Reviewed by Katherine Matthews
This book is called Creative Intelligence and the tag-line reads “Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire” – Before we go any further, let’s set the record straight: This is not a book about creativity, this is a book about business innovation. The author does spend the first chapter trying to explain how the two are interchangeable if not the same thing, but… they’re not. If you’re interested in one and not the other, as I am, the difference between the two is stark, and does not diminish just because he’s said so. So, for best results, ignore the title. If you’re interested in business innovation, carry on.
The author, Bruce Nussbaum, seems to start with a few assumptions about his reader that are not implicit from the title. The first is that you – the reader – are not creative or do not see yourself as creative, but he can manage to convince you that, actually, many things you do are in fact creative. It’s a really strange place to start, but it makes evident that he’s trying to home in on people who are motivated by business, logic and bottom lines and don’t understand or sympathize with the touchy-feely-ness of creativity. Well, fair enough, but once again, this doesn’t come across until after you’re already knee-deep.
What’s strange too is how openly patronizing he is towards his readers. For example, “For some people, building upon their Creative Intelligence might mean taking an edgy photo and sharing it with Instagram. For others, it might mean launching a storefront on Etsy or Amazon. We all have the ability to make things, and while we might not know how to use the tools that make creation possible just yet, those tools exist and they have never been as inexpensive to access or easy to master.” Does he really think that the most creative thing his readers are capable of is taking an Instagram photo or opening an Etsy shop? At this point, I have no idea who he thinks his audience is, though perhaps he’s surprised they’ve picked up a book at all.
Which brings me to another elephant in the room when reading this book: The author never leaves the page. That is, it’s riddled with “I” and “me” stories, and every time he wants to submit a new concept or word, he makes sure that you know that it’s his word, his concept: “another strategy I call ‘donut thinking.’”, “I’ll introduce a competency that’s all about rethinking the many ways we engage”, etc. He apparently is far too insecure to trust that you’ve read his name on the front of the book cover. He even finds ways to integrate the most random stories from his life to make himself sound a certain way, like “I was in the Peace Corps in the Philippines in 1968 when I went up into the Cordilleras mountains in Luzon to see the rice terraces of the Igorot, a highland people. A local chief asked me to stay to eat. Though eager to see more of the rice terraces and get back to Manila, this was the land of the Igorot and I was a visitor, so I accepted.” He then goes on to describe eating monkey’s brains at their behest, to prove himself as part of their community. Now, let’s just recall that this is a book called Creative Intelligence and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about how this story might have anything to do with the topic at hand, other than providing a platform for the author’s vainglory in trying to make himself sound like he’s 1) worldly 2) empathetic and 3) accepted.
In another part of the book, he talks about a new species of frog that was discovered in New York after a scientist realized the break in his croak was a marked distinction. The frog had not yet been named because the discoverer was too conflicted about naming the frog after the region in which he had been discovered. Nussbaum writes, “I think a better solution would be to name [the frog] after the discoverer, the scientist who knew the pattern well enough to hear the break.” And it seems embarrassingly apparent what his personal hopes are, regarding the future naming of his ideas and discoveries.
It’s also a relatively superficial examination of the turmoil inherent in a process of creativity. Issues like failure and angst are covered parenthetically at best, with a light brush-off that failure is completely tolerable when simply re-framed as lessons learned. In fact, the book is little more than a recitation of ideas of business and marketing that have worked over the years. In this way, this book on “creativity” is remarkably – dare I say it – uncreative.
Overall, the success of the book depends on your level of interest in business and business innovation. If you’re interested in ways that people have commoditized their ideas, and you would like a nice airport read, here’s a book for you.
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