Saturday, December 12, 2015

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership

A book review by: Nicholas Drayton
Buffalo State College

In our journey through the world of Creativity and Change Leadership, we discover that creativity can be taught, and that in a group setting, good facilitation skills are an essential aspect of effective creativity and creative problem -solving. Similarly we learn that the setting can also be equally important for unleashing individuals’ creative potentials. These two essential elements of leadership and environment form the basis of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership. Marcy Levy Shankman and her colleagues have put together a well laid-out descriptive examination of the attributes of an Emotionally Intelligent leader in group settings. Beyond the examination of the characteristics necessary for creative change leadership, the authors also provide a treasure trove of reflective questions that stimulate the reader to assess their own Emotional Intelligence capacities, along with recommendations on how one might improve those aspects in need of attention. Emotionally Intelligent Leadership, if ‘used as directed’ is a powerful book that will produce personal growth and development with regard to one’s change leadership capacity.

The concept of Emotional Intelligence has been around since the early 1990’s. Shankman and her colleagues take our understanding and application of the principles of Emotional Intelligence (EI) to a level that makes it accessible to students and laypersons alike. The book introduces the three facets of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: Consciousness of self; Consciousness of Others; and Consciousness of Context. These three facets of EI are further broken down by chapter into nineteen Leadership Capacities or capabilities that are inherent within the three facets.

The authors use a unique style of combining analogies with real-life examples, and quotes from professionals and students in a wide range of fields of expertise, to create vivid illustrations of these Leadership Capacities. This format helps to make the book an easy read. At the same time, they also include at the end of each chapter a series of Reflection Questions that encourage the reader to dig deeper, conduct evaluations of themselves with regard to the various capacities, and to consider ways in which they might enhance each Leadership Capacity within themselves. A wealth of references to additional studies on each Leadership Capacity is also included at the end of its respective chapter.

There are a number of recurring themes throughout the book. The authors make it clear for example, that a leader is not defined by his or her official title or hierarchical position in a group, but by the individual’s ability to effect positive change within the group. They also emphasize repeatedly that while Emotionally Intelligent Leadership can be taught and learned, it is not a one-time teaching/learning event. On the contrary, it requires much practice and ongoing work. This was perhaps one of the more surprising revelations to me. The clear challenge of the book to all of its readers is to step out of our comfort zones in order to become more effective leaders of creative change. Another consistent theme is the complexity and dynamic nature of groups and organizations. What works in one group or for one organization may not work in another. In this light it emphasizes that assessing the context within which the group functions is also of extreme importance. The book ends by providing some suggestions for developing one’s Emotionally Intelligent Leadership skills.

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership gave me pause to consider my place on the EQ scale, with regard to the various capacities. It stimulated a great deal of soul searching and reflection through new lenses on past and current incidents and relationships in my professional life. Specifically in one instance, I had to ask myself, how Authentic (Chapter 5) am I. Authenticity is defined as the consistency between an individual’s values and his or her actions. It speaks for example, to having the courage to take an unpopular stand for something in which you strongly believe. I also was prompted to evaluate my Flexibility (Chapter 7): What does my professional track record say about my ease with being responsive to feedback from others that indicate a need to change a structure or a function? How have I dealt with the need to make adjustments in reaction to changing conditions either internally or external to my group?
Under the facet of Consciousness of others, the authors acknowledge that Inspiring Others is no easy task: “Energizing others is difficult work for a few basic reasons. First, you may not see yourself as inspirational, yet as a leader, you are expected to generate energy, excitement and commitment.….” (p. 130). They also recognized that energizing others can take a lot of energy out of you, especially when we consider that different individuals are motivated in different ways, and to be effective, “….we need to spend time developing relationships with others so that we know what matters to them.” (p. 131).

Under the facet of Consciousness of Context, I was intrigued by the similarity of the authors’ perspective to George Land’s (1986) “Grow or Die” model. They in fact use Ecology as a metaphor to illustrate the susceptibility of an organism or organization to external factors, if these factors are not recognized and managed appropriately. “When environmental conditions significantly change, an organism (either the tree or the organization) will either die or adapt if it is going to survive” (p. 228).

One of the shortcomings of this book, in my mind, is its failure to address the issue of how to build –or rebuild- a team from its state of brokenness? It assumes largely that one is starting from a position of construction as opposed to repair. It speaks repetitively about relationship building, for example, but does not address the issue of relationship repair. How does an EI Leader, for example, begin the healing process in an inherited team that has suffered great damage at the hands of a former leader who possessed very little emotional intelligence?

Notwithstanding, Emotionally Intelligent Leadership is more than a descriptive analysis of the concept. It is also much more than the scholarly textbook it was intended to be. It is a handbook for any leader who truly desires to create and sustain an environment that will foster optimum creativity, and positive change. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is serious about being a catalyst for change leadership.

Shankman, M. L., Allen, S. J., & Haber-Curran, P. (2015). Emotionally intelligent leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Non-fiction.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Hungry Mind: The Origins of Curiosity in Childhood

A book review by: Lina Pugsley
Buffalo State College

Have you ever wondered why some people grow up believing they are creative and others do not? This topic (creativity and childhood) occupies much of my thinking and is what drew me to study creativity. Interestingly, author Susan Engel’s recently published book The Hungry Mind explores that very same line of questioning, only her focus is on curiosity and the origins of curiosity in childhood. In fact, at the end of the first chapter she states: “This book is about why some children remain curious and others do not, and how we can encourage more curiosity in everyone.” When I read this I literally wrote in my book: “how I feel about creativity!! Woo hoo!”

Based on over a decade of research and what Engel calls her obsession over children’s curiosity, this book provides an incredibly thorough and thought provoking study of curiosity’s origins in infancy, how it develops and changes and how we might encourage curiosity in school settings. Engel argues that curiosity begins as a robust characteristic, inherent in all normally developing babies, but that it becomes more fragile and hard to find at all by the time children are in elementary school. 

“It is between the ages of three and eleven that children seem to either develop an appetite for knowledge and the habit of inquiry, or they don’t.”
By tracing the development of curiosity, the author constructs an empirically compelling story of how it develops, particularly during the first twelve years of life and how parents, schools, and other children shape a child’s curiosity. This book aims to engage the reader, appealing to parents, educators, psychologists and anyone interested in the topic by encouraging them: 

1) To think about their own curiosity, 

2) To understand how curiosity develops, and

3) To gain conviction that curiosity can and should be central to classroom learning.

Engel draws on over a century of research and developmental theories dating back from the early 1900s right up until today citing the work of Darwin, Piaget, Duckworth, Dewey, Vygotsky, and Gopnik, to name a few. Of particular interest to me are the nuances of parenting that have a profound impact on the psychological development of babies and children. For instance, the signals children receive from parents (often unknowingly) that indicate they can or can’t or should or shouldn’t explore objects; the importance of modeling; and the fact that children watch and learn from adult behavior. When parents give their children some freedom to wander, explore, and tinker it makes a difference versus when parents express fear or disapproval of inquiry. These are some examples of how curiosity might be nourished or squelched at home. Just as children are largely impacted by home life, the same is true at school – which is a big part of the conversation of this book.

The story of Charles Darwin’s large appetite for investigations and his parents’ encouragement to explore, investigate and pursue his interests provides the perfect segue into examining what happens when a happily curious young child goes to school. Engel asks: “Do children bring their curiosity, and its tools, to school with them?” Recognizing that this is a difficult area of study to accurately measure, Engel devised a study with kindergarten and fifth grade students to measure three types of behavior as episodes of curiosity: questions, intent and direct gazing, and manipulating objects. While the data did not support the conclusion that children are less curious by the time they are in kindergarten and even less so by the end of grade school, it uncovered the discovery that little curiosity exists in grade school. This conclusion was confirmed by the work of Tizard and Hughes whom fitted preschoolers with tape recorders to learn how many questions they asked at home with their parents versus when at preschool. On average, preschoolers they studied asked twenty-six questions per hour at home, and only two per hour when the children were in school. Why is this?

