Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Kinesthetic Creativity

A Master's Project By: Adela Vangelisti
Graduate Student
International Center for Studies in Creativity
Buffalo State College

I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t experience great joy expressing myself through movement. There was (and still is) nothing in the world I would rather do than dance. Throughout the years dance gave me a voice, and ballet shaped my character. Unfortunately, not all individuals are given the opportunity to be movers. Even though movement is as natural to humans as breathing, passivity starts early in schools. We are taught to sit still and in silence for long periods of time. By the time we reach adulthood and enter the workforce, we have almost forgotten our sense of embodiment. This lack of movement is counter-productive, not only to learning but to the development of creativity as well.

I entered into the Master’s program at the International Center for the Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College searching for a way to enrich my self-expression beyond what I developed inside the ballet studio. I was looking to incorporate my creativity into a bigger picture. By the end of the program I became a creativity nurturer as well as a creativity doer.

Creativity, as it turns out, is not just for the artistic, it lives and thrives among people of all métiers. Body movement is also an innate human trait that operates at a pre-linguistic level; it is a type of visceral intelligence capable of advancing our creativity. Understanding through movement unleashes the unlimited creativity of our senses. Furthermore, creativity is, by definition, physical and pragmatic, because it utilizes thinking in a unique way that closely resembles action.

During my time in the program I was introduced to the Creative Problem Solving (CPS) process. I was exhilarated to learn that there was a systematic way to capture and nurture our innate creativity. Furthermore, there was no reason why we couldn’t achieve brilliance on a regular basis following the four stages and guidelines of this process. However, the connection between movement and CPS came to fruition later as I began to explore this project.

At each stage of the process there is a variety of tools that facilitates our understanding. For instance, during brainstorming in the Ideation stage images are utilized to motivate connections and engage our visual sense. We are also encouraged to take guided mental excursions engaging our auditory sense. However, there is no tool that involves our proprioception sense and kinesthetic learning style. Thus, connecting my movement experience with CPS was the next logical step. For my Master’s Project, I designed a tool to recapture the joy and playfulness of movement. Furthermore, the tool seeks to improve kinesthetic intelligence and build a bridge between movement and creativity.

Throughout the investigation for the project I combined academic research on embodiment, metaphors, gestures, movement languages, ballroom dancing patterns, and children games. I conceptualized, laid out; prototyped, experimented, and evaluated a set of facilitator’s direction cards and participants mats, videotaping the final effort. Following are a few samples, to read the project in its entirety go to and to watch my video go to!

Drawing upon research and my own experience, I suggested in my project that the body has a mind of its own and that movement is one of human beings’ most vital and adaptive traits. Understanding how the brain, body, and senses work together, we can establish and strengthen our neural connections and nurture them to perform better. In addition, I proposed that creativity is a form of problem solving that differs from traditional analytic thinking, and, thus, it benefits greatly from innovative tools that are multimodal.

My hope is that my Master Project helps to clarify aspects about the often-misunderstood art of dance, shatters the myth that learning through movement is childish, awkward, and unnecessary, and brings awareness about the least understood sense (sixth/kinesthetic) to a wider audience.
Read the entire Master’s project paper in the ICSC Digital Commons

A recent graduate from the M.S. program, in creativity and change leadership at the International Center for Creative Studies at Buffalo State College, Adela is a native of México City and a former ballerina and fashion editor. Adela’s diversified background provides her with a unique understanding of the issues impacting corporate as well as educational organizations in the 21st century. She is certified as a Strategic Play LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY™, Creative Problem Solving (CPS), Neuro Design Engineer, as well as Technology of Participation facilitator. She is fluent in Spanish.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Quick and Nimble: Lessons From Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation

A book review by: Courtney Zwart
Buffalo State College


Introduction and Link to Creativity

Do you wish that you could pick the brains of leading CEOs on how to create a culture of innovation within your organization?  If so, then journalist Adam Bryant’s non-fiction book, “Quick and Nimble:  Lessons From Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation” is just the resource you are looking for.  If the name Adam Bryant sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the author of the New York Times’ weekly feature, “The Corner Office,” which provides highlights from discussions with today’s leaders about both leadership and management.

Drawing from discussions with more than 200 CEOs occurring between March 2009 and May 2013, Bryant distills their insights regarding essential ingredients of an effective corporate culture as well as leadership strategies for cultivating and sustaining innovation in organizations.  A journalist, not scholarly researcher, Bryant’s book represents a qualitative approach to identifying and understanding these ingredients.  

With this book, Bryant dives headfirst into one of the primary influences on creativity – the environment in which creativity operates.  Grounded in actual experiences – stories by CEOs – his book provides “practical tips and insights that would be useful and relevant for any organization” trying to build a culture of innovation and drive growth.  This work is an excellent complement to studies and assessments of optimal environments for creativity by researchers such a Teresa Amabile and Goran Ekvall.


