Creativity is the Highest Form of Intelligence


Creativity is the highest form of intelligence because it goes beyond knowledge recall and extends into knowledge creation. Someone intelligent can be very knowledgeable and have excellent information recall (let’s say for a standardized test), but creativity and innovation require some novel form of intelligence that is of a higher order.

Studies have shown that highly creative people are highly intelligent but highly intelligent people are not always creative. The fact that highly creative people have a higher correlation with intelligence than vice versa suggests creativity is simply a higher form of intelligence. (See Handbook of Creativity, page 261 for support.)

Beyond the studies, consider the following simple supporting examples:

Regarded, highly intelligent people were also creative

Highly intelligent individuals such as Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Beethoven were highly imaginative, curious, and creative—all creating new concepts and ideas that have value. For example, Einstein’s famous “thought experiments” were the key to coming up with the Theory of Relativity. Einstein imagined what it would be like to ride a light beam and from thenceforth sprung his insight and understanding of the nature of light and time. This is not to suggest that Einstein didn’t also have a deep understanding of quantum physics and mathematics (measures of his IQ) but his breakthroughs started with his creative imagination. That’s probably why he said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Ultimately, our high regard for these intelligent individuals comes from their innovations that only their creative intelligence could aspire.

Creativity is the highest level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Once we get beyond survival mode, we have the capability to exercise more fully our intellectual powers to create. Creativity, spontaneity, and problem-solving (often an innovation trigger) are in the uppermost triangle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. That is because the upper tier called self-actualization represents our need for knowledge where we have enough time to exercise our intelligence and be creative as we strive to improve ourselves. We can think bigger picture rather than focus on putting food on the table. I submit that this is the primary reason why the pace of change has been so dramatic in the past 100 years. Everything has finally aligned so that we have more time to exercise our highest form of intelligence.

Our historical innovation and quest for more innovation

From cavepeople to renaissance person to modern human, our imaginative thinking has led us to create continual incremental and breakthrough innovation that has accumulated into the luxurious life we enjoy today. As human beings, we all love to create in some form or fashion. What other species is continually creating new things? Why do homosapiens do this? Well…we ARE the highest form of intelligence on this planet and that’s why we are more creative than the other 1.6 million known species. We aren’t comfortable with the status quo. We repeatedly like to make stuff better, faster, cheaper, stronger, easier.

The emotional satisfaction that comes from creativity

Music, fine arts, dance, drama, writing, and more all involve creation of something tangible or intangible (i.e. knowledge work). From young age to old age, we find deep satisfaction in creation. Why do we like to color, to draw, to play LEGOs when young and later on to create new products, new companies, and new music? We are a highly intelligent species and our highest form of expression brings satisfaction to the soul! Some would call this emotional, some would call it intuition, and some would call it spiritual.

Unfortunately, our highest form of intelligence is not well measured, well recruited, or well known. We are well-trained in our schools to suppress creative thinking as we are most often measured on knowledge recall rather than knowledge creation. As a society, we often look for safer forms of measurement and recruiting using historical knowledge and tested methodologies. (And that is the irony—because creativity is always risky).

It’s no wonder some of the brightest minds ever known have been school and social rejects. And it is going to take many risk takers to get our systems and methodologies to step up to higher ground and find more balanced ways to measure our intelligence and recruit for success. Ken Robinson, author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, is one of those influential risk takers looking to make big changes to our educational system.


Jeff Dance


Jeff is Founder and CEO of Fresh Consulting. Formerly a Strategy & Operations Consultant at Deloitte Consulting, Jeff brings years of experience in the creative design and digital technology space, building teams and overseeing hundreds of digital projects.