Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Creativity Is Hard Work: These 8 Steps Can Help!

A book review by: Mattia Miani
Buffalo State College

zig zag: the surprising path to greater creativity

Keith Sawyer is a well-known name to anyone serious in the study of creativity. With an unconventional background that includes a stint as a video game designer and another as a jazz pianist, Sawyer is more than just a scholar; he is someone who has embraced creativity in his own life.

This makes the publication of Zig Zag, a book that promises to offer “a science-backed method to maximize creative potential in any sphere of life” (as stated in the blurb), not just the publishing of another self-help manual. Unlike Sawyer’s previous Explaining Creativity, which was catering to an academic audience, the purpose of this book is to reach out to anyone interested in creativity and offer to the novice reader a “creativity trainer” to improve his or her creativity skills.

To do so, Sawyer embarked on an extensive “highlight the essence” exercise. As he explains, the book not only distils his 20 plus years of experience as an educational psychologist and creativity researcher, but it is also the result of a yearlong reading exercise during which Sawyer tried to read a great quantity of popular creativity books (pretty much aiming at his same goal) and find what they had in common. In other words, Sawyer is after the essence of creativity.

Looking at the end notes shows the breath of the references behind the text. You can find recent books such as Burstein’s Spark: How creativity works (2011) or Linkner’s Disciplined dreaming (2011), staples such as Foster’s How to get ideas (2007), and the classics from the Sixties by Parnes, Osborn, Gordon just to name a few.  Notwithstanding this variety, Sawyer tries to stick to what is scientifically proven through research and practice.

The main outcome of this exercise is the identification of 8 steps that characterize the creative process. Sawyer’s 8 steps are Ask, Learn, Look, Play, Think, Fuse, Choose, and Make.  Everyone familiar with one or more existing creativity methods will not be surprised by a process approach broken down in steps. These particular steps can be easily mapped onto the phases offered by other methods such as Creative Problem Solving, Synectics, or Possibility Thinking. Making a parallel with CPS, ask, learn and look find a counterpart in assessing the situation and clarification steps; play and think are eminently examples of divergent thinking (ideation). Fuse and choose represent convergence (develop), while make is clearly implementation.

Why “zig zag” as the title? The reason is that similarly to other models, Sawyer does not suggest to necessarily go through the 8 steps in a linear fashion: the steps are highly iterative and the process can be initiated at any stage. This makes the path to creativity a non linear one, a zig zag.

The main idea behind the model is encapsulated in this statement: “Creativity did not descend like a bolt of lightning that lit up the world in a single, brilliant flash. It came in tiny steps, bits of insight, and incremental changes.”

Sawyer’s down to earth philosophy is also summarized by a quotation by artist Chuck Close that he repeats twice in the book (the second time at the end): “Inspiration is for amateurs, and the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

What does a chapter look like? Each chapter briefly presents the main idea with the aid of some vivid stories. Then a number of practices aimed at implementing the step are presented. Each practice is further broken down into specific recommendations. For example, the chapter on learn opens with a brief discussion of the concept of deliberate practice, then it presents three main practices to enhance our learning ability: practice deliberately, master your domain and learn forever. In the paragraph dedicated to master your domain we find specific recommendations such as get schooled, go for deeper understanding, apply what you know to new situations.

This structure is faithfully applied to every chapter discussing the eight steps, and makes the book highly structured. As Sawyer himself suggests, zig zag can also be a good approach to reading the book. A cover to cover reading could leave many unsatisfied since it is difficult to digest the incredible amount of information and ideas compressed in the 200 and so pages of the book.

So, is the book worth reading? The answer may change, depending whether we take into account a novice or an expert reader.

For someone new to the field of creativity the book is a gold mine. While sometimes it can get a bit dull (especially in the long enumeration of specific creativity techniques), overall it makes a great crash introduction to applied creativity offering practical recommendations and a realistic method to live a more creative life.

To be fair, the book is targeting lay people and not scholars. However the question remains whether the book may be useful also to more experienced practitioners or educators. For someone who is already familiar with the literature on creativity and might have read a few of the sources of the book, the path indicated in the book might not be so surprising. Most of the stories are not new; creativity scholars have heard the story of the birth of the Post-it notes in every imaginable form.

