Intelligence and creativity – what was Einstein on about?

Intelligence and Creativity quote - Creativity is intelligence having fun, by Albert Einstein

Conrad looks at an iconic quote from Albert Einstein and asks how you utilise intelligence and creativity to do great things at work.

If ever there was someone to stand up for keeping your hair unkempt, and wearing the same outfit everyday, it’s Albert Einstein. Einstein not only revolutionised physics whilst holding a day job at a patent office, but he also became a lean, mean quote machine.

Meme creators everywhere salute you.

One of my favourite quotes of his is that “Creativity is intelligence having fun.”

So, what is the link between intelligence and creativity? How can we use our intelligence in a more creative way? Is fun really the answer?

To get to that I’ll start with a short, definitely made-up, tale.

A story about Mike, intelligence and creativity

This is the tale of Mike.

Honest. It’s not a metaphor, and I don’t know why you’d think that.

Mike has always been happy and stable. When he started out, in design and construction, he was surrounded by people he loved all day. In very little time he became known for designing groundbreaking architecture. The London skybridge was one of his. When he wasn’t doing that, he would take a break. He would paint to keep the brain cells flourishing. He painted far-off lands, like the Sahara. As eccentric as this seemed, everyone left him alone. Because everyone was so impressed with what he did, they left him to it.

Then, one day, his work-space changed. Someone took away his modelling equipment. His paintings became something restricted to the weekends and evenings.

Instead of boldly visualising his ideas, he began to use maths and books more and more. In fact, as the years progressed, his hands-on learning stopped altogether. He became uninspired.

Mortgage payments kicked in and he took an admin job he didn’t like to pay the bills.

The Lego London skybridge and the powder-paint Sahara seemed a lifetime away. Now 24, he was intelligent but had no real artistic outlet anymore.

When his boss began to ask for big, bold ideas to help save the company from new competitors, he said he wasn’t “that creative.”

Intelligence BEFORE Creativity?

Okay, okay. Mike was kind of a metaphor. Mike is like a lot of us. He is intelligent … but no longer feels creative.

Creativity is something that CEOs everywhere scream out for, but it’s a skill many let waste away. If you are lucky, you work for an innovative Palo Alto company, and you use slides to get between floors. You play table tennis in between coming up with new and exciting ideas. Your workplace is playful. It cultivates imagination.

But the chances are your world has become progressively more grey. Because grey is cheap. It’s disciplined. It gets things done.

But grey – unless used to offset a snazzy pink – is not creative. And creativity is what people are after these days.

Check this out if you think I’m telling porkies.

But, rather than tap creativity, many bosses lock us up in grey dungeons. And I don’t mean rude 50-Shades dungeons, either. I mean ones where there’s a constant conflict over whether the blinds should be open or firmly shut. That’s as exciting as it gets.

But Einstein knew that the key to linking intelligence and creativity was not to stick smart people in an Orwellian cubicle and hope for the best. One of the greatest minds who ever lived understood it was about giving intelligent people some fun.

The science behind intelligence and creativity

The science around linking intelligence and creativity is a tricky one. It’s a bit like trying to measure the amount of magic in a Disney film, or how much self-loathing there is in a chocolate bar. But scientists have had a good crack at measuring the correlation between intelligence, creativity and fun.

Let’s start with how much intelligence you need to be really creative.

Some have said that there is an IQ threshold – a line in the sand where, once you have crossed it, there are no limits to the creative imagination. Some say that level is 120 IQ points. 120 points is “exceptional”. Others, however, argue that the threshold is lower: 100, which is slap-bang in the middle of “average”. Below that there might be limits. Research suggests anything above 85 is fine for coming up with ideas – but its 100 and above for originality.

That said, its personality which determines how successful your idea is – rather than how many ideas you have, or how original they are. You can read all the research here.

But the great news is that – even if it turns you’re as thick as two sort planks – IQ scores are often seen as a flawed way for measuring intelligence. First off, the standards at which such measurements are assessed can go a bit baps-up. Secondly, it might be that IQ scores are not the be-all and end-all. There are other types of braininess too, according to the Independent:

Instead of a general measure of intelligence epitomised by the intelligence quotient (IQ), intellectual ability consists of short-term memory, reasoning and verbal agility. Although these interact with one another they are handled by three distinct nerve “circuits” in the brain, the scientists found.

So, as long as you seem fairly smart, that’s a starter-for-ten, then. Onto how to use that imagination to have fun and be creative.

Fun, intelligence and creativity … and big business

The National Institute For Play is set on making sure people get enough fun. Indeed, their research is led by Dr Stuart Brown, who started in the field by looking at the absence of play in homicidal young men. Play, he and the Institute believes, is a massively important part of development and ongoing well-being. His Institute implements this by working directly with businesses so they can help cultivate ideas – rather than get bogged down in spreadsheets or worry about who nicked Maude’s yogurt.

But how do businesses manage to use creativity guilt-free to create great ideas (the jammy so-and-sos).

Well. They don’t just go out and play like kids. There’s a code, just like children playing cops and robbers. Designer Tim Brown from IDEO has helped create solutions for everyone from newspapers to medical specialists. They use Exploration (getting a quantity of ideas), Building (with your hands) and Role Play (where they act out scenarios).

But what if you have a creative block – what if your office doesn’t have AstroTurf and a Twister mat? Well, if the walls are closing in, maybe it’s time to get out. One of my favourite books on marketing is by Jon Steel. It’s called Perfect Pitch. Steel is the kind of guy who’s put presentations in front of Steve Jobs. Porsche was another major client they had to present to.

In fact, after weeks of struggling over the heart of this Porsche presentation, the spark of greatness was still missing. So they did what most of us would be terrified to do: they skived off to a baseball game.

They stuffed their faces, drank beer and didn’t talk about the presentation. Not until the long drive out of the parking lot.

Then they were able to turn the whole idea on its head. Their big idea arrived in matter of minutes.

So, it seems, having fun is the smartest thing intelligent people can do.

We’ve just got to hope most bosses catch up, or you can find a way to stealth-fun your way to greatness.

Take care until the next post.