The book is organized into two parts.  Part I, “Setting the Foundation,” delves into the necessary elements of an effective culture.  Part II, “Taking Leadership to the Next Level,” offers leadership strategies (that build on this foundation) to cultivate and embed innovation.

Elements detailed in Part I range from the high-level to the tactical.  The first, and perhaps most important chapter in the book, explores why culture matters: “A successful culture is like a greenhouse where people and ideas can flourish—where everybody in the organization, regardless of rank or role, feels encouraged to speak frankly and openly and is rewarded for sharing ideas about new products, more efficient processes, and better ways to serve customers.”  The last chapter in Part I discusses a much more tactical element, the hazards of e-mail, and offers that email “does nothing to build the connective links among people that foster a sense of teamwork, and you need teamwork to innovate.” 

Other chapters in Part I explore elements related to the importance of a simple plan (no more than three measurable goals), values and their adherence (enforce them with a zero-tolerance policy), culture of respect, trust within the team and timely and instructive feedback.  The latter is especially critical as Bryant advises, “these conversations can uncork energy that is otherwise bottled up because people are reluctant to say what’s really on their minds.”

Leadership strategies detailed in Part II offer ways that organizations can build on the foundation established in Part I.  These include strategies related to communication, management, learning and fun.  Communication-related strategies include elements such as consistent (and frequent – there is no such thing as over-communication) communication of the organization’s vision and goals by the leader and encouragement of feedback, in all directions, to surface problems.  Management-related strategies include management training (especially on emotional intelligence), how to run a smarter meeting (hint:  it lies in having an agenda and being clear about decision makers) and actions to be taken to break down silos within organizations.  “Learning” is a key strategy, as, Bryant articulates, “creating an environment of continuing education” will help retain the brightest employees.  Finally, pursuing strategies that promote playfulness are critical, Bryant advises us, because “there’s nothing like some good, honest fun and a few shared laughs to bring people together and provide some glue for the team.”  Strategies on this topic offered by CEOs include pajama days and Disco Friday (breaks during which people dance in the hall).

Reaction and Ideas

What Bryant has assembled is a highly instructive treasure trove of elements that leaders have incorporated into their organizations to help cultivate and sustain creativity and innovation.  And, he has done so in an engaging way – the stories told by CEOs are powerful and detail live application of strategies.  However, every organization is different, so the readers should take caution not to try to apply strategies outright, but to customize them for their organizations.

The book reinforces my belief and experience that the environment, especially the psychological environment in which the creative operates, is one of the biggest drivers of both creativity and innovation.  It also echoes my thinking about the critical role leaders play in deliberately cultivating and sustaining supportive environments, especially as it relates to establishing trust and respect and working as one team.  In my professional life, I have seen the negative impact on creativity and innovation that occurs when these elements are absent and, going forward, I will champion their prioritization.

Where the book falls short of expectations for me is in the lack of connection of these strategies to actual business results related to creativity and innovation.  As a follow on, or follow up, it would be great to see Bryant elicit and summarize measurable impacts of these strategies.  Additionally, Bryant doesn’t provide commentary on key environmental dimensions known to positively impact creativity and innovation in organizations, such as diverse work teams and having autonomy over how one completes one’s work.  It is widely accepted that we learn through story and it would be valuable to include CEO tales on these dimensions.  If Adam Bryant is listening, perhaps this just provided him fodder for a sequel to this important and timely book.

Amabile, T. M., Conti, R., Coon, H., Lazenby, J., & Herron, M. (1996). Assessing the work
environment for creativity. The Academy of Management Journal, 39(5), 1154-1184.

Bryant, A. (2014). Quick and nimble: Lessons from leading CEOs on how to create a culture of innovation. New York, NY:  Times Books.

Ekvall, G. (1996). Organizational climate for creativity and innovation. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 5(1), 105-123.

About Courtney Zwart:
A seasoned innovator with a passion for creativity, Courtney has spent most of her career creating, developing and implementing novel solutions to business problems.  She has held senior level positions in innovation and new product development at both J.P. Morgan Chase and Citibank and currently consults with individuals and organizations on applying creative problem solving processes to business challenges and goals.

Courtney has facilitated creative problem solving sessions, and delivered workshops on deliberate creativity, at Fortune 500 companies including Citibank, HSBC, CVS Caremark Corporation and Loews Corporation. She also instructs on creativity at colleges in the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

She received an MBA in Marketing from Vanderbilt University and a BA from the University of Virginia. She holds certificates in Design Thinking from both the Darden School of Business and the Creative Problem Solving Institute.  She also holds a Master of Science degree in Creativity, Creative Problem Solving and Change Leadership from the internationally recognized Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State.  She can be reached at

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

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book Review

A book review by: Vivian Geffen
Buffalo State College


Strategy is a popular word, everyone knows it’s an important thing but how many of us really know how to deliver it as consultants and creativity practitioners? Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change (Ertel & Solomon, 2014) is a business-leadership book that delivers answers to the question “How do I create an environment that will generate insightful and perspective-changing discussions about ambiguous situations my client or team is facing?” 

Claiming 10,000 + hours of leading and planning strategic conversation, the coauthors Chris Ertel, a social sciences PhD consultant who works at Deloitte Consulting and Kay Solomon, a professor of innovation from an MBA program in design strategy, describe this work as sitting “at the crossroads of three disciplines: strategy, design and conversation (or group dialogue)” (p. 14). They do not purport to break new ground but rather create a laser focus on the intersection of the three disciplines, which they call strategic conversations.

This book is written for today’s business leaders facing ambiguous challenges. It is in the vein of creative Creative problem Problem solving Solving in that Ertel and Solomon refer to divergent and convergent thinking in the process of devising strategic plans. However, they use the term adaptive challenge instead of creative challenge to define a situation where there is no single best solution—in other words, the kind of situation that calls for leadership instead of management. Ertel and Solomon call this the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world. The general solutions this book offers are how to identify the need for, and then design, successful strategic conversations.

The role of strategic conversations is explained as “pivotal, synthesizing moments within a larger process” (Ertel & Solomon, 2014, p. 39). The outcome of an effective strategic conversation will “enable a group to achieve new levels of clarity and coherence about their adaptive challenge—and help move leadership teams toward deeper levels of shared commitment and understanding” (Ertel & Solomon, 2014, p. 39). Strategic conversations are intended to be galvanizing moments that release energy and momentum for an organization. They are frequently held off site, can include interactive experiences, and bring in people with multiple points of view. They also require detailed planning so that the affective experience, although perhaps not consciously appreciated, anticipates needs and minimizes distractions. Contrasting types of meetings are standard and brainstorming sessions. Standard meetings are typically held in conference rooms and rely on PowerPoints, charts, and data for analysis, this keeps people in their regular analytical, answer-seeking mindset. Brainstorming sessions are generally held in the same type of environment. They get people excited but, according to Ertel and Solomon, lead to a lot of ideas that are neglected once people leave and go back to business as usual.

The competencies Ertel and Solomon focus on helping the reader develop are understanding and figuring out how to design strategic conversations. They offer three reasons to have a strategic conversation: (a) building understanding, (b) shaping choices, and (c) making a decision. The reason is determined by assessing what type of output is needed and where the organization is in relation to the adaptive challenge it is facing. Ertel and Solomon offer Core Practices and Key Principles which will help the planner determine various components and logistics of the session. Some elements are the type of information presented, how information is presented-there might be games, stories or interactive experiences. Who attends and what information they bring is also a large consideration. The idea is that when all of the elements are carefully crafted, you improve your odds for best possible outcome. In order to support the reader, the final section of the book is a starter kit that lays out the elements for each type of conversation. It also includes a reading list for further exploration of each topic.

I found the book timely because it is written be a guide and tool for people in who find themselves in leadership positions that require out-of-the-box thinking. The authors used expert interviews to describe successful scenarios where this type of conversation took place. The writing is very straightforward and businesslike. It has a “nothing but the facts, ma’am” kind of attitude. There are no funny anecdotes or Dilbert cartoons. It is logical, methodical, and specific to supporting strategic thinking. I believe mastery of the principles outlined would be beneficial in running any type of meeting. For instance, Ertel and Solomon’s suggestion that one think of oneself as a producer and event coordinator can only help improve any meeting experience. The more a leader takes the attendees’ needs into account, the better participation of any sort is bound to be.

From a research perspective, the book does include references to scholars and researchers in the business and psychology and creativity realms. Ertel and Solomon referred to cognitive psychology to describe and explain the type of resistance and challenges one may face in leading these conversations. They include a whole chapter devoted to “yabbuts” and how to diffuse them.

As I contemplated the differences between a well-organized meeting and a well-designed strategic conversation, I noticed that the latter type of engagement is more multidimensional. The way I would describe it is that in an ideal execution the experience should be the difference between seeing a regular movie and a 3D movie. Both experiences will give the story, but one puts the viewers in the center of the action and changes their perspective and reactions. Being able to effectively execute such a lofty outcome requires practice and attention to detail. Using this book as a starting point can give the novice leader insight and confidence to attempt the goal of trying something new with people.

Ertel, C., & Solomon, L. K. (2014). Moments of impact: How to design strategic conversations that accelerate change. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

About Vivian Geffen:  
Vivian Geffen, The Creativity Muse, is in the process of earning a Master’s of Science degree in Creativity Studies at Buffalo State College in New York. She has developed an interest in how to apply creativity to strategic planning, particularly for non-profits organizations like The Samburu Project, where she is on the Board of Directors.

Vivian also created and developed Creativity for Personal Transformation, a workshop that uses Creative Problem Solving as the impetus for generating personally motivating and meaningful strategies to overcome challenges. She lives in Los Angeles. @creativitymuse

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