Personally, I have been delving into the literature on creativity over the past three years (admittedly not a long time) and I was already familiar probably with two thirds of the content of the book. However there was still one third of the content that was new to me and showed the effort of Sawyer to collect little gems from a diverse array of sources. I have even found inspiration from one of the chapters in developing a team building activity. One might argue that an expert reader might easily skim through the pages of the book and still find precious ideas thanks to Sawyer’s highlighting the essence exercise.

In conclusion, Zig Zag is a welcomed addition to the repertoire of creativity manuals aimed at the general public, with the merit of not trying to reinvent the wheel, but rather trying to capture the essence of more than fifty years of research and discussion in the field.  

Keith Sawyer.  Zig zag: The surprising path to greater creativity. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass, 2013. 

About Mattia Miani:  

Mattia Miani, originally from Italy, is a manager executive education in an international University in Vietnam. In 2014 he received The Firstien Family Creativity Achievement Award from the International Center of Studies in Creativity for his training work in Asia.

**Looking for more books on creativity? Visit the ICSC Amazon Bookstore

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review of The Business Playground

A book review by: David Eyman
Buffalo State College

The business playground
Sweet dreams are made of this creative joy!  The Business Playground is an enjoyable, easy-to-read collection of creativity stories and tools designed to help readers in promoting creative thinking.  This book speaks mainly to business-professionals, yet would be beneficial for the layperson or creativity-curious reader.  In twelve unique chapters (235 pages) the authors have conveyed much of the current thinking on both innate and prompted creativity in an entertaining and playful way.  Each chapter holds a creativity game that embodies a thinking tool, and readers are invited to read the book as if playing a board game.  “Move one space forward to the next chapter… or roll the dice” (Stewart & Simmons, 2010, p. 149) demonstrates how the authors have integrated the playful nature of creativity into both the big picture and details of presented materials.    

Authors Mark Simmons, a branding expert, and Dave Stewart, a musician who achieved fame through his partnership with Annie Lennox in The Eurythmics, prove their outstanding ability to entertain throughout the book.  Although The Business Playground is a non-fiction reference book, it sometimes reads more like fiction with richly decorated stories and metaphorical language.  More specifically, there is a casual undertone that rises above the sterility present in some scholarly books on creativity.  While this tone may feel a bit pedestrian at first glance, the work is cited and referenced adequately to validate that the recommended tools have been built atop credible, if not academic, frameworks.

In its entirety, the book is a game about bringing creative thinking to business through fun.  Tools and stories presented in the book are designed to make a case for how “play” in business will yield more creative thinking.  In the introduction, Simmons and Stewart assert, “Most businesses just aren’t designed for creativity.  Instead, they tend to be efficient machines with established processes, systems, and rules that allow little flexibility for the more unstructured thought that is necessary for ideas to form and flourish” (p. Xv).  The Business Playground is a direct reaction to this statement with a solid case for change, tools that inspire change, and stories of successful integration.

The authors present each section as a board game space that allows the reader to find tools appropriate to what they are confronting in the moment.  With chapter titles such as “Idea Spaghetti,” “Left Brain, Meet Mr. Right,” “Far Out,” “Kill the Idea,” and “Blast Off,” perusing each game tile is consistent with the spirit of fun the authors are promoting.  Inside each chapter is a smaller set of games that spur new thinking, help develop ideas, and help the reader with solution selection. 

Chapter one builds a solid case for creative thinking based on stories and experiences.  Chapters two through ten offer playful methods for ideational thinking through tools that have been taken from other processes and redesigned in the spirit of fun.  Chapter eleven offers methods of selecting ideas, convergent thinking, and refinement with tools such as “Kill the Idea”, and “What I See Myself Doing."  Chapter twelve describes constructing a creative environment and planning for successful implementation of selected ideas.  In sum, The Business Playground covers all stages of the creative process with the overlay of playfulness, humor, and fun.

Some of the tools presented in The Business Playground can be readily recognized as spirited adaptations of other tools from other creative process methodologies: brainstorming, storyboarding collaging, several variations on forced connections, incubation, excursions, reframing, and far too many others to list here.  The results of careful attention to adding a play element to each tool is useful in bringing the playground to work.  In addition to the classic proven techniques, Stewart and Simmons bring a bit of themselves to this extensive list of creativity tools.  They make a case for the foundations that support these tools with rich and colorful personal stories.  To support the importance of humor in the workplace, Stewart describes creatively resolving a film director’s frustrated block with:  “I went out of the studio, put on a woman’s dress and earrings, burst back into the studio and insisted on dancing with Paul” (Stewart & Simmons, 2010, p. 171).