Engel provides an impressive scientific dissection of the various aspects that affect curiosity. For example, she identifies the gap in the research examining how teachers’ own habits and dispositions influence the children they teach. A kindergarten teacher’s response to a child’s question can either encourage or discourage further curiosity. For instance, the teacher that discourages questions from students in order to keep the class on task discourages inquiry, whereas the teacher that acknowledges the student’s exploration and responds with a question to consider before moving on encourages inquiry. The difference between the responses of the two teachers will help shape the inquiry that will or will not unfold within each respective classroom. In addition to raising awareness to unconscious habits, teachers are also encouraged to deliberately design educational activities to encourage curiosity and to use children’s curiosity to guide what and how to teach.

“Rather than disciplining children to learn, why not create the conditions in which children actually are hungry for knowledge?”
About three quarters of the way through the book, the content shifts to ways in which curiosity can be satiated (cleverly and appropriately, the hunger analogy is maintained throughout the book) including through the use of time and solitude, through storytelling, reading, and autonomy or freedom. These conditions can be extremely valuable to the development of inquiry and intrinsic motivation to support life-long learning. After all, studies show that curiosity is a potent ingredient in learning and that children learn better when their curiosity is piqued. 

This is a fascinating and very important book in the fields of psychology, education, creativity and human development. I enjoyed the blend of personal story telling, mixed with empirical research, mixed with scholarly theorists citing influences that contribute to what we know today about curiosity. To say that the breadth and depth of this book is robust is an understatement. Engel truly treats her reader as a hungry mind as she feeds study after study, data, stories, evidence, conclusions and suggestions. I believe that with more knowledge and awareness of the important role that parents and teachers play in allowing curiosity to flourish in children we can take steps to provide the conditions in which curiosity, like creativity, can be cultivated.

Lina Pugsley is a graduate student at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. She is an artist, mother, designer and former award-winning Art Director in the Digital Advertising world. Since becoming a mother, her passion shifted from producing innovative ideas for Fortune 500 companies to designing compelling creative opportunities to engage her two daughters. 

In the last 8 years, Lina has been researching and exploring ways to nurture creative skills and attitudes in children to promote creative confidence and resilience. She is the founder of Keeping Creativity Alive, an online resource for parents and teachers on ways to cultivate creativity in children starting in the early years.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book Review: Creativity, Inc.

A book review by: Peggy Barnwell
Buffalo State College


This book presents a non-fictional account of the humble beginnings of Pixar Animation Studios through the lens of it’s creator, and visionary, Ed Catmull. Printed in hardcover, the text is an autobiographical exploration into the barriers that hamper creative expression and the leadership necessary to produce an environment essential for creative output.

This is the riveting story of a partnership between Ed Catmull, John Lasseter and Steve Jobs that stresses the importance of understanding human interaction in order to “foster a creative culture that would continually ask questions … to find, develop, and support good people, (who) in turn will find, develop, and own good ideas.” 

This is a story that emphasizes the key role creative leadership plays in the development of an inspired culture that unleashes creative potential.


A computer scientist, Ed Catmull always dreamed of being a filmmaker and wanted to tell stories through moving cartoon pictures. However, early experimentation with flipbooks made it obvious that his talents did not lie with animated drawing. Undaunted, he was convinced he could make superior 3D animated films and set his efforts upon realizing that dream. There was one paramount concern; there currently wasn’t the technology that made 3D animation possible, he would have to invent it.

Beginning in 1972, Catmull spent 10 weeks making a short film of his left hand in digitalized fashion. In 1974, he was hired to run a start up business known as the New York Institute of Technology, whose mission was to “bring computers into the animation process.” Ed soon realized that funds to buy equipment and hire innovators in the world of computer animation weren’t enough to make good films and tell believable stories. 

In 1977, George Lucas approached Catmull to head up a department at Lucasfilms developing special effects for upcoming projects. It’s during his tenure that he began to realize his hierarchal management model was not the best way to motivate creative individuals. He started to adopt the viewpoint of George Lucas himself and began believing the managerial process should be about “moving toward something – of having not yet arrived”. He began to understand how tolerances for ambiguity and openness to new experiences were necessary for good creative leadership. 

