring ability, fluency, flexibility, guessing ability, originality, elaboration and the uses of various thinking processes that support them, e.g., convergent thinking, problem restructuring, and elaboration, etc 23. These approaches show that creativity is both influenced by the environment and thinking processes employed.

In such a context creativity can be broadly considered an ability, or an intelligence in its own right. A metaphorical construct of creative intelligence would look something like Figure 2. A person is surrounded by their social environment. The social environment stimulates an individual’s perceptions, socializes beliefs and makes judgments upon creative efforts. The family, domicile outlook, generational influence, age, education, work and life experiences, etc, all have some influence on interest and motivation, which should skew an individual toward interests and passions likeart, teaching, engineering, science, home duties, sports, etc.

The environment is completed by the field where contemporaries and peers within it ultimately make social decisions about what is creative and what is not. For example the art community decides what art is outstanding and what art is mediocre. These judgments may only occur years after the object of art was created, as it may take an artist many years to become recognized. Although Vincent van Gogh painted most of his life, it wasn’t until the end of his life that he became known. It was only after his death that his vivid post-impressionist paintings were fully appreciated. Likewise, peers in each science through journals and conferences decide what new information to the domain is acceptable or unacceptable. The work of Alfred Wagner on Polar air circulation and his hypothesis about the jet stream and continental drift was not widely accepted until 20 years after his death. A new product or fad may be considered something creative during ‘the fad period’, where the product’s creative edge disappears afterwards.  Products like the hula-hoop, Frisbee, virtual pets, lava lamps, pet rocks, cabbage patch kids, and Pokémon rose in popularity quickly and eventually declined. This fad phenomenon can be seen in many widely disused management philosophies like management by objectives (MBO), matrix management, one-minute management, and business process reengineering, etc.

Figure 2. A Metaphoric Construct of “Creative Intelligence”

Within the field of entrepreneurship four types of situations require creative intelligence. These are the quest for new ideas, the search for yet unknown opportunities, the development of strategies to exploit potential opportunities and solving a multitude of problems that face individuals through the life of the venture. Within the gambit of ethical strategy and behavior creative intelligence is paramount to being able to implement ethical principles into complex and ambiguous situations.

Our perception of the outside world is greatly dependent upon our patterning, heuristics, other biases, and prior knowledge. What we notice or don’t notice depends upon our creative sensitivity, focus and attention. What we are interested in, have passion for and confidence in, all influence our perception of people, objects and events. Our perception and reaction to external stimuli and how our cognitive system will process incoming data depends upon the existing psychic tension and developed cognitive dissonance. If there is tension between ‘where we are’ and ‘what we envisage, desire or aspire’, attention and energy will be drawn into the following cognitive processes.

Our cognitive operations are independent from the external environment and our consciousness. All cognitive processes are the result of changing neural and receptor interactions that occur within different parts of the brain. Information within the brain is distributed in a decentralized configuration, functioning as a whole through a strategy called assembly coding24. This is a very flexible coding strategy as it can reorganize and recombine information in a numerous number of ways. Through this mechanism we are able to continually make perceptions in an ever changing world25.

Our perceptions, reasoning, concept of self are not concentrated on one part of the brain, as the brain is a decentralized processor. The brain is a self organizing system which coordinates these functions. There is no centre of convergence. Therefore the brain is a decentralized system that utilizes information in different locations to produce our perceptions, thoughts, reasoning and intuition. Cognitive processes are not serial, but operate in parallel, reciprocal and distributed interaction26. For example when we see an object and touch it, our sight and tactile preceptors make independent contributions to the identification of the object – the brain utilizes multiple strategies to achieve this. There is thus no single locus or point for the identification of objects. The representations of objects are made up of spatial-temporal patterns of distributed neural activity27.

The way information is organized is of paramount importance to how we see things and in solving a problem. As the brain processes in parallel and can recombine information in numerous ways, this assists an individual develop new thoughts, new ideas and to solve problems. Making analogies is a matter of comparing two different concepts that share some similarity in parallel. The creative process goes through a number of steps, which relies on the mind as a self organizing system to restructure information and make new associations, enabling problems to be solved. This usually occurs during a period of incubation which because of the need to reorganize information could be one of the most important aspects of seeing new associations and finding solutions to problems.

Rather than rely on our raw natural thinking processes, we can utilize disciplined and controlled thinking styles and tools that channel our thinking processes for enhancing creative thought28. These tools can assist us to look at situations and problems in different ways so we can see new associations and linkages which may lead to new ideas or solutions to problems.

So broadly speaking a metaphoric concept of creative intelligence is made up of our environment, the factors and variables that influence our perceptions and cognitive thinking processes, a motivational trigger, our prior knowledge, our thinking styles, tools that we can employ to enhance creativity, and the product of the process itself, which will be accepted or rejected as being something creative. If this model is representative of what creative intelligence is, then by manipulating the environmental parameters, being aware of our emotions and other influences upon our perception and thinking, and by developing new thinking styles through the use of thinking tools we can enhance our creative ability. 

Murray Hunteris associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis, and  consultant to Asian governments on community development and village biotechnology. Murray is the inventor/author of a number of chemistry patents in Australia and as a researcher was the first to report many new natural compounds in international journals like the prestigious Journal of Essential Oil Research.  

