Essential Things

If you want to assess
A man’s capability
For doing essential things,
Ask whether he can act
Without assurances
Of good consequences.

— James G. March

QI vs IQ

We have all taken IQ tests. If you don’t remember, the questions used to determine your intelligence resemble these….

“The hour hand of an analog clock moves 1/60th of a degree every minute. Then how many degrees will the hour hand move in one hour?”

“If you drove a bus with 9 people from A and stopped at B to pick up 11 more people and drop 5 people at C and pick up another 5 people and drop another 10 people more and at last arrive at D 10 hours later. What's the name of the bus driver?”

The speed with which you answer these questions is also important…the faster the better.

The ability to rapidly manipulate and reason with abstract symbols is the focus of IQ testing. QI or Qualitative Intelligence is another matter. To demonstrate qualitative intelligence you must be able to reason with qualities that you experience—feel, taste, see, hear, sense—for the purpose of guiding action. This use of intelligence takes place in a particular medium, so “testing” it with a universal test is impossible. Instead, you can assess how much you need/use QI in what you do by answering the following questions.

Before you answer these questions imagine yourself engaged in a particular work-related or personal activity—for instance, your sport, your profession, a hobby, or your role in life (mother, CEO, etc.)

Qualitative Intelligence Quiz

R = Rarely   S = Sometimes   F = Frequently
(Answer once for each question)

  1. The difficulties of your work challenge your current abilities.
  2. Different people have conflicting approaches to achieving best outcomes.
  3. Unexpected things happen while you work that change what you do and where you are headed.
  4. You rely on personal judgment when you act.
  5. Your work demands your full and undivided attention.
  6. The problems you face don’t have a single, right answer.
  7. What you do/how you do it is often hard to put into words.
  8. The situations you face have unique elements.
  9. You don’t know what will work until after you figure it out.


If you answered Sometimes or Frequently to the majority of these questions, then following established recipes or protocols alone will get you into trouble:

  • You’ll miss important information
  • You’ll rely on unreliable advice
  • You’ll pursue solutions that are no longer relevant
  • You won’t know why what you are doing does or doesn’t work
  • You’ll get stuck in the middle of arguments and conflict
  • You’ll be forever behind the achievement curve
  • You’ll be disappointed and discouraged as you pursue the things you care most about

Developing ARTISTRY is your alternative.

Contact Artistry Services »

Speaking of Artistry

Definitions of the language used thoughout the book  Artistry Unleashed and this website.

Qualitative Intelligence

By cultivating qualitative intelligence—rather than relying on determined formulas, recipes and protocols—you can combine skill and spontaneity, expertise and creativity, reasoning and immediacy to solve your most challenging problems. 

When you allow action to generate outcomes rather than use action to pursue pre-established goals; when you reason with sensory experience rather than with abstract symbols; when you act without hesitation with what you know, while courting the possibilities of surprise; when you use a combination of immediate and remembered experience to predict and the revise immediate action...these are the times when you’re exercising qualitative intelligence.

Developing three capabilities gives you qualitative intelligence. First, qualitative reasoning allows you to reason with qualities—rather than numbers, symbols, and logic—that you must be able to feel, create, and shape. This means you must use the tangible and ineffable qualities you experience—and the qualities of their interactions—to inform where you want to go and how you get there.

Second, to gather the qualitative information you need to reason with qualities—without letting feelings cloud your perceptions—you need to cultivate such cognitive emotions as surprise, curiosity, and fascination. This means this particular class of feelings works in the service of feel, that is, the connection you have with the qualities of your medium.

Third, learning to be flexibly purposive you can pursue interdependent ends and means that emerge as qualitative reasoning is put into action. This means, unlike traditional goal setting, where you are headed and how you will get continually shift as you work.

Enigmatic Problems

Few of us are comfortable with problems that are hard to understand and yield a variety of solutions. Surprise, uncertainty, ambiguity, change, complexity, qualities, and instability are the essence of enigmatic problems. Confused and disturbed by such indeterminacy, we often reach for a recipe to guide us.

It is easy to see a recipe as a reliable alternative to uncertainty, but this is a false hope. Relying solely on a recipe will temporarily help you avoid dramatic failures, but if you stick to it, it will also be a direct route to routine and mediocrity. To solve problems that are filled with the features listed above requires the combination of skill and immediacy that even the best recipe will deny you forever.

