1. To kickstart creativity, offer money, not plaudits, study finds

    October 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release:

    How should employers reward creative types for turning in fresh, inventive work: with a plaque or a party recognizing their achievement, or with cold, hard cash? According to new research co-written by a University of Illinois expert in product development and marketing, it’s all about the money, honey.

    In contexts where a premium is placed on being original, social recognition as a reward for an especially imaginative piece of work doesn’t necessarily enhance creativity, says published research co-written by Ravi Mehta, a professor of business administration at Illinois.

    “The general consensus in the research literature on creativity is that money hurts creativity,” Mehta said. “But most of that prior research was conducted with children as the test subjects, and the participants were not specifically told that the reward was for being creative. So what is it about the contingency of rewards that impacts creativity, and would adults respond to all types of creativity-contingent rewards the same way?”

    Across five experiments, Mehta and his co-authors examined the role of creativity-contingent monetary rewards versus creativity-contingent social-recognition rewards on creative performance, providing new insights into the underlying motivational processes through which these rewards affect creativity.

    The experiments demonstrated that, within the context of creativity contingency, monetary rewards induce “a performance focus,” while social-recognition rewards induce “a normative focus,” according to the paper. The researchers found that the former enhances one’s motivation to be original, thereby leading to more inventiveness in a creative task, while the latter hurts it.

    “We found that if you tell people to be creative and then give them monetary rewards, they will be more creative,” Mehta said. “But wouldn’t the same be true of all rewards? If you tell people to be creative and then give them a social-recognition reward instead of money, then they’ll be just as creative as those you reward with money, right? We found no empirical evidence for that.”

    Mehta said social recognition is “all about people knowing about you and your work, and thereby influencing one to act more in accordance with social norms,” whereas creativity means “coming up with something different, something novel, something that is not the norm.”

    “As adults, we don’t want to come up with something that’s too radical, too out-there, especially when we know that our peers will be judging us,” he said. “Most of our daily activities as working adults are about adhering to social norms. We don’t want to stand out too much.”

    But when a monetary reward is dangled, people amp up their performance and consciously try to “blow the doors off the competition” in terms of creativity, Mehta said.

    “When you ask someone to be creative, you’re asking them to be transgressive, to think beyond social norms and thought processes that are not automatic,” he said. “That’s why a social-recognition reward kills creativity, because it makes creators more risk-averse. It appeals to conformity, to not standing out, which drives you to the middle, not the edge. It compels you to fall in line with social norms, and there’s less motivation to be creative.

    “People who value creativity value the bizarre, the stuff that’s out there. Therefore, they’re less likely to care about the approval of others, or a sense of belonging with their peers.”

    The research has practical applications for how people generate creative ideas, and how to motivate creative-class employees.

    “There’s a trend among companies for crowdsourcing ideas or user-generated content,” Mehta said. “Virtually all social media is user- or consumer-driven. This ought to point them in the right direction: Money talks, but social recognition doesn’t.”

    The research also is applicable to people who work at ad agencies or in creative fields.

    “A little caveat, though: People in those fields are expected to be creative, so social recognition also would work for them,” Mehta said. “But more money certainly wouldn’t hurt them, either. In that case, both rewards would lead to more creativity.”

    The paper will be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.


  2. Seeking feedback not always sufficient for stimulating creativity

    October 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UVA) press release:

    It is widely believed that seeking feedback from colleagues, managers, friends and family enhances employees’ creativity. But is this always the case? No, a positive effect depends on the work environment. This is the conclusion of new joint research study led by UvA work and organizational psychologist Roy Sijbom. The team’s findings were recently published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

    The notion that obtaining external feedback about one’s ideas is essential for increasing creativity is deeply rooted in society. For example, entrepreneurs are encouraged to engage customers in order to ascertain whether their business model is viable and academics attend conferences to obtain feedback on their research results. An implicit assumption is that individuals who have obtained feedback will also actually (be able to) utilize it.

    ‘The idea is simple: seeking feedback from different sources – also known as feedback source variety — benefits one’s creativity since it leads to a greater diversity of viewpoints’, says Sijbom. ‘And the more diverse the viewpoints, the more it benefits one’s creativity because by combining and integrating all the different viewpoints new perspectives will emerge that in turn will result in more creativity. The question, however, is whether these beneficial effects always occur.’

