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.

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