Taking on these enigmatic problems is demanding. Many of my contemporaries have described the demands of “deliberate practice,” the unavoidable investment of “10,000 hours,” the elusive but critical necessity of finding your “element,” and the risks of untried territory. Not everyone finds the idea appealing. And, as anyone who manages other people knows, trying to convince the reluctant to dive in to these waters is near impossible. Even the financial rewards that can increase performance of routine tasks don’t work. In fact, external financial pressure decreases our ability to work effectively with enigmatic problems.

Heading into this challenge takes the sometimes hard-to-summon drive of internal commitment. Where might we look for inspiration? Look to the people who have made the choice. Look at the faces of those engaged in these problems—they are rapt. Listen to what they say—they speak with awe and excitement about what they are doing. Watch what they do—no matter how tough it gets, they keep going back for more. If fact, they begin to seek the very problems many others of us might fear or avoid. They know without enigmatic problems, the artistic life would not be possible Instead, life would remain one shade of gray.

Personal Knowledge System

When we are thrilled by great performance, artistry is what we see on the surface. A Personal Knowledge System is the invisible underlying source that makes artistry possible. As it develops, this knowledge system allows you to use perceptual sensitivity to direct skill, effectively understand what you experience, and realize the ideals that motivate you to act.

Your knowledge system is made up of three different kinds of essential knowledge types—Directional, Conceptual, and Experiential—all of them interacting as you learn. Together these bodies of knowledge provide all the elements artistry requires: motivation and identity, understanding and organization, and skill and awareness.

Experiential Knowledge comprises all the hands-on aspects of a discipline that allow you to recognize and shape the qualities in your medium.

Conceptual Knowledge is the most sharable. Abstracted from direct experience, it includes all the theories, equations, recipes, and models that let practitioners teach, learn, and communicate. But for all its efficacy, Conceptual Knowledge can present a trap if it’s disconnected from real experience -- we have all found ourselves less capable than we imagined.

Directional Knowledge works like a compass. Composed of ideals, identities and missions, it pulls like a magnet toward a heading but without predetermining a final destination.

In artistic terms, effective learning means developing a combination of masterful and original knowledge in each knowledge type. Mastery brings predictability and control to action. By contrast, originality springs from unpredictable responses to immediate experience; finding originality means leaving behind some of what you know. Artistry is driven forward by the interplay of these two competing forces. The combination of Mastery and Originality that create an artistic knowledge system brings turbulent dynamics. Artistic practice is rarely balanced or static, but it is always compelling!


Upstream and Downstream Learning

Effective personal knowledge—ultimately, Qualitative Intelligence—develops through a combination of Downstream and Upstream Learning. Mastery is the purpose of Downstream Learning, and Originality the purpose of Upstream Learning.

Downstream Learning builds in-depth understanding and expertise, is dependent on hours of practice, and is focused in a discipline.

Upstream Learning is driven by creativity, surprise and innovation. It is dependent on your sensitivity to sometimes unfamiliar, immediate qualities, and your ability to see beyond the accepted knowledge of your discipline. Upstream learning is generated by playfulness, and sometimes necessity when Downstream Learning fails.

We know a lot about these kinds of learning as they occur in isolation. The development of mastery and expertise is a well-studied topic, as is the development of creativity and innovation. In this vein, we know the importance of goal-setting to reliable performance and how important allowing failure is to liberating new ideas. Things get tricky when we need to accomplish both these capabilities simultaneously. The respective forces, skills, learning processes, attitudes, and intended outcomes fundamentally conflict.

It often seems best to treat downstream mastery and upstream originality like squabbling siblings… We send them to separate rooms. But artists want both capabilities in play when they are working. Learning artistry means learning how to bring unity to this conflict.

The Seven Hallmarks Of Artistry

What True Artists Know That the Rest of Us Need to Learn

  1. Pursue ends and means interdependently.
  2. Cultivate unity with a medium.
  3. Reason with qualities.
  4. Sustain the dynamic partnership of mastery and originality.
  5. Remain unfazed by failure and unfixed by fame.
  6. Develop cognitive emotions.
  7. Express personal ideals, understanding, and awareness in action.

While these Hallmarks describe artistic practice in any discipline, the most important thing to remember is they have little utility as mere abstract ideas. Using these hallmarks depends on finding a teacher or mentor who embodies them—or, better yet, embodying them yourself.