Creativity, Inc. is not a story of innovation in computer animation and story-telling, rather it’s a culmination of experiences and managerial experiments that led Ed Catmull on a path of discovery, to truly understand the effectiveness of creative leadership.

In 1986 Lucasfilms was sold to Steve Jobs and renamed Pixar Image Computer, a software
development company that was allowed to dabble in computer animation. It wasn’t until a 3-picture deal with Disney was negotiated that Pixar realized their true core values. They were a creative company, “a culture of candour and freedom and the kind of constructive self-criticism that allowed our people, and the movies they made, to evolve into their best selves.”

One of the key principles Pixar depended on was, “trust the process…. Pixar was a place that gave artists running room, that gave directors control, that trusted its people to solve problems.” The climate fostered by Catmull, and his team, firmly supported the development of people. He believed that the creation of a safe environment allowed people to make mistakes and from most mistakes came great solutions and better direction. Pixar trusted that giving employees the freedom to make errors helped them interpret failure as “a manifestation of learning and exploration.” 

He encouraged practices such as Braintrusts, Randomness and Notes Days that supported honesty, candour, brainstorming and constructive criticism, bringing Pixar closer to greater insights that would lead to better ideas.

Pixar believed in the creation of spaces that steered employees into “accidental mingling”, random spaces where anyone could run into anyone and share ideas. “Steve understood that creativity wasn’t linear.” He believed that creativity was not a solidary endeavour and he made sure the plan of the new Pixar building of the early 2000’s, “was designed to encourage people to mingle, meet, and communicate…” He realized the importance of the creative climate and planned meeting rooms, theatres, game areas, and eating spaces to stimulate “cross trafficking”, producing better opportunities for improved flow of communication between employees. In addition, employees were urged to decorate their office spaces to reflect their individuality and creative core. 


Catmull takes the reader on a true adventure of creativity summarizing the key principles, and creative language, that has been foremost in our creativity studies. Mindfulness, authenticity, openness, self-awareness, freedom to make mistakes, creative climate, tolerance for ambiguity and complexity are common themes shared throughout the book. The illustrations offered by the author demonstrate how these principles can be woven into the managerial fabric of highly successful corporations, while staying true to the company’s original philosophies and ideals. 

Although the creative product produced by Pixar could be argued as living in the “Arts” world, it’s profits and public shares immortalize it in the world of finance and accountability to shareholders. This book is an excellent illustration of the practicality of creative leadership and how adopting core creative principles can lead to true innovation and profits.


Peggy Barnwell is currently an Advertising Professor with the Pilon School of Business at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario Canada with a strong interest in building creativity into the teaching curriculum, and highlighting CPS in practical business applications. She spent the early part of her career in the advertising industry developing marketing communications campaigns for a variety of private sector and non-profit clients. Peggy is also a member of the National Consumer Response Panel for Advertising Standards Canada and is currently completing her Masters Degree in Creativity at Buffalo State College. 


Catmull, E. (2014). Creativity, inc. Toronto, ON: Random House Canada

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book Review: Creating Innovators

A book review by: Beverly Zapatka Weihz 
Buffalo State College

In his book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Tony Wagner sets out to tackle the question so many are now asking, “How do we raise and educate the children who will take the United States forward as a viable contender in innovation?” In an age of high stakes testing based primarily on rote memorization, and very little creativity in classroom teaching due to the preparation for such tests, there is good reason to be concerned. Wagner seeks answers through a series of interviews with a variety of sources: established innovator Kirk Phelps, young STEM innovators, social innovators, parents, mentors and teachers of these innovators, and schools that are conscientiously trying to address the factors missing in most curriculums and classrooms. Through these interviews, themes begin to emerge; themes that certainly suggest what is working with the innovators featured and could work in creating new ones. Wagner concludes his findings in his final chapter, The Future of Innovation, followed by a call to action in his Epilogue: Letter to a Young Innovator. Wagner furthers the innovative theme by including video web links with each story. Readers get a deeper connection with the subjects of the book through short clips that help complete the picture through visual and audio technology.