While the reader can appreciate the overlay of lightness and playfulness, an occasional undertone of ego emerges as the authors parade their life histories.  In one instance, Stewart avows that a defibrillator led him to even greater creative ability: “Actually, dying and being brought back to life was like being plugged into an electric socket that pumps creative energy into your veins”  (Stewart & Simmons, 2010, p. 162). Regardless, Stewart and Simmons have a credible history of creative accomplishments, that which gives them every right to flaunt their creativity skills and suggest methods with which to work.  Without peppering the book with tales of their greatness, we may not give nearly the credence due to such a casually and playfully written work.  This tone is truly successful in engaging the reader, despite the few eye-rolling swaggers.

Books on the topics of innovation and creativity in the workplace have become plentiful in the past decade.  For anyone seeking a light methodology or one wishing to integrate more fun into their work, The Business Playground is an easy- to- read and easy- to- integrate book selection.  Above that reasoning, those who loved Eurythmics music will certainly find this as a welcome addition to their knowledge of induced creativity practice through the memorability of Stewart’s name alone. 

Stewart, D., & Simmons, M. (2010). The business playground: Where creativity and commerce collide. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

About David Eyman: 
David Eyman is a seasoned creativity practitioner, consultant, and facilitator.  With 25 years of creative endeavors ranging from Industrial Design leadership, consumer product innovation, and executive coaching for creative professionals, David has a unique three-dimensional understanding of the processes that generates authentic innovation.  David holds a holds a Bachelor of Science, Industrial Design degree from the University of Cincinnati, and is pursuing a Masters of Science in Creative Studies at the ICSC at SUNY, Buffalo State campus.  

**Looking for more books on creativity? Visit the ICSC Amazon Bookstore

Monday, September 22, 2014

Jugaad Innovation: A frugal and flexible approach to innovation for the 21st century

A book review by: Celia Pillai
Buffalo State College

Jugaad Innovation

What lessons on innovation can a small-time potter from rural India have for global corporations? Plenty, says the business book by Radjou, Prabhu & Ahuja called Jugaad Innovation: A frugal and flexible approach to innovation for the 21st century. ‘Jugaad is a colloquial Hindi (a widely spoken language in India) word that roughly translates to an innovative fix; an improvised solution born from ingenuity and cleverness’ (p.4). Using extensive examples from emerging and mature markets, the authors propose that organizations everywhere can and should learn from jugaad. The book builds on business paradigms focused on emerging markets like fortune at the bottom of the pyramid (Prahlad, 2005), frugal innovation and reverse innovation (Immelt, Govindarajan & Trimble, 2009).

The introduction starts with a remarkable example of jugaad by Mansukh Prajapati, a potter from Gujarat in India. Mitticool is a fridge made of clay, costs a tiny fraction of a conventional fridge, requires no electricity, is 100% biodegradable and produces zero waste! Essentially, Jugaad is ‘a unique way of thinking and acting in response to challenges…of spotting opportunities in the most adverse circumstances and resourcefully improvising solutions using simple means. Jugaad is about doing more with less.’ (p.5). It is in contrast to the structured innovation model which ‘is designed to deliver more with more – that is, firms charge customers a hefty premium for over-engineered products that are expensive to develop and produce’ (p.10). Whereas Jugaad solves the core problem with a good enough solution and is ‘bottoms-up, improvisational, fluid and collaborative while working within a framework of deep knowledge’ (p.24). Among the many examples in the book are that of some major corporations like GE, 3M, P&G, Facebook, Tata and Pepsi.
The core essence of the book are the six key principles distilled from studying jugaad innovations across countries, industries and organizations:
  1. Seek Opportunity in Adversity
  2. Do more with Less
  3. Think and Act Flexibly
  4. Keep it Simple
  5. Include the Margin
  6. Follow your Heart

The bulk of the book expands on these principles dedicating a chapter to each. Chapters begin by describing the principle in action. For example, chapter Principle Four: Keep it Simple starts with Dr. Sathya Jeganathan’s (a pediatrician in rural India) minimalist incubator. Made using inexpensive local material, it costs less than 1/100th of a high-tech, high-end imported one. Yet it serves the core need – it keeps babies warm. Having drastically lowered the infant mortality rate in her hospital, it is now being scaled for wider use. Each chapter further delves on the principle highlighting relevant aspects of business climate, followed by recommendations to apply it and ending with an example of a major corporation’s success with it. The low-cost electrocardiogram-in-a-backpack by GE healthcare in India is a great example cited of a large corporation’s ability to include the margin through jugaad innovation.