1 The traditional measure of intelligence was the IQ test to predict school performance and vocational potential.

2 This can be seen in tests which measured more than a single variable like the Scholastic Aptitude test (SAT), which gives a verbal and mathematic score. Another test, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children gives 11 subtest scores of which 6 are concerned with verbal abilities and 5 with non-verbal abilities.

3 Gardner, H. (2003). Multiple Intelligence After Twenty Years, Paper presented to the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, Illinois, 21st April, 2003.

4 Gardner, H. (2004), op. cit., pp. 60-61.

5 Gardner, H. (1999), Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century, New York, Basic Books, P. 45.

6 Zohor, D. and Marshall, I. (2000). Spiritual Intelligence: The ultimate intelligence, London, Bloomsburg Publishing.

7 Dulewicz, V. and Higgs, M. (1998). Emotional Intelligence: Management fad or valid construct, Working Paper 9813, Oxford, Henley Management College

8 Austin, E.I., Farrelly, D., Black, C., & Moore, H., (2007), Emotional intelligence: Machiavellianism and emotional manipulation: Dies EI have a dark side? Personality and Individual Differences, Vol. 43, pp. 179-189.

9 Whiten, A., & Byrne, R., (1997), Machiavellian Intelligence II: Extensions and Evaluations, Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press.

10 Byrne, R., (1997), Machiavellian Intelligence, Evolutionary Anthropology, Vol. 5, P. 172.

11 Kirton, M. J. (1994). Five years on, Preface to the second edition, In: Kirton, M. J. (Ed.), Adaptors and Innovators: Styles of creativity and problem solving, 2nd edition, London, Routledge, pp. 1-33.

12 Homer-Dixon, T. (2000). The Ingenuity Gap: How can we solve the problems of the future?, New York, Alfred A. KnopfP. 395.

13 For example many notable thinkers and entrepreneurs that dropped out of school or were self taught include Abraham Lincoln, Amadeo Peter Giannini, Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Jackson, Barry Diller, Ben Kaufman, Benjamin Franklin, Carl Linder, Charles Culpeper, Christopher Columbus, Coco Chanel, Colonel Harlen Sanders, Dave Thomas, David Geffen, Dave Karp, David Ogilvy, DeWitt Wallace, Frederick Laker, Frederick hennery Royce, George Eastman, Ingar Kamprad, Isaac Merrit Singer, Jay Van Andel, Jerry yang, John D. Rockefeller, Joyce C. hall, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Ray Kroc, Richard Branson, Shawn Fanning, Steve Wozniak, Thomas Edison, and Walt Disney.

14 Gardner, H. (2004). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligence (Twentieth Anniversary   Edition), New York, Basic Books, P. 4.

15 Alloway, T., P., (2009). Working memory, but not IQ, predicts subsequent learning in children with learning disabilities, European Journal of Psychological Assessment, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 92-98, Alloway, T., P., & Alloway, R., G., (2010), Investigating the predictive roles of working memory and IQ in academic attainment, Journal of Experiential Child Psychology, Vol. 106, No. 1, pp. 20-29.

16 Hicks, M. J. (2004). Problem Solving and Decision Making: Hard, soft and creative approaches, London, Thomson learning, P. 337

17 Sternberg, R. J. (2002). Successful Intelligence: A New Approach to leadership, In: Riggio, R. E., Murphy, S. E, and Pirozzolo, F. J. (Eds.). Multiple Intelligences and Leadership, Mahwah, NJ., Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., pp. 9-28.

18 Tacit knowledge is generally acquired on one’s own, usually unspoken and implicit, procedural in natural, not readily articulated and directly related to practical goals that people value (Sternberg Ibid., P. 11).

19 Cropley, A. J. (1994). Creative Intelligence: A Concept of True Giftedness, High Ability Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 6-23.

20 Khandwalla, P. N. (2004). Lifelong Creativity: An Unending Quest, New Delhi, Tata McGraw-Hill.

21 Rowe, A. J. (2004). Creative Intelligence: Discovering the Innovative Potential in Ourselves and Others, Upper Saddle River, Pearson Education

22 Rowe, A. J. (2004), Ibid., P. 3.

23 Khandwalla, P. N. (2004), op. Cit., P. 213.

24 Singer, W. (2009). The Brain, a Complex Self-Organizing System, European Review, Vol. 17, No. 2, P. 326.

25 An example of how assembly coding enables the identification of novel objects through flexible recombination can be understood by seeing how a small child may identify a cow for the first time, if they have no previous experience or understanding of what a cow is. The child upon seeing the cow at the zoo identifies the cow (a novel object) as a large version of the dog, he or she has at home. It is only after the parents explain that a cow is a different animal to a dog, that the child can refine his or her identification of the cow as a separate animal to a dog. Reading is another activity that shows how the brain can understand the recombination of letters making up different words, sentences and paragraphs into unique meaning. 

26 Singer, W. (2009). The Brain, a Complex Self-Organizing System, European Review, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 321-329.

27 Singer, W. (2009), Ibid., P. 325

28 Many creative enhancement tools exist which include Brainstorming, attribute listing, absurd solutions, analogies, checklists, excursions, morphological analysis, Synectics, and thinking frames, etc.

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