How CEOs Should Foster a Culture of Creative Intelligence to Expand the Minds of their Teams and Deliver Breakthrough Results

By Jeremy Brown, Sense Worldwide |  May 25, 2023

Dear CEO,

I am writing to resign from my position as Chief Innovation Officer.

As an organization, we are falling behind. Innovation is our only truly sustainable competitive advantage, and we need to adapt. To stay ahead of the curve and deliver breakthrough innovations that meet the demands of the boardroom, analysts, and shareholders, we must nurture a culture in which innovation can thrive.

You and I have grown close, with a relationship based on honesty and respect. So I wanted to share the reasons behind this tough decision.

First, teams do not collaborate effectively, nor are they aligned. I have observed that in our organization, ideas don’t reach their full potential. They are often ‘thrown over the fence’ and land in the hands of people who fail to realize their true worth. This leads to the creation of products or services that do not reflect what our customers are looking for.

Jeremy Brown, CEO and Founder, Sense Worldwide

We rely on you to provide the direction and then delegate downward. I have observed on multiple occasions that the organization finds it hard to ‘make space’ for creative conversations. There is a tendency to dismiss or ignore breakthrough ideas, rather than champion them. We have become more conservative, and as such, people do not feel able to share their more radical suggestions. We fail to innovate with our future consumer in mind.

Second, as a leadership team, we need to look both outward and inward. You thrive when assessing the external landscape. You understand our competition and where disruption might come from. This laser-focused, external perspective has come at the expense of an internal understanding. Our culture does not match your vision. You focus on the possibilities of ‘what could be,’ rather than what is happening in the organization.

Being innovative is not just about generating ideas; it requires a supportive environment that fosters creativity and enables ideas to develop. As senior leaders, we are farmers preparing the earth, and improving the conditions for those ideas to flourish. Culture and values can be used to improve innovation success. As much as I have tried, this change needs to come from the top. I need you to embrace it and lead by example.

Faced with market disruption, changing consumer needs, and maintaining brand relevance, what got us to where we are today is not going to get us to where we want to be in the future.

Finally, during your tenure as CEO it is your duty to shepherd us and evolve us to deliver both growth and returns. I understand that our brand has a lot of brand equity and heritage, so it is hard to strike the balance between looking back and looking forward.

Faced with market disruption, changing consumer needs, and maintaining brand relevance, what got us to where we are today is not going to get us to where we want to be in the future. We need to be willing to challenge the status quo. To shake off the cobwebs. Take what works from our heritage and embrace a new era.

There are ways to change and improve our culture. Last year, I was introduced to the benefits of creative intelligence. I tried to embed what I learned and gained traction in my team. If we are to break down our silos and feel the effects across the wider organization, it requires your support. 

Creative intelligence is the ability to understand our challenges and to ask better questions that lead to the right answers. A creatively intelligent leader is able to interpret what they learn and translate that understanding into strategic recommendations. They unify the organization, encourage teams to explore the possibilities, and are open to resulting ideas. These leaders are able to act on the strategic decisions, to engage audiences, and inspire action. Balancing brand heritage and brave decision making.

Here are the five principles of creative intelligence for you to reflect upon:

Principle 1: Expand your mind, to see more possibilities.

Leaders must encourage fresh thinking. Assumptions hinder creativity and innovation. Teams should work to expand their minds, challenge cognitive biases, and explore beyond their silos. Leaders must encourage their teams to embrace the beginner’s mind to see things from a fresh perspective.

Principle 2: Challenge your default, to spark imagination.

Leaders must recognize that getting stuck in old habits and approaches stifle creativity and innovation. By reframing the situation and asking new questions, previously unknown and unexpected solutions can come to light. It is damaging to jump to solutions before understanding the problem.

Principle 3: Build your creative confidence, to trust intuition.

Leaders must empower their teams to trust their instincts and find creative flow. Building creative confidence takes time and requires a willingness to become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. As we age and progress in our careers, our fear of failure hinders our thinking. We must reframe failure and see it as a necessary learning step toward success. By testing, learning, and working iteratively we stretch our comfort zones.

Principle 4: Seek out diverse perspectives, to uncover the unknown.

Leaders must emphasize the value of diversity. This does not just relate to our D&I policy. By seeking fresh perspectives and understanding different viewpoints, teams strengthen their ideas and expand the limits of what they thought was possible. We must stop talking to those who agree with us. No more focus groups. We need cognitive diversity like you find in The Sense Network. If you want see the breakthrough results that have been delivered, read this case study where they use cognitive diversity to redefine sexy for Kellogg’s.

Principle 5: Adopt an experimental mindset, to get fast feedback.

Leaders must encourage teams to share ideas early and often, even when they don’t feel ready. Gathering feedback saves valuable time, money, and resources. Our teams must experiment more with clear objectives or hypotheses, and be open to new paths and unexpected solutions that emerge. It’s important to know when to stop, pivot, or kill a project.

Ideas are like the immune system. Exposing them to the outside world sooner makes them stronger and more likely to thrive and survive. I believe that unless we make changes we will be disrupted and lose market position. We must widen the aperture of our worldview, challenge the status quo, and take calculated risks.

Finally, I want to thank you for your leadership and the opportunity to be part of such a talented team. I believe in their potential. I hope you consider my recommendations to help the company reach new heights. It starts at the top.


Chief Innovation Officer

Jeremy Brown created one of the world’s first online social networks — The Sense Network — a unique global community of people who see things differently and think differently. He has pioneered the role of cognitive diversity to deliver breakthrough results. Since 1999, Brown has partnered with many of the world’s most innovative companies including Nike, PepsiCo, GE, Sonos, Barclays, and The National Theatre to help them to be more innovative.