The concluding chapters are on integrating jugaad into organizations and building jugaad nations. The authors caution that jugaad should not replace structured innovation but is ‘a useful complement to this approach’ (p.220). The companion website ( has visuals, examples and information on jugaad.
The central concept of the book is fascinating - human ingenuity in the face of scarcity is a phenomenon prevalent for ages across nations and cultures. It has a simple, easy-to-follow structure and is sprinkled with examples throughout, bringing alive the underlying dynamics of jugaad and its applications to organization. To date, this is the most comprehensive book on the subject and has helped bring the topic into mainstream business discussions.

It is interesting to note that the six principles squarely bring back the focus on creativity as the foundation for innovation (e.g. Amabile, 1988, 1996; Bharadwaj & Menon, 2000). All the principles are important aspects of creativity and related attributes of a creative person. For example, principle 1 and 2, Seek Opportunity in Adversity and Do more with Less, relate to the concept of constraints as an enabler to creativity (e.g. Finke, Ward, & Smith, 1992; Stokes, 2005). Principle 3, Think and Act Flexibly is cognitive flexibility, an essential creativity skill (e.g. Guilford, 1967; MacKinnon, 1978). Principle 4, Keep it Simple, reminds one of De Bono’s book called Simplicity (1998). It is the ability to break down complexity and focus on what is essential – the skill to Highlight the Essence (Torrance & Safter, 1999). Principle 5 Include the Margin is about serving marginal segments of the market, which uses the creativity skill to extend the boundaries (Torrance & Safter, 1999) of thinking and acting. Principle 6, Follow your Heart, connects to affect, empathy, intuition and their relationship to creativity (Barron, 1969, 1988; Burnett & Francisco, 2013; MacKinnon, 1978). Perhaps, these are the most critical creativity skills in jugaad innovators. Drawing a parallel, there are related dimensions of organizational creativity that support jugaad innovation.

Though the book is an easy read, it gets repetitive at times. Also, the study of jugaad innovations is based on anecdotal observations and lacks academic rigor and scientific enquiry. Given jugaad’s low priority for sophistication, some examples like 3M’s focus on visual appeal or Steve Job’s perfectionism in design don’t sound aligned to the fundamental notion of jugaad. Adding a few actionable tools and frameworks to help organizations diagnose and implement jugaad would have added depth to generic recommendations like ‘redesign the entire organization around simplicity’ (p.144).

Overall, as a first comprehensive study of jugaad, the book is worth a read for anyone interested in innovation. It brings forth a powerful concept of innovation - one that is frugal, flexible and humane. Jugaad has its share of critics, who argue that it is a short-term, work-around and non-scalable approach. Either ways, the buzz on jugaad is here to stay and it will be interesting to see its implementation and impact on organizations in times to come.

Radjou, N., Prabhu, J., & Ahuja, S. (2012). Jugaad innovation: A frugal and flexible approach to innovation for the 21st century. New Delhi: Random House India.

About Celia Pillai:Celia is a consultant, facilitator and trainer in the areas of creativity, innovation and strategy for organizations and institutions. She is also an associate of Tirian in India. Celia brings a diverse set of credentials and experiences, including design, strategy, management and creativity. Celia has a PGDM/MBA from Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Indore, India and B.Arch (Bachelor of Architecture) from Bangalore University, India. She is a graduate of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College, NY where she is also a candidate for an MS in Creativity and Change Leadership. She is based out of Chennai in India.

Buy Jugaad Innovation on Amazon

**Looking for more books on creativity? Visit the ICSC Amazon Bookstore

Friday, September 12, 2014

inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity

A book review by: Gaia Grant
Managing Director of Tirian International
Buffalo State College


Tina Seelig is truly inGenius, and her recent publication in the field of creativity which bears this title is testament to that!