Wagner begins his book by establishing the need for creating innovators in the United States. He cites examples of the decline in producing creative and innovative thinkers and discusses whether innovation can be taught and what elements are believed to strengthen innovative and creative thinking skills. He refers specifically to the work of Teresa Amabile of Harvard University, who lists three crucial elements in expanding the capacity for creativity or innovation: Expertise or knowledge, creative thinking skills and problem solving, and motivation. Wagner breaks motivation down into three parts: play, passion, and purpose, and proposes that it is how parents, teachers, mentors and employers encourage these three factors that make a difference in the lives of young innovators.

The bulk of Creating Innovators is spent on systematically interviewing young innovators, their parents, and their mentors or teachers, whom they named as making a difference. Wagner acknowledges that while most of these young innovators are what one would consider to be “gifted,” there is still much to be learned from their upbringings and experiences. First and foremost, the parents of those highlighted played a key role in their success, but not in the ways that one might expect. These parents did not overschedule their children and did not map out a perfect plan. Instead they acknowledged their children as individuals who have their own ideas and intrinsic interests. They encouraged and helped them to pursue these interests by providing learning opportunities outside of school when the school did not offer it and they were not hung up on grades or end results. They allowed their children to explore, play, and fail. Apple innovator, Kirk Phelps dropped out of school twice, once in high school and once in graduate school, both times with the support of his parents. They found that the schools were getting in the way of his learning: an unfortunate phenomenon that is also common amongst our featured innovators, except when a certain teacher or mentor made a difference.

Many of the featured innovators, in addition to having supportive parents, had a teacher or mentor who made a difference in their education and ultimate success. These teachers are outliers in their own right, both on the secondary high school level and in college, making choices that go against the prescribed way of teaching and focus, sometimes at a cost to the teacher. Like the parents, they understand the importance of allowing students to pursue their passions, to problem solve, to take risks, to experiment, to play, to fail and try again. They allow for students to make choices in their pursuits and to include a multitude of disciplines, making connections across curriculums. On the college level, these teachers acknowledge that because of their choices of student focus over research, they will never receive tenure. The educational systems whose primary purpose should be to produce the problem solvers of tomorrow are failing not only at this task, but also in seeing how some are actually succeeding. The teachers featured here get it: they know that their success and satisfaction is acknowledged through the students whose lives they inspire and change.

Wagner goes onto to discuss schools that are starting to implement change on a bigger level with a specific focus on Olin College in Needham, Massachusetts. Olin College is a small undergraduate engineering school that was created specifically to explore a different style of teaching and learning with a “more hands-on, multi-disciplinary approach that better supports the actual engineering practice.” The school places strong emphasis on collaboration, multi-disciplinary learning, creating things, intellectual risk taking, trial and error and student empowerment through intrinsic motivation and pursuit of passion. Olin College and the other schools mentioned serve as inspiring examples of the kind of teaching and learning we can aspire to.

Wagner ends essentially with a call to action, one that I as a parent and an educator, hear loud and clear. His book and research highlight and validate many of the same elements that I as a graduate student in the Creative Studies program at Buffalo State College have come to see as important in teaching for creativity and innovation. Although the book features essentially the lives and successes of “gifted” individuals, the information translates to teaching students of all abilities with specific attention to the motivation of these students by encouraging the pursuit of play, passion and purpose. The acknowledgement of the teachers, who made a difference in the lives of the featured innovators, as outliers, inspires for me a revolutionary approach; as if I am a member of a secret society of knowledge. And in fact, I am. Until the people who make the decisions see the value in this kind of teaching and learning, we are the revolutionaries and outliers. We must take the risks or we will continue to do things as they have always been done and nothing will, in fact, change.

About Beverly Zapatka Weihz: 
Beverly Zapatka Weihz is currently a student in Buffalo State College’s distance learning program, seeking her graduate degree in Creative Studies and Change Leadership. She lives on a small farm in northwestern New Jersey with her husband and children. She teaches art and media communications at Phillipsburg High School.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Motivation, Creativity & Fulfillment

By: Molly Holinger
Motivation, creativity, and fulfillment are inextricably interwoven phenomena, especially in our "age of abundance" (Pink, A Whole New Mind) where humans have both increasing freedom and demands to be creative. Much of what we know about the relationship between intrinsic motivation and creativity we owe to brilliant creativity researcher Teresa Amabile. Currently a professor of Business Administration and Director of Research at Harvard, Amabile essentially established (or at the very least invigorated) a social psychology of creativity, beginning with The Social Psychology of Creativity (1983), in which she researches the role of motivation in creativity. 

