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  • Writer's pictureKevin Cashman

The New IQ: Integrative Intelligence

Article featured in Forbes: Read Here

On a recent flight home from Silicon Valley, I was lost in thought about innovation-rich cultures. Too often we think heroic inventors like Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison solely drive big breakthroughs. We create myths about inventive leaders, turning them into icons. In Steven Johnson’s great book on innovation, How We Got to Now, he asks, “who discovered the light bulb?” Simple question, right? The answer is not so simple. The real back story is that Edison purchased 40 existing light bulb patents, and then he worked with a team of people, who “heroically discovered” the light bulb.

Myths aside, innovation is a collaborative, team sport built on the shoulders of many people. We see this same principle play out in the companies we advise: the real value-creating sources of innovation are internalized in the networks of engaged, collaborative, diverse groups of people committed to a common purpose that serves and contributes continually in new ways. As one CEO shared with me, “Even when you think someone is the genius-hero innovator, it usually turns out to have been an extremely collaborative process with many people involved, contributing and supporting the eventual breakthrough. Heroes are usually made by many competent collaborators arduously working behind the scenes.”

Upon my return from the west coast, I continued thinking about seeds of innovation and how it becomes embodied in people and enterprise culture. I shared a conversation with Andrew Pek, a Korn Ferry colleague, who is an authority on fostering and shaping innovative culture. He is also coauthor with Jeannine McGlade of Stimulated: Habits to Spark Your Creative Genius at Work, a book that consistently hits lists of top creativity resources. Pek and I talked about how Apple creatively applied integrative methodology in product development and systems. Steve Jobs had this unique synergistic ability to see the value in connecting separate and different things. He embedded this way of seeing differently in Apple’s culture by integrating related but different value-adding elements. Andrew explained the innovative process this way: “First it’s about collecting the dots. Then, it’s about connecting the dots. That’s integration. Then, it is about creating new dots. That’s innovation.” I wanted to explore this vein of thinking and methodology, and Andrew mentioned what he has termed “The New IQ, Integrative Intelligence.” Intrigued, I peppered him with questions, and we began the first of what will be a continuing conversation on the topic. What follows is the essence.

Andrew Pek: We live in a complex world with many challenges that are calling for an innovative response. None of these challenges lend themselves to easy or quick solutions. Integrative intelligence is a new approach to leadership that considers the relationship between the individual parts of an organizational system (internal and external perspective) and how the actors (customers, regulators, suppliers, workforce, etc.) can be best combined and leveraged to achieve breakthrough and mutual benefit. For example, in his research on some of the world’s leading scientists and laboratories where major scientific discoveries occurred, J. Rogers Hollingsworth observed that these scientists (often Nobel Prize winners) demonstrated a higher level of “cognitive complexity” when their lab environments promoted high levels of diverse thinking and collaborative behaviors. He defined cognitive complexity simply as an important measure of one’s ability to internalize and integrate (successfully) multiple and diverse fields of science in order to derive new insights.

Cashman: How are leaders not very integrative today?

Pek: Leaders, through either organization design or because of their behavioral nature, or both, often operate in silos. We measure leaders in units of performance, not by how they contribute to the whole system. Their careers are managed in ladders and rewarded in the number of successive rungs they ascend, not by the number of enterprise contributions that they make. For example, it is common for universities to keep their engineering students and curriculum separate from their business students and their course of study. This type of separation carries over in the business world. Imagine if you designed organizations to co-mingle engineers and business professionals more frequently and how that might positively impact the quantity and quality of their ideas.

Cashman: What are some ways to elicit Integrative Intelligence in others?

Pek: The good news is that Integrative Intelligence is a learned behavior, and when a leader puts in place the proper team and organizational conditions, breakthroughs are more frequent, ideas are more impactful and commercial success is more likely. When leaders take a strategic pause and immerse themselves, for instance, in the experience a customer may have with their company’s products, the leader(s) are more apt to identify unmet needs and generate opportunities for innovation. Years ago I helped design and deliver organization-wide immersion efforts where combined R&D, marketing, and sales teams would spend time inside consumers’ homes or at their work to observe and obtain insight into their healthcare needs. These types of immersive and observational activities led us to develop many innovative products including the revolutionary breath mint strips, Listerine Pocket Paks. Through these immersive and integrative activities, we were able to transform mouthwash into a product that was portable and convenient for our consumers.

Cashman: What leadership competencies are critical for Integration Intelligence to operate?

Pek: There are 12 key leadership characteristics that operate at four overlapping levels and call for a new form of leadership to help manage complexity and give rise to the power of not a singular, but collective and integrative intelligence that is key to innovation. Leaders, for example, who are expected to develop disruptive new ideas, often exhibit the following characteristics: Heady, Hungry and Hopeful. A Heady leader demonstrates a clever and shrewd sensibility about the marketplace and will know how to outflank the competition much like CEO and founder of Whisper, Michael Heyward, has done to help tech savvy twitter types reduce their digital footprint while amplifying their influence through anonymous or private messaging (there are no user profiles or friends to follow) another user. A Hungry leader demonstrates a burning desire to explore and create something new and of value. And a Hopeful leader is optimistic about the future and confident in their chances of innovating successfully.

As Andrew and I talked, we became energized about the roles that CEOs and senior leaders might play in fostering The New IQ and operationalizing it. Andrew posited that Integrative Intelligence operates on many levels and that “Integrative Leadership is a dynamic and integrative process of involving others and applying a lens of innovation.” Its embodiment in the ecosystem, he explained, is “a game of inches that is won through creativity, critical thinking and action.” The implications are many from clearing the path of barriers and tapping into broader networks to the evaporation of silos and opening things up for more creativity to emerge, ultimately evolving into an Integrative Ecosystem.

Einstein once said that if you want children to be more intelligent, read them fairy tales and encourage them to have different experiences because it opens their minds to alternative utopias that are often not available in our traditional learning environments. These alternative worlds can then augment our cognitive and creative abilities to achieve fresh, new innovations that solve some of our most complex challenges.


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