Tina has come to the field from an unusually eclectic background. Starting with a medical Ph.D. in neuroscience, Seelig moved into engineering, management consultancy, and multi-media production before deciding to focus on the area of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Perhaps not surprisingly, she has written books on a range of different topics, including popular science books on the chemistry of cooking, practical books on neuroscience designed to develop the brain, and a book of advice for young people on how to prepare for professional life. She certainly has an appropriately broad range of experiences to draw from in her current role.

Seelig is now Professor of the Practice in the Department of Management Science and Engineering (MS&E) at Stanford University, the executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures program (STVP), and the director for the National Center for Engineering pathways. As well as teaching on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship at the Department of Management Science and Engineering, she also teaches at the well-known Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (also known as the at Stanford. Seelig is a popular teacher who has been awarded for her ingenuity in the classroom and excellence in teaching.

inGenius, Seelig’s latest book, was her first popular work specifically focused on the creativity and innovation domain. The subtitle refers to the book as ‘a crash course on creativity’, and the resource does indeed provide a brief but illuminating overview of the area. What is most appealing about the book is that as you read it you feel like you have been invited to sit in as an observer of some of Seelig’s classes. There are plenty of interesting personal anecdotes from Seelig’s personal and professional life, along with a number of fascinating case studies. What is especially fascinating is that she also describes the sorts of unique exercises that she has devised to help teach about creativity. The result is a smooth flow of practical ideas delivered in a conversational style that draws in the reader in. The narrative interweaves both solid theoretical foundations and useful applicable ideas on how to develop creativity.

Even the title itself is ingenious! Seelig explains that she chose the title to reflect the fact that, “we each have creative genius waiting to be unlocked”. She goes on to explain how the word ingenius actually comes from the Latin word, ingenium, which refers to a natural capacity or innate talent. She asserts that we don’t need to look outside of ourselves to find creative inspiration (like the ancient Greeks), but rather that we all have the inherent ability to be creative. She is adamant that creativity can be taught and developed, just as muscles can be developed through exercise.

After introducing her philosophy on creativity as an accessible and limitless renewable resource (she says, “Ideas aren’t cheap at all – they’re free!”) and touching on the fact that our brains are wired for creative thinking, Seelig compares creative methods to scientific methods and concludes that creative thinking best applies when you want to invent rather than discover. She then goes on to introduce her unique model of creativity, which includes the ‘inside’ factors of Knowledge, Attitude and Imagination – along with the ‘outside’ factors of Resources, Habitat and Culture. The ‘inside’ factors are those that apply at the individual level, while the ‘outside’ factors apply at the organisation environmental level.

Having read a number of books in the field of creativity, I discovered that some of the stories and content were not original, which I would have hoped for in a book like this. Although designed as a ‘crash course’, I also came away with the impression that the overview was just too brief, and that a number of areas were touched on that could have benefitted from much deeper exploration. Also, a number of areas that I think are also important to creativity were omitted. Although there were some vague references to creative thinking skills, for example, there was no clear link to the model. This meant that although there was a general framework for approaching creative thinking, there wasn’t a specific guide on how to actively develop it. Some of the four Ps of creativity (Person, Product, Process and Press) are alluded to, but not all are covered consistently, which made it feel like the content was a little patchy.

Seelig says herself that she came up with the model after writing the main content of the book, and unfortunately that is the way it feels as you read the book. It feels as if the model is an after-thought, as if it is somewhat forced on the content, and it isn’t always a comfortable fit. I would like to have seen the main content of the book more clearly linked to the model as the book progresses so that the connections and theoretical flow is clearer.

Having said that, if the book was designed to be an introduction to the field and merely to incite interest and motivation it achieved this purpose very well. The model that Seelig introduces is definitely useful, and I found that the structure of the model (which shows an intimate interrelationship between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ factors that impact creativity) quite fascinating. I was drawn to the book originally for this interesting integrated approach to the internal and external factors, and I will certainly draw from the model in my own work on how to build a constructive culture for creative thinking and innovation.

inGenius is a compact, accessible and easy-to-read book that would no doubt appeal to a broad audience, and particularly business people, who are interested to find out how creativity can apply in their lives and in their work. For the more learned reader in the field, there are still plenty of useful ideas and anecdotes that should inspire thoughtful reflection and motivation for action. The book is a valuable addition to the literature.

