Monday, September 26, 2016

Book Review- Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect and Inspire

Book Review written by Judy Bernstein

Bruce Nussbaum seeks an economy based on innovation and believes that creative intelligence can get us there. In Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect and Inspire, Nussbaum describes five creative competencies and a vision for the future, Indie Capitalism, all intended to expand past the “vocabulary” of design and bring a fresh focus to creativity. As a current Professor of Innovation and Design at Parsons School of Design, regular blogger for Fast Company and Harvard Business Review, former Assistant Managing Editor at BusinessWeek and founder of both the Innovation and Design online channel and the quarterly magazine IN: Inside Innovation, Nussbaum directs his book not toward those “just interested in becoming more creative” but rather “for people…who want to create things that change our lives.”  For Nussbaum, Creativity is essential to fuel innovation and an economic system based on innovation will allow us to “reinvent and revitalize our capitalist economy.”    

Comprising three parts plus a short epilogue, Creative Intelligence urges us not just to practice creative competencies, but to apply them toward innovation. Part I, Reclaiming Our Creativity, debunks the myth of “mad genius” and relays some creativity research history. Here Nussbaum provides engaging anecdotes about Keith Richards and references the work of  J. P. Guilford, Teresa Amabile, E. P. Torrance, R. Keith Sawyer, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, among others. In Part II, The Five Competencies of Creative Intelligence, Nussbaum names and discusses the skills and sub-skills associated with Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making, and Pivoting. Part III, The Economic Value of Creativity, lays out Nussbaum’s hopes for Indie Capitalism and the broad adoption of creativity assessments in arenas as diverse as education, government, the arts and industry. Nussbaum asserts that Creative Intelligence, also called CQ, should be evaluated along with domain specific skills and knowledge. The short Epilogue, Rethinking Creativity reiterates Nussbaum’s call to action, “…we must recognize the value of creative competencies and a creativity-driven society.”  It also relays his conviction that creativity offers a new source for fresh solutions. “All the great challenges of our day are connected to a need for us all to recognize our creativity and hone our creative abilities so we can find those pathways of possibility.” 

While the book seems directed more toward those just beginning to consider creativity rather than those already committed, I find many of Nussbaum’s thoughts both deeply important and appealingly familiar. Just as Keith Richards said and Nussbaum quotes, “…this is not one stroke of genius. This cat was listening to somebody and it’s his variation on the theme” so I appreciate that Nussbaum prizes creativity and identifies creativity skills. Like so many current and past thought leaders in creative problem solving, people such as Sidney Parnes, Ruth Noller, Vincent Nolan, Bill Gordon, George Prince, Gerard Puccio and Min Basadur, Nussbaum seems dedicated to the field of creativity and its advancement.   

However Nussbaum breaks with creative problem solving convention in asserting that current conditions are too volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous to justify “problem-solving approaches.” According to Nussbaum, “problem-solving approaches work – but only when you know the problems. But today there are so many ‘unknown unknowns’ that we don’t know the questions we should be asking, let alone the answers.” He argues that “playfully discovering new answers to puzzles that do not have one right answer is a better approach” and asks us to cultivate not just a playful climate, but also a play-based process. For him, “serious play turns the process of play into an instrument of change.” 

I’m quite taken with the notion of “serious play,” one I first encountered during my training for LEGO Serious Play certification. I do not agree with Nussbaum that problem-solving approaches are only appropriate “in times of relative stability,” nor do I think that the value of serious play negates the value of problem-solving approaches. But, I applaud Nussbaum’s attention to the advantages of “messing around” and the story he tells about an innovation team’s “free interplay” and the way it enabled the team to become “very directed and purposeful in our creativity.” His assertion that “Good teams require trust and skills and knowledge not simply unfamiliarity and modular furniture” strikes me a compelling, although harsh, variation on a theme.

If, as Nussbaum argues, Creative Intelligence can encompass design, five creative competencies (Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making, and Pivoting) as well as Indie Capitalism, then one would think it should also be big enough to include creative problem solving. I, for one, hope it does. 