In The Social Psychology of Creativity, Amabile introduces her “intrinsic motivation principle of creativity”:
“Intrinsic motivation is conducive to creativity; controlling extrinsic motivation is detrimental to creativity, but informational enabling extrinsic motivation can be conducive, particularly if initial levels of intrinsic motivation are high."
To put her theory more simply, intrinsic motivation increases creativity and extrinsic motivation decreases creativity. 

It's hard to over-emphasize the importance of this finding: how we motivate ourselves and how others choose to motivate us (our bosses, our family members, etc.) determine how creative our responses will be. Amabile published this theory for the first time in 1983 and later updated her findings in the 1996 The Social Psychology of Creativity, later renamed Creativity in Context. This begs the question, if this theory has been around for more than thirty years, why haven't these ideas translated into our workforce? Daniel Pink, clearly aware of this gap between existing research and current practices, responded with his book Driverevisiting and rechampioning these themes introduced by Amabile decades ago. Pink theorizes that autonomy, purpose, and mastery lead to high intrinsic motivation and, in turn, highly creative and productive employees. 

Both Amabile and Pink specify contexts in which their overarching theories apply and contexts in which they do not. Foremost, these theories only hold true for heuristic (open-ended or creative) tasks. They assert, if not in the same words, that “Rewards do not undermine people’s intrinsic motivation for dull tasks because there is little or no intrinsic motivation to be undermined.” 

Another caveat for motivation is what Amabile calls, "informational enabling extrinsic motivation." According to Amabile, there are certain exceptions when it comes to extrinsic motivators, which is why she differentiates “controlling extrinsic motivation” and “enabling extrinsic motivation.” Here, Amabile identifies the situations that fall under the “enabling extrinsic motivation” category:
"There are a set of conditions under which reward might be expected to have positive (or at least neutral) effects on creativity… (a) the reward is not salient relative to self-perceived intrinsic motivation because the reward is very small, or cognitive distancing techniques are used, or the salience of intrinsic motivation has been increased; or (b) the degree to which the reward is perceived as more enabling than controlling (where enabling refers to the degree to which the reward of contract enables the individual to do something interesting or personally challenging) ; or (c) the reward is perceived as more informational about competence than controlling; or (d) the reward leads to positive affect in the absence of controlling implications (such as a “bonus” reward situation); or (e) the “reward is perceived as equitable compensation for one’s work in general (such as a person being paid a salary for one’s job) rather than as a reward for a particular task.”
Towards the end of her book, Amabile leaves the reader with an all-encompassing lesson. 
"Perhaps the most important point to be made about the intrinsic motivation principle is that it proposes the functional equivalence of many social factors which seem quite disparate. Expecting to be evaluated on task performance functions in the same way as having a choice of task engagement constrained, being watched while performing the task, receiving positive evaluations on previous work, contracting to receive an attractive reward for task performance, and being led to think about the intrinsic value of doing the task. Clearly, despite the superficial differences between these factors, their psychological impact appears to be the same." 
In other words, there is no single perfect combination of factors leading to maximized intrinsic engagement. Rather, these factors can be adjusted and recombined depending on which of the resources one has at their disposal. Lacking an empathetic boss?... Perhaps strive for greater autonomy. Intrinsic engagement is something we can control if we practice the art of combining the factors that produce it. 

Perhaps the strongest impression one receives from The Social Psychology of Creativity is the delicacy and complexity of motivation; the discussion is not intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation (where one type emerges as definitively superior) but rather which is appropriate and effective for the situation at hand.

While Amabile stands clearly in the realm of research, Pink becomes a bit more philosophical, adding fulfillment to the mix of the discussion on motivation.
“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.” 
While extrinsic motivation may have its purposes, intrinsic motivation and all that comes with it—challenge, purpose, creativity—clearly leads to a more fulfilling life. Pink leaves us with the following,
“While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it's a lousy one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night.” 