 Seelig, T. (2012). inGenius: A crash course on creativity. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

About Gaia Grant
Gaia Grant is the co-Founder and Managing Director of Tirian International, an organizational learning and development consultancy which specialises in organization innovation and transformation ( ). Gaia is also the author of a number of books (including Who Killed Creativity?... And How Can We Get It Back?; Seven essential strategies for making yourself, your team and your organization more innovative (Jossey Bass, 20120) ). She regularly contributes to international publications and has featured on international radio and TV and in several international news and business journals. Some of Gaia’s clients have included: BASF, Deutsche Bank, Four Seasons Hotels, Fuji Xerox, IFC World Bank, JP Morgan, Baker & McKenzie, Newmont Mining, Optus, and Visa.

**Looking for more books on creativity? Visit the ICSC Amazon Bookstore

Monday, May 19, 2014

Training Creative Teams

By Geoff Zoeckler
Innovation Consultant
SEEK Company

CFO asks CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”
        CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

I’d like to share a quick story of how a series of fateful events in 2013 led to personal transformation through global experiences, a shift in focus away from facilitation and into training, and the completion of my Creative Studies masters project on “Training Creative Teams”.

When I started as an Innovation Consultant at SEEK Company in Cincinnati, OH four years ago, I was the 25th employee. For a couple of years, the company stayed right around that number. A few people left. A few people joined. However, by the end of 2012, a new strategy plan was developed that would put a focus on office expansion and would require more employees. From that point, SEEK has opened offices in San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia. In just 18 months, SEEK grew from 25 employees to about 60. Such rapid growth and physical expansion quickly exposed gaps in our ability to internally explain what made SEEK unique, what programs we offered to our clients, and how to gain the skills necessary to execute within our brand.

SEEK’s leadership team was quick to see the issue, and in mid 2013, they began looking for someone to create an official training program. Around that same timing, I decided that I would begin working to complete my master’s degree in Creative Studies from Buffalo State University. Additionally, I was presented with an opportunity to partner with Design Impact in Cincinnati, OH and the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensborro, NC on a 6 month long training program in Mumbai, India called Global Citizen Leaders (GCL).

This perfect storm of events landed me in a new Training Manager position at SEEK for about 60 staff and co-leader of a Design Thinking training program for 50 faculty and 250 MBS students at the WE School and iFEEL University near Mumbai, India. I used this title wave of new experience and growth to propel me forward into my Master’s Project.

While this blog is not a great place to share all my key learnings (that’s what the Master’s Paper is for), I would like to share a little bit of what you will get from reading my full project using a series of videos, pictures, screenshots, and downloadable materials.

I will show you how to apply things I learned from experiences like these:

(Session 1 at the WE School)

(Session 2 at iFEEL)

and the creation of material like these:

(One page follow-up activities related to Creative Problem Solving, Empathy, Presentation Tips, Prototyping, and Visualization Techniques)

into a series of training principles,


team-based activities like Frenzy and Faceoff,


conference room practice activities like this,

AND the testing of online training like this.

Check out my Master's Project to dig in further. Specifically you will find a summary of resources, project outcomes, key findings, and next steps related to my four focus areas of:

1) Create Training Principles
2) Design Individual And Team Training Frameworks
3) Identify Or Create Physical Materials For Training
4) Prototype An Online Training Methodology

About Geoff Zoeckler

The social entrepreneur meets engineer, I am loving life focusing on the front-end innovation. I spend my days leveraging 10 creativity principles derived from psychology/ neuroscience to drive consumer empathy, personal brilliance, & landmark innovation with the SEEK Company.

Past adventures brought me through General Mills and Birds Eye Foods where I flexed my Chemical Engineer degree as a Senior Product Developer focusing on innovation pipelines. I get my kicks by solving problems and improving the culture of innovation within corporate walls. My unquenchable curiosity and zeal for life has led me to develop many personal and professional hobbies.

I'm currently pursuing a Masters in Creativity and Change Leadership (combination of in person and online work) up at Buffalo State.

I am also moonlighting as a Social Innovation Specialist with Design Impact co-leading an effort to coach, train, and facilitate leadership and creative problem solving approaches with 45 faculty and 250 masters students at the Wellinkar School of Management (WE School) in Mumbai and Lonavala India. Students will be using the skills taught to run industry and social innovation projects within their local communities. This project is in partnership with the world’s leading leadership and creativity training organization Center for Creative Leadership (CCL).

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Got Conflict? Again?!? CPS it, and Consider it Done.

