In our final Thinker in Residence installment on Bruce Nussbaum, author of Creative Intelligence, we asked Nussbaum to give us an idea of the question that most drives him to do the work he does, and also what books have influenced his work. Read on and enjoy Nussbaum’s unique perspective that applies a sharp intellect and, to my mind, a light touch on such topics as creativity, capitalism, invention, and strategy.
∗ What is the one unanswered question about business you are most interested in answering?
Decoding creativity is the biggest business challenge of our era. Creativity is the source of economic value yet we still don’t know that much about it. We don’t know what it is, how to train for it, who has it, how to manage it, how to maximize it. Creativity is at the heart of start-ups and entrepreneurship. Creativity still scares more business people yet they know that new products, services, and experiences generate the biggest profits of all. Our business schools still teach the analytics of efficiency because they are comfortable with it but also because they don’t know much about creativity. We need to decode creativity.
∗ What business book has influenced your work the most?
Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism has had the most profound impact on my work. I have all my students read it. Creative Intelligence embraces the centrality of transforming what money can’t buy into what money can buy as being key to the rise of capitalism and Weber nails that. Weber, to take just one of many examples, talks about the notion of a “calling,” and it is this sense of a calling that drives so many creative people, including most entrepreneurs, to do what they do. Their motivation is not monetary gain per se but something higher, grander. Today we’ve secularized all that and our “calling” is in the name of society, the people. You can’t understand Sergey Brin or Jeff Bezos without knowing Weber.
∗ What is the business book you wish you had written and why?
The biography of David Kelley, co-founder of IDEO and founder of the Stanford D-School. Kelley has had, and continues to have, a tremendous impact on education, business, design, and society. He’s one of the quirkiest men I’ve ever met—and I’ve met a lot of powerful, strange people in my career, from Bill Casey to Henry Kissinger. I have a weird kind of dyslexia, a spacial dyslexia, that leaves me in a constant state of lost all the time. I don’t quite know where I am or how to get to another place. It’s been great for my creativity but don’t ask for directions—or even logic from me. Kelley seems to me to somehow be in that space. Plus, he has some great antique trucks.
∗ What business book are you reading right now?
I’m reading Playing to Win by Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, and A.G. Lafley, former CEO of P&G. Martin is the most innovative business school dean I’ve ever known and Lafley is an even greater rarity—he’s one of the most innovative CEOs there is. Martin was the chief consultant to Lafley when he ran P&G between 2000 and 2009 so we have a book by real practitioners with real experience who transformed one of the largest corporations in the world, making it much more innovative, much more creative.
And they are talking about strategy in straightforward, practical ways. Strategy is the science (or better yet, the practice) of choice. It is deciding, as Martin says, where to play and how to win. P&G transformed its winning game by opening up its closed silos, networking with outsiders for the first time and changing its internal culture to be much more creative and innovative. Martin and Lafley don’t explicitly talk about ‘Framing” and “Reframing” the narrative of a corporation and its engagement with its customers, but that’s what much of strategy really is.
Bruce Nussbaum, former assistant managing editor for BusinessWeek, is professor of innovation and design at Parsons School of Design and an award-winning writer. He is founder of the Innovation & Design online channel, and IN: Inside Innovation, a quarterly innovation magazine, and blogs at Fast Company and Harvard Business Review. Nussbaum is responsible for starting BusinessWeek‘s coverage of the annual International Design Excellence Award and the World’s Most Innovative Companies survey. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He taught third-grade science in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer.