Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Creativity: The Diagnosis and the Cure

A literature review by: Julia Figliotti
Graduate Assistant
International Center for Studies in Creativity 

See the full article here


We're seeing more and more of it everyday: children and young teens being diagnosed with extreme mental disorders such as schizophrenia, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and bipolar disorder.  They start on one medication, and before you know it, they're taking five.  The negative side effects make themselves known, and more medications are added to counteract those.  It's a vicious cycle, but a necessary one.  Right?

Actually, we very well might be looking at this the wrong way.  Mahnaz Sadre and Linda J. Brock, in their article "Systems in Conflict: Labeling Youth Creativity as Mental Illness," provided us with a beautiful new perspective on mental disorders in children and teenagers.  According to them, "the characteristics of creative people... may overlap [with] some symptoms of mental illness" (p. 358), thereby causing misdiagnoses of mental disorders in our creative youth (and supporting the myth that one must be "mad" in order to be creative).

But how can this be?  You would think that clinicians and mental health professionals would have confronted the possibility of misdiagnosing years ago.  Yet according to Sadre and Brock, many professionals in the field of mental health simply see what they have been trained to see: they end up "misunderstanding the creative expression of children and adolescents as symptoms of mental illness" (p. 359), a mistake which often leads to treatment and results in negative physical, emotional, and mental results.

Traits versus Symptoms

The foundation of this article lies in the similarities between the traits of a creative mind and the symptoms of a mental disorder.  Sadre and Brock cited several creativity specialists and researchers in their conglomeration of characteristics of creative people.  The brief overview suggests that a creative person may be (p. 361):
attracted to the mysterious
defiant of conventions^
independent in judgment and thinking
disturbed by organization*

Now let's compare these characteristics to many of the symptoms of ADHD, as seen in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) IV (Sadre & Brock, p. 365):

easily frustrated
lacking concentration*

We can also compare the characteristics of creative people to many of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, as seen in the DSM-IV (Sadre & Brock, p. 365)

racing thoughts
mood swings
oppositional defiance^

It's amazing to see the similarities of characteristics and symptoms (denoted with * for ADHD and ^ for bipolar disorder) between creativity and these mental disorders.  Sadre and Brock, aware of the negative effects that treatments for mental disorders had on adolescents, decided to focus on diagnoses of creativity for young patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder and ADHD.  They gave three case examples to display the negative effects of misdiagnosing and the positive effects of creativity as a treatment.

Reversing Diagnoses using Creativity

Using five different case studies within the adolescent age range, Sadre and Brock introduced the horrors of youth misdiagnoses ("children as young as 3 years have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder" (p. 366)) and psychostimulant treatments.  One young man, diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 14, was able to use his interest in music to overcome his creative blocks and embrace his creative nature.  His diagnosis was ultimately removed by his psychiatrist, and he was weaned off of his two medications and graduated from high school with a sizeable scholarship to the college of his choice.

A pre-teen (diagnosed with bipolar disorder and epileptic seizures at age five) was able to channel her interest in drawing to help her overcome her dependence on medications.  She dropped four of her five prescriptions, staying only on the one that helped her control her seizures, and became more sociable.  She ultimately went on to work at a children's theater.

The cases go on - from a fifteen-year old boy diagnosed with bipolar who was weaned off of his medication after focusing his feelings on creative outlets such as poetry and painting, to an 8-year-old with an ADHD diagnosis who ultimately dropped four medications and learned to more productively channel his creativity and energy.  Sadre and Brock used these cases and others to exemplify how creativity can be misdiagnosed, and how a misdiagnosis can have extremely negative effects on young children and adolescents.  However, they also submit that, as seen in these cases, a misdiagnosis is not an irreversible error.  Children can (and do) bounce back into their creative states with the proper guidance and treatment.

It is true (as is usually the case in the field of creativity studies) that further research is needed to determine the truth behind the correlation of mental disorders and creativity in children and adolescents.  However, this study has paved the way to a more novel approach to the myth of madness.  Hopefully others will pick up where Sadre and Brock left off, and there will be fewer misdiagnoses in our creative youth.


Sadre, M. & Brock, L. J. (2008). Systems in conflict: Labeling youth creativity as mental illness. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 19(4), 358-378.

About Julia Figliotti

Julia is a current student in the Master's program at the International Center for Studies in Creativity.  Aside from working as a Graduate Assistant in the Creative Studies department and going to school full-time, Julia enjoys writing children's stories and short fiction.  She has a B.A. in Writing from SUNY Buffalo State and plans on completing her M.Sc. in Creativity in May 2014.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Keeping Creativity Alive

A book review by: Keri Marrs Barron
Graduate Student
International Center for Studies in Creativity

Could you imagine a childhood without playing outdoors? What if the television was the only spark given to your imagination? Creating images in clouds, dreaming of being rescued by a super hero or being the next president are all images that might not be created following this author's ten step process of destroying a child’s imagination.  Esolen, an English Professor from Providence College, writes the non-fiction book Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child, focusing on how our current society is destroying the imagination of our children.  Each chapter concentrates on one of the ten methods using major themes through our everyday society (the environment, machines, sex, heroes, patriotism, politics and man & woman).   After discussing the method of destruction, Esolen references examples of literary characters who would not be desired in this non-imaginative society.  Then he sarcastically implies this is the outcome our society desires.   Esolen reviews the nine other methods the same way: society, character, sarcasm.

One of Esolen’s methods of destruction is titled, “Keep your children indoors as much as possible" or "They used to call it ‘air’.”  The chapter documents how children are more interested in playing with video games, televisions, and even cell phones than exploring outside adventures, which provides little to spark the imagination.  Society has had a large impact on this method.  Now, more families have both parents working outside the home and the children are instructed to stay inside until a parent is home from work.  The day begins with school, where students are instructed to color in the lines, sit down, go to lunch at this time, do this and do that, all indoors.  After school they stay entertained by the technology boxes (phones, television, video games) until the parent gets home and then may run off to another conforming event (possibly soccer practice or band practice).  The child has no time for fresh air or to just observe the outdoors.

During the summer months the imagination is constrained even more as the technology box is the main focus of entertainment.  No school, just time on their own in a house, no outside time. The concept of being able to walk down to a park or to a hangout with friends and partake in some crazed adventure is taken away by a safety concern for the child.  When the opportunity arises to enjoy the outdoors, the child is not interested in being outdoors, as his stimulation is from the box and not from his imagination. One book and character that Esolen references by keeping our children indoors is Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Sawyer is a young boy who plays outdoors on the Mississippi River building his independence in discovering the outdoors and creating mischief, yet, he also develops his self reliance and confidence to explore and succeed in the world.  In keeping our children indoors we are defining the imagination by the box and sheltering the development of confidence and self worth rather than providing the opportunity to develop their own imagination comparative to Tom Sawyer.  

As a parent, I was sold by the title and wondered how this book could help me be more aware of the destruction we are causing to our own children’s imagination and creativity.  The book is profound but very true.  In trying to protect our children and educate them to be good students and citizens, we are trampling their creativity and imagination by teaching them to conform.  After I read the first method, I took my book, laptop and my kids to play outside to observe nature rather than our inner walls. 

A very well researched book, I was not expecting the author to have referenced examples throughout literature, from Chopin, Chesterton, and Lewis to the Holy Bible. Written by an English professor, I should have expected no different but I was a bit bored by the numerous literary references.  In all fairness to Esolen, I am an implementer (a preference in the Foursight® creative problem solving analysis). When I read an idea and have evidence, I am ready to move on to another topic, as opposed to reading several more references of characters we would be destroying.  As a parent and former educator, I was interested in any suggestions or solutions, to remedy the problem. Unfortunately, this book did not address solutions.  

My one imaginative takeaway could not have been better said by my three-year-old daughter when she left Sunday school: “He swallowed me whole, he swallowed me whole.”  I thought about what she said for a few minutes and realized even the Holy Bible utilizes the imagination; she was singing a song about Jonah being swallowed by the whale.  Ironically, Esolen’s final method references this same story of Jonah and the whale.  The more I thought about the imagination and creativity, the more I continued to wonder why as a society we are working so hard to conform and eliminate the imagination.  For many years, our most well known innovators such as Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, and Steve Jobs were known for their imagination not their conforming, so why are we so insistent on conforming?  Children need to know that if they think outside the box, or color outside the lines, they should not be penalized, rather encouraged for their creativity. Imagination can be restored and we do not need to read about negative topics like destruction of the imagination.


Esolen.A. (2010). Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child.  Wilmington, DE:  Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

About Keri Marrs Barron 

Keri Marrs Barron is a current student in the Master’s program at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State University.   She is a former administrator in Higher Education. Her positions ranged from the aspect of Student Services from recruiting, advising, teaching and directing Student Activities.  Her current full time position and hobbies are caring for her family and finishing her degree.  Marrs Barron resides in La Porte, Indiana with her husband, 3 sons and 1 daughter.    