By Robert Frantz
International Center for Studies in Creativity

So, there it is -- that BandAid® stuck to your knee, or arm or hand from a few days ago. They weren't lying on the package when they advertised that it would stick on for days. Now, it's time to remove it. How are you going to do that? Slowly? No, of course not, you are going to rip it off as quickly as possible!

We have been taught since early childhood to get painful things over with as quickly as possible. In fact, people who intentionally extend painful experiences are diagnosable with a particular psychosis.

Did you know that for most people conflict is neuro-physiologically processed by the human brain similarly to pain processing? Conflict, just like physical pain, causes an "away-reflex," so we try to resolve conflict in a single step to "get it over with" as quickly as possible, usually in just a single intervention. When that doesn't work -- when conflict returns or continues anyway -- our emotional response is amplified, typically including frustration, anger, and withdrawal.

My master's project, enticingly entitled Toolset for Visual Creative Conflict Management, (OK, I'll need a good marketing name before going mainstream with this) aimed to provide a toolset that transitions a user's handling of conflict from pain-reflex to rational thinking. Central to the project was a charting tool that allowed the user to plot the initial positions of the partisans (collaborate, sue, fight, ignore, run away, etc.), and then to see a number of degrees of separation between their initial positions.
By quantifying the separation between their starting positions, the user can see that a single intervention is not likely going to work, leading the user to be able to plan a multi-step resolution. And, by using a Thinking Skills Model Creative Problem Solving (TSM-CPS) Tool Card, the user can find new "sparkly" ideas to move beyond steps when stuck, while avoiding re-trying things that won't work (again).

But wait, there's more if you order in the next 60 seconds! We'll throw in a set of Tool Cards, each of which helps the user gain insight into the situation, the partisans' motivations, and how to overcome biases and prejudices. For example, got a user who has strong biases? Use the DÄ…browski Theory of Positive Disintegration Tool Card to find a way to reframe the issues at hand. Or, having trouble coming up with a plan that all parties will agree to? Try the Maslow's Hierarchy Tool Card to understand if each partisan is more interested in a short term, mid-term, or long term plan. Having trouble getting the parties to move beyond the status quo? Consider using a personality type Tool Card such as a Keirsey Temperament, Enneatype, or MBTI analysis to see what may be holding each party in place. Think you have everyone in agreement just to discover there is someone else who has influence in the conflict? Use the Web of Parties Tool Card to fully explore the full range of first, second and third parties in the conflict, especially to identify the spoilers, and to find possible helpful outsiders to recruit to the effort.

What if your conflict is intractable? You know, the kind of conflict that goes on and on and on because the partisans absolutely refuse to change or accommodate each other? The new Toolset works even on intractable conflicts because CPS is best when used on really difficult problems which defy normal solution processes.

In fact, if you keep going over and over the same conflict solution ideas but nothing looks promising (e.g., problem fixation), and if everyone involved knows too much to be of any real help (e.g., excessive domain knowledge), CPS provides a way to break out of the paralysis analysis loop and to bring in fresh outside ideas.

Many creativity all-stars have written about using creativity to solve conflicts, including Howard Gardner, Dean Simonton, and Howard Gruber. Even Aristotle contributed to theories of persuasion, which comes in handy for getting people to agree to stuff. Ideas yielded by CPS often are new and ownership-free, so the conflicting parties may attach mutual ownership to the solution, and you'll get a natural level of support and desire to make the solutions work among all the parties. Mutually-acceptable conflict solutions need much less enforcement effort, such as police, courts, referees, etc., because all parties are willingly engaged to support and sustain them.

Using CPS, conflict resolution facilitators stay out of the actual argument and let the partisans generate their own new ideas. Even a novice or incidental conflict manager can confidently facilitate ideation and implementation among the parties in conflict without needing to be an expert in the issues and, more importantly, without having to take sides in the conflict! And, by being a third-sider who is uninvolved in the conflict, a CPS-empowered conflict manager gains the advantage of being perceived as neutral among the parties, a key element towards persuasiveness.

Persistent, everyday low-level conflict can be reduced using CPS. By handling smaller, everyday (little-c) conflicts early and consistently, perhaps some of the larger (Big-C) conflicts will never happen. To find out more about my project, please feel free to contact and you can access the paper here:

About the author: 

Robert Frantz is an electronic design engineer, patented inventor, registered patent agent, and a recent graduate of the program in creativity studies at Buffalo State (SUNY). His focus is on innovation, persuasion, and conflict transformation using creativity. He can be reached at and

photo attribution: Chris Morin, "hurt teddy," December 8, 2009, from, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license at

Monday, May 12, 2014

What's Stopping You?