Judy Bernstein heads Insights at CBA, a qualitative marketing research company dedicated to using deliberate creativity to unlock not just ‘what is’ but ‘what might be’. She is also currently pursuing a Master’s Degree at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State. Judy’s fascination with creativity processes and instinct for what lies beneath was first kindled by improvisation and theater and grew stronger with formal training in Creative Problem Solving, Synectics, and LEGO Serious Play. Prior to joining CBA, Judy was a full-time qualitative consultant at Hall & Partners USA, on the Strategic Staff at Ammirati Puris Lintas and a member of the Artistic Staff at the Manhattan Theatre Club. She lives in the New York City area with her husband and sons.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain

 Book Review Written by Donnalyn Roxey

It was the summer of 2015.  I was enrolled in Buffalo State’s Creativity and Change Leadership Graduate Certificate Program.  I was stressed.  My work at Ohio State was intense, and being away for the two week in residence summer program was not making anything easier.  Add to this the looming feeling of my culminating project, two years worth of work, a presentation on what creativity meant to me, my vision for my future, pretty much the most intense project ever, and I had to do it in front of people.  It was all I could think of for weeks prior to coming to Buffalo.  I had so many different versions of presentations, I felt stuck.  I was driving back to the friends house I was staying, listening to loud music, windows down, singing along, thinking about a party the Graduate Program was throwing us, when it hit.  My aha moment, the piece to the missing puzzle that was the theory of my creative journey.  I swerved off the road (thankful for little traffic) and immediately starting writing.  The euphoria, clarity and intense desire to get working felt like nothing short of a miracle.  Words little capture the happiness I felt to finally tie it all together.

I have not thought much about that experience since, except waxing moments of nostalgia, until picking up The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain, by John Kounios and Mark Beeman. I couldn’t put it down.  Two years of studying the field of creativity and the nagging missing piece for me was, show me the science.  The tools I learned in the creative problem solving process really do work.  I watched them, participated in the process, facilitated the outcomes, but how did it work?  This book was my insight into the deeper context of creativity.  As the authors eloquently put it, “Insights are quantum leaps of thought, creative breakthroughs that power our lives and our history.” The Eureka Factor perfectly complemented storytelling and science.  Through hearing accounts of creative insights from eminent creatives such as Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, and Barbara McClintock, to the everyday creative insights of test subjects and the authors themselves.

Kounios and Beeman, both active scientists, brilliantly articulate the detailed experimentation they performed as well as citing numerous other sources in their path to understanding what makes up creativity.  Using modern research methodologies, the authors accumulated fMRI and EEG brain scans, observational reports, and psychometric data from cognitive, emotional, and psychological testing.  The authors have the literary ability to turn complex concepts in neuroscience into an easily understandable and engaging read. Admittedly, I have the urge to take their model for insight (Immersion -> Impasse -> Diversion -> Insight) and digest it a bit more with a creative problem solving lense, and there were a few concepts that I would like to see more data on.  For example, mood. Research on the correlation of happiness with creativity is discussed.  However, literature is also cited relating depression with creativity.  I found myself wanting more discussion on the interconnections, if any, of these perceived polar opposites.

The authors support much of the creativity literature I am familiar with through experimental background on topics covering as much breadth as characteristics of creative people, how time of day and mood impact your creativity, as well as illustrating the complex idiosyncrasies between solving problems analytically vs. via insight.  Kounios and Beeman demonstrate our brain on intuition, mental illness and motivation.  Tantalizing neuroimaging experiments are recounted; experiments into left brain/right brain ability to form remote associations with language, and data collection for moments of insights, keep the reader engaged in this complex content.  Insightful problem solving (over analytical problem solving) results in a sudden high-frequency EEG burst of activity known as  gamma waves above the right ear and increased blood flow to the anterior superior temporal gyrus as captured with fMRI. Gamma waves are attributed to cognitive functions such as paying attention and linking together information, while the anterior superior temporal gyrus is known to be involved in making connections between distantly related objects.  Kounios and Beeman masterfully capture the science behind an aha moment. Another particularly interesting piece for me as a classically trained biologist was the surfacing of the nature vs nurture debate.  Outlining research between tendencies toward remote associations and schizotypes (non-mentally ill people with some schizophrenia genes activated), and psychological tests on identical twins, elucidated a genetic predisposition for certain creative traits. Kounios and Beeman pair these studies with experimental data suggesting how the environment can impact our creativity.  Time of day, happiness, cognitive style and attention can all attribute to higher states of creativity.  Outlining even data to suggest that you should continue to take that afternoon walk to stretch and get away from your computer, it may just produce your next creative insight.

While reading this book, I often revisited my car aha moment and looked inward to many other memories of inklings, insights, and hunches.  I found myself wishing to be a participant in these experiments, elucidating more aha moments and reading my brain waves.  In my humble opinion, a great narrative on the marriage between creativity and neuroscience; the Eureka Factor is a must read for anyone interested in the science of creativity. 

Donnalyn Roxey is a graduate student at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State.  Donnalyn received her Bachelors of Science in Biological Sciences from the University of Maryland, College Park.  She went on to spend ten years in research development and grants administration at The Ohio State University before finding her passion for inciting creativity in others.  She is currently an innovation facilitator with Knowinnovation and spends her free time studying creativity in teams and playing with her two daughters in Columbus Ohio.