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Getting to know "The Innovative Team"

A book review by: Adela Vangelisti
Graduate Student
International Center for Studies in Creativity

Do we really need another leadership book?  Many widely-read books have been written about the subject, ranging from New York Times Best Sellers like John C. Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (2007) to scholarly texts like Leadership: Theory and Practice, by Peter G. Northouse (2010).  Chris Grivas and Gerard J. Puccio wrote The Innovative Team (2012) because they believe that some authors approach the topic by giving too much weight to following rules and guidelines, and too little to nurturing our innate leader.  Thus, it is helpful to have several books covering the same territory with different perspectives.

The authors restore the balance by exploring, in detail, the activities of a fictional group. Using a breakthrough thinking process and a self-awareness framework the group deals not only with the client’s demands for innovation in their organization, but tackles today’s collaboration challenges when working in a team environment. The authors contend that, “the potential of any working group is defined by its members—not just individually but collectively” (p. 237).

The subtitle, “Unleashing creative potential for breakthrough results,” calls attention to another natural skill: creativity. The authors noted in the book’s foreword, “among many insights, one undeniable fact has emerged—creative thinking is a teachable and trainable skill” (p. xvi, foreword). Throughout The Innovative Team, Grivas and Puccio demonstrate a unique ability to describe the ways in which the science of creativity holds the key to organizational survival.

The biggest contribution of The Innovative Team is the effortless way in which Grivas & Puccio manage to bring the team of fictional characters to life. The authors place the team of Juan (senior business analyst), Elaine (business analyst), Damon (marketing analyst), Maya (associate business analyst), and Amy (data integration specialist) into a typical organization’s setting, with a writing style that is relatable to every reader. Unlike other books in the genre, which portray teams as experimental subjects utilized to describe confusing observations or complex theories, Grivas and Puccio depict them as real people, with real problems.

The Innovative Team begins as the team is informed by their senior partner, Tony, that their new team leader, Kate, who is in charge of the organization’s innovation efforts, has been assigned to work with the team on their biggest client’s account: Consolidated. Tony starts out by giving the team harsh feedback: “…what we’ve given her [Alicia, the senior VP at Consolidated] so far is nothing that another firm couldn’t have delivered for half the price” (p.16). The team members are surprised: they turned in their recommendation to the client on time, checked their usual sources, and wrote a comprehensive report.

Kate leads the team through the Consolidated challenge using deliberate processes and tools. Grivas and Puccio masterfully guide us through the sequence of the four-stage breakthrough thinking process that “simply puts names on the stages of innovation that we all do naturally” (p.47). We are also given a number of practical tools and concepts along the way to facilitate the journey. Of particular importance is the use of the FourSight framework (www.foursightonline.com), which transforms the team’s dynamics.

FourSight brings awareness to our individual strengths and challenges as we move through the breakthrough thinking process. Each individual in the group (including Kate) feels energized at one point in the process. The group must learn to not just focus on one particular stage when contributing, but to make an effort to work on all the stages to collaborate effectively. The team is very fortunate to have Maya among them who, according to FourSight, is an Integrator, or someone comfortable with all stages. Her all-encompassing preference helps to bridge the gaps between the other members.

Even though, Grivas and Puccio manage to effortlessly, shine a light on what team innovation looks like, the book is not perfect. The authors emphasize the physical characteristics of the individuals down to their dressing style, “…Tony Martin, the senior partner ….cut a handsome figure with his tanned complexion, graying temples, and designer suit” (p.16).  However, their personalities are not as extensively developed. Also, I understand the true purpose of describing their thinking styles as single faceted to illustrate the four FourSight preferences in their purest form. Yet, the pieces of the puzzle come together too quickly.

On the other hand, I give high marks to Grivas and Puccio for backing up the claims they make with well-researched, hard facts in the second half of the book. Using clear explanations and concise bullet points, the authors provide the reader with a common language to describe both the breakthrough thinking process and the FourSight framework for both discourse and application. Also, sprinkled throughout the book are signs of Grivas and Puccio’s passion to demystify creativity as “fantasy,” and to share the power of discovering some of your own solutions trough creative thinking.  Kudos!


Grivas, C., & Puccio, G. J. (2012). The innovative team: Unleashing creative potential for breakthrough results. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

About Adela Vangelisti

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Guide to "Transformative Scenario Planning"

A book review by: Eva Teruzzi
Product Marketing and Business Development
Fiera Milano

Published in 2012, Transformative Scenario Planning: Working together to change the future is a non-fiction book that can greatly benefit anyone interested in designing and facilitating multi-stakeholder change in “stuck” contexts, especially political and social ones. The narrative approach chosen by Adam Kahane makes the readers dive into a powerful storytelling experience, where methodological learning is combined with a vivid narration of actual projects.

