A recent discussion by Bruce Nussbaum (BusinessWeek) suggests the need for identifying the creative capability of individuals and organizations. This concept got me thinking about creativity and how or even IF we could or should measure such a thing.

I think the motivation behind the concept of creative intelligence is to foster the generation of creative solutions, whether to benefit a company internally or to provide solutions to our customers. Put in that context, I would propose that a CQ (Creativity Quotient) at the individual level is less important than at the organizational level. My experience is that the most creative solutions come about when a team of individuals participate in the creative process.

In a prior life, I frequently led cross-functional teams charged with defining next generation products, computer and We would bring a team of 10-12 people together, immerse them in the customer data we had collected, and generate new product concepts together—and we came up with great ideas. Each individual brought their unique perspective to bear on the ideas and the mixing together and feeding off of others’ ideas brought about something greater than any of the individuals could have created on their own.

It’s sort of like putting different ingredients together in a mixer, adding water and out comes a cake, ready to be baked. As a team we had generated ideas like ‘ET- phone home’ for systems; where the computer or storage system would automatically contact the vendor (us) whenever an event happened. That way, we could actively monitor and repair systems before they actually failed. While EMC eventually shipped this functionality first (I believe) we had the idea long before anyone shipped it and our support people were key contributors to this creative solution.

Other ideas we came up with was to pre-load a customer’s specific configuration onto computer systems, software and I/O cards, before shipping to the customer. When the system arrived it was ready to go, a system image unique to that customer’s configuration already installed. This saved large companies a great deal of time when they were buying hundreds of servers at a time. In order to deliver this type of solution, our support, sales and manufacturing people all had to be involved, creating new processes. I was always especially impressed with the contribution made by team members in the Support and Manufacturing organization. Frequently these functional areas were treated as an after-thought. But the pre-configuration offering would never have come to be without their contribution.

I see the power of teams to generate creative solutions all the time with projects we do with our clients. The client team members come from various parts of their organization and with our participation they generate great ideas of how to improve products, develop new solutions and the like. I think the key is to provide the framework for a team to function in a creative way. While there is a lot of discussion about how to do that, the Contextual Design process offers a really straightforward methodology: gather user data, immerse a cross-functional team in the data and then generate new concepts (we call this visioning) by means of a structured, facilitated process. A previous blog by my co-worker, Larry Marturano, shares his perspective on this generative process.

My premise here is that it’s not about any individual creative intelligence but rather the power of different individuals bringing their unique perspective together in a process that allows each contribution to build on others’ ideas. Now, developing a way to measure the group or organizational creativity could be a interesting pursuit. Let the baking begin.