By Bethany Dunfee Pierce
Graduate Student
International Center for Studies in Creativity

Each of us has a creative potential we were created to fulfill. Do you know what yours is? Do you know how to get there? Have you found your path? Are you on your journey toward greater personal and inspired fulfillment now?

One of my greatest quests in life is to help people explore, discover and reach their own creative potential. It does not matter what subject or category this creative potential is labeled under whether it be a painter, sculptor, athlete, actor, musician, engineer, chef, communicator, dancer, mathematician, economist, educator, politician, scientist, or scholar of human nature. Each of us has the capacity to shine in some area or another. Yet, sometimes there are things in our worlds that cause us pause and make us unable to release the light that is inside us. Sometimes those hindrances can grow to cause that pause to become an outright, all-encompassing halt. Sometimes those things are external, sometimes internal. Whichever, they are very real and oftentimes limit us from experiencing the incredible joy, happiness and abundance that is possible in a life lived in realization of actualizing our purpose.

My Master’s project looks at some of those blocks on a very personal level. In order to support others I found I needed to first put myself back on track to fulfilling my own creative potential. To do this, after many years of being an art teacher I embarked on the journey of becoming a practicing artist by doing this project, specifically focusing on using painting and drawing for emotional healing. By further developing my painting and drawing skills and specific affective skills related to creativity such as mindfulness and being aware of emotions, I was able to explore how the creative process of art making combined with Creative Problem Solving can bring about emotional healing. The empowering nature of exploring and using the creative process also brings about a confidence that further enables us to risk living the life we are meant to live. I was able to experience this confidence, apply it to my own life and to share the process with others.

My outcomes for this project are varied. I discovered that my personal creative process often begins with writing. Organizing my thoughts and emotions on the page, finding words to label them and categorize them are processes that I associate with operational functions of the left hemisphere of the brain. Traditionally the right side of the brain is associated with more creative endeavors, so using more analytical functions in my creative process was an unanticipated discovery. To honor this, I used a journal/sketchbook to monitor my progress and created an online blog to share my progress with others. Additional outcomes of this project include a small series of acrylic paintings, which chronicle my use of a simple mantra to get over a significant creative block.

Some of my key learnings reinforce what has been taught through the literature and current trends on creativity. For instance, I mindfully became aware how even the idea that someone might be judging my work could stop the flow of creativity completely within me. Removing judgment, both one’s own and other people, can allow the fledgling sparks of ideas to catch hold and ignite a greater fire of creative currents. In my project I describe how I was able to do this.

I studied the work of Shaun McNiff (1998 and 2004), Dr. Brene Brown (2010) and others and directly applied and experienced the transformative power art making has on the human psyche. Through strong, constant mindful practice and mindful behavior I was able to honor and acknowledge the emotions I was feeling around events that happened in my daily life throughout the course of approximately five months. Creating artwork in response to those emotions enabled those emotions to be released from me whereupon true honest healing could and did take place. Some of these experiences and the artwork that resulted are described in my paper.

Using Creative Problem Solving during my creative process of art making I discovered parallels among the stages of CPS and the art making process. I realized that many of the artworks I created were made out of employing many of the affective skills of the CPS process. In turn, my CPS process skills were developed more clearly and comprehensively. Still, greater discoveries, which may warrant more study, include the fact that the varied purposes of making art can be tapped to achieve greater clarity to solve open ended problems harkening toward recognizing, visualizing and reflecting upon immediately experienced emotional states.

This project chronicles a very personal journey. But it is from the experience of that journey that perhaps others can gain inspiration or guidance or even just reassurance that it is possible to risk walking the path of creative fulfillment. I invite you to dream, to seek, to explore, to creatively solve whatever barrier or problem is in your way of living that life you imagine. Your path awaits. Start…. Now.

To view works for this project on Bethany's blog please visit:

To read Bethany's full Master’s Project you can download it from Digital Commons at:

Bethany's website:


Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, Minn: Hazelden.
McNiff, S. (1998). Trust the process: An artist's guide to letting go. Boston: Shambhala.
McNiff, S. (2004). Art heals: How creativity cures the soul. Boston: Shambhala.