One doesn’t need to be a scenario expert to understand the evolution Kahane brings about in this book. While scenarios are created as “objective” stories - to be used by management for strategic planning purposes - Kahane posits that scenario creators can be “passionate” change makers at the same time.
Creativity and change professionals will find many familiar concepts embedded in a practical guide coming from the life-long experience of Adam Kahane.  Kahane is a scenario expert who worked for 20 years as head of Scenario at Royal Dutch Shell, and, for about the same time, as transformative scenario facilitator at international level.

The book is organized around 9 chapters addressing transformative scenario planning insights, process, tools and tips.

In chapters 1 and 2 Kahane reminds us that “necessity can be the mother of creativity,” while telling us how he created his methodology, and what differentiates it from traditional scenario planning. It all started in the ’90s while he was helping South Africa transit from Apartheid to the Mandela's era.

In chapters 3 to 7 he presents his five-step transformative process. Creating the team - chapter 3 - is a key step: in fact, 50% of Kahane’s projects failed during the multi-stakeholder team creation step. The approach will sound somewhat familiar to the creativity expert: (i) to create mutual understanding we must “suspend assumptions,” and (ii) creative change projects are  “emergent” and arise from iterated conversations.  

Chapter 4 is about “building up a rough shared understanding of what is happening in the system by enabling more people to see more of the whole.” Specifically, we must look for driving forces and say things that, if impacted even by a small change, can produce major changes in the system variables. According to Kahane, we must  “breath in” current reality by freeing  ourselves “from prejudice and old perceptions,” then we must “let new perceptions cook,” and finally, we must “draw conclusions about what to do next.” Creative Problem Solving experts will see some connections  with their methodology, and also some tools to consider, e.g. (i) asking team members to bring a physical object, to metaphorically address their understanding of the situation; and (ii) making the team do a “learning journey” in order to discover something useful they didn’t know.

Once the team has its driving forces, it can start working on creating stories about “plausible futures” (chapter 5). Stories must be “relevant, challenging, plausible and clear,” and  can be generated “deductively or inductively.” The deductive approach produces “adaptive” scenarios. Instead, the inductive approach produces “creative” scenarios, applying creativity tools such as brainstorming and clustering.  Kahane provides also some tips for effective scenario communication, such as to “choose names for the scenarios” that provide metaphorical power, and to document them so that they can be easily understood and remembered.

Chapter 6 introduces the key discontinuities with traditional scenarios: how teams can make sense of stories and identify what they can and must do in the future. Much of this step resonates with chapter 3 content.

In chapter 7, Kahane provides examples of actions taken in his projects “to multiply a new way of working,” while in chapters 8 and 9 he reminds us that only “new stories can generate new realities,”  which, eventually, “can mutate into myths,” thus giving us more courage to act.

I found the book easy to read and dense at the same time. More reflections on how to prevent projects from failing during the team creation phase, and how to make the process work in corporate environments, would have been beneficial.

I think Transformative Scenario Planning methodology can be effectively used together with CPS, especially in the Clarification and Transformation phases, as it provides add-on tools and insights – e.g. how to create mutual understanding, identify and select challenges, and create the vision.  I also think that Kahane would benefit from CPS knowledge to make his implementation step  more robust – e.g. with tools for exploring acceptance.

Kahane’s book effectively turns scenario planning into a tool for enacting change in “stuck situations.”  In doing so, he reminds us about the need of suspending judgment and the importance of storytelling in fostering shared understanding,  collaboration and creativity. One of Kahane’s greatest insights in the book is the recognition of the power  of “pattern interrupting practices…of non-working periods” as highly creative and productive moments.  This book reminds us that the “future cannot be calculated or controlled, yet, it can be investigated and [creatively] influenced." A call for creative action!


Kahane, A. (2012). Transformative scenario planning: Working together to change the future. San
Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

About Eva Teruzzi

Eva has worked in high-tech and service companies, and experienced the challenge of being a professional, a manager and an entrepreneur for almost 30 years. As a result, she has grown a sound understanding of how to make things happen in organizations. 

Today, she is in Product Marketing and Business Development at Fiera Milano, Italy.
Her core competence is change management, which she sees as an overarching competence, necessary for being proficient in almost anything. 
She holds an M.A. in French and English literature and languages, is a certified coach with I.C.F. and is currently  enrolled in the M.Sc. in Creativity at SUNY, Buffalo, NY.