Amabile, T. (1996). Creativity in context: Update to the social psychology of creativity. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, Inc.

Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Penguin Group. 

Bio:  Molly Holinger is a graduate student and Graduate Assistant at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. Before coming to Buffalo, she co-taught Creativity, Innovation and Vision at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. With her colleagues at the University of Illinois, she co-authored the textbook Building Your Creative Toolbox.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Minimalism, Materialism & Creativity

“Money does not buy happiness,” we implicitly agree and explicitly enact to varying degrees. Psychological research has found this claim to be both true and false; a more accurate phrase would be, “Money doesn’t buy happiness... after a certain point.” According to research by Daniel Kahneman, behavioral economist (a term coined by Kahneman himself) and author of the fascinating Thinking Fast and Slow, happiness does increase as income increases but only up to an annual income of $75,000. In other words, below $75,000, income and happiness mutually increase and beyond $75,000 the correlation ceases to exist. 

In a sense, Kahneman’s threshold is a re-expression of Maslow’s seminal hierarchy of needs. Both Kahneman’s research and Maslow’s hierarchy function upon the correlation that as certain strains decrease, other, higher values flourish. In Kahneman’s research, as stress, worry, and feelings of sadness decrease (and income rises), positive affect increases. In Maslow’s theory, similarly, as our biological needs and our need for safety are met, we can then turn to pursuits such as self-actualization and creativity.

As mentioned, creativity sits atop Maslow’s pyramid, and comes into play only after basic needs have been met which, in certain respects, makes total sense. Take our environment, for instance, often the product of financial status. Many of us inherently sense that our environment deeply impacts how we feel and act, and there is plenty of research to support this: Natural settings decrease stress and refresh the mind; color, light and space affect productivity and emotion; clutter can both stimulate inspiration or reduce focus according to different studies. Environment has a huge effect on how and what we create, as well as affecting our emotions overall.

Creative individuals and companies understand the importance of a creative workspace, or a creative “oasis” as John Cleese calls it in his funny yet insightful and informative talk on creativity. Having the resources to cater to one’s creative preferences, whether that means practically or aesthetically, or both, can enhance creative work. Often cultivating ritualistic tendencies within their life structure, the creative person applies the same seriousness to refining an environment that nourishes these rituals. For instance, children’s author Maurice Sendak
“has a... working studio that contains a huge unit with flat pullout drawers in which he keeps sketches, reference materials, notes articles. He works on several projects at a time, and he likes to keep the overlapping materials out of sight when he’s tackling any one of them.”
It might be said, then, that money does buy creativity (or at least enhances it) when one has greater access and freedom in choosing and customizing a work environment.
Having the freedom and the means to secure a pleasing environment may, however, evade our reach regardless of salary. Perhaps we have no choice but to work out of a cubicle daily, or whether we work from home or in the office. On the other hand, those lucky enough to choose where they work can access a pleasing environment regardless of income with the growth of co-op spaces and the existence of wonderful public spaces.

Apart from low-cost creative spaces, financial security and creativity diverge in the case for simplicity and its ability to bolster rather than block one’s creativity. As Tharp states in her lovely book, The Creative Habit,
“Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources."
In other words, limits often help us be creative by providing a framework to innovate within. Without the means to accomplish something in a traditional manner, scarcity often necessitates creativity. Furthermore, a minimalist workspace has been shown to increase focus in certain studies.
“When your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information. Clutter makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.” 
Subscribing to the notion that “money does not buy happiness,” may be virtuous, but also a bit foolish. As demonstrated by Kahneman, money does buy happiness-- at least to an extent. Furthermore, minimalism and materialism are not necessarily exclusive values: after all, the minimalist must first be able to afford a space to assert their minimalist tendencies within.

John Cleese on Creativity

Bio:  Molly Holinger is a graduate student and Graduate Assistant at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. Before coming to Buffalo, she co-taught Creativity, Innovation and Vision at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. With her colleagues at the University of Illinois, she co-authored the textbook Building Your Creative Toolbox.