    The researchers examined how specific characteristics of the immediate work environment influence the relationship between feedback source variety and creative performance. They hereby focused on two elements that are typical for contemporary work environments: the perceived rate of change of performance standards (performance dynamism) and the extent to which employees feel they have sufficient time to develop creative ideas at work (experienced creative time pressure). ‘We discovered an exponential relationship between the search for input from a variety of feedback sources and creativity, but only when performance standards within an organization are changing and when a relatively low creative time pressure is experienced‘, says Sijbom.

    Sijbom offers several recommendations: ‘The most important is that when an organization stimulates feedback seeking, it needs to ensure that the work environment is optimal enough to utilize the benefits of feedback. In a more concrete sense, organizations can, for example, consider using feedback workshops in which employees are encouraged to reflect on diverse feedback and equipped with techniques and strategies on how to incorporate feedback in their daily work. In addition, managers should not only stimulate their employees to actively cultivate relationships with potential feedback sources within and outside the organization, but also provide sufficient time to process the feedback obtained from these relationships.’

    The research project consisted of two studies. In the first study, the researchers used online questionnaires to obtain data from 1,031 employees who work in consultancy. In the second study, 181 ‘caretakers’ — nurses and other care professionals — in hospitals were asked to complete a survey, but the creative achievements were assessed by their direct managers.


  3. Listening to happy music may enhance divergent creativity

    September 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the PLOS press release:

    Listening to happy music may help generate more, innovative solutions compared to listening to silence, according to a study published September 6, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Simone Ritter from Radboud University, The Netherlands and Sam Ferguson from the University of Technology Sydney, Australia.

    Creativity is an important quality in our complex, fast-changing world, as it allows us to generate innovative solutions for a wide range of problems and come up with fresh ideas. The question of what facilitates creative cognition has long been studied, and while music has previously been shown to benefit cognition, little is known about how listening to music affects creative cognition specifically.

    To investigate the effect of music on creative cognition, researchers had 155 participants complete questionnaires and split them into experimental groups. Each group listened to one of four different types of music that were categorized as calm, happy, sad, or anxious, depending on their emotional valence (positive, negative) and arousal (high, low), while one control group listened to silence. After the music started playing, participants performed various cognitive tasks that tested their divergent and convergent creative thinking. Participants who came up with the most original and useful solutions to a task scored higher in divergent creativity, while participants who came up with the single best possible solution to a task scored higher in convergent creativity.

    The researchers found that listening to happy music, which they define as classical music that is positive valence and high in arousal, facilitates more divergent creative thinking compared to silence. The authors suggest that the variables involved in the happy music condition may enhance flexibility in thinking, so that additional solutions might be considered by the participant that may not have occurred to them as readily if they were performing the task in silence.

    This study shows that creative cognition may be enhanced through music, and further research could explore how different ambient sounds might affect creativity and include participants of diverse cultures, age groups, and levels of music experience. The authors suggest that their study may also demonstrate that music listening could promote creative thinking in inexpensive and efficient ways in various scientific, educational and organizational settings.


  4. New approach to teaching music improvisation enhances creativity

    July 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    As World Music Day is approaching, taking place each year on 21 June, many are looking forward to the musical events in the streets or parks and the atmosphere it brings with it. Watching musicians perform can be impressive, even more so when they improvise. The performers produce their works in real-time and while improvising, they manage several processes simultaneously including generating melodic and rhythmic sequences, coordinating performance with other musicians in an ensemble and evaluating internal and external stimuli. All this is done with the overall goal of creating aesthetically appealing music. It keeps some of us wondering, how they do it and whether this can be learned at all.

    In fact, improvisation is being taught in music education and often focuses on the development of techniques. Dr Michele Biasutti, Associate Professor at the University of Padua in Italy however examined how to go beyond these current practices in his recent paper “Pedagogical applications of cognitive research on musical improvisation.” Based on a literature review, the aim was to develop a model that looks at developing processes for improvisation that enhance creativity.

    “Practices such as playing by ear is underexposed in current teaching approaches, which stress notated instruction and exercises such as scales and chords. Instead, I propose an approach that is based on the development of cognitive processes that enhance creativity and the abilities of the players to reflect on their performance skills,” states Biasutti.

    Improvisation is a complex and multidimensional act that involves creativity and performance behaviours in real-time. It also requires processes such as sensory and perceptual encoding, motor control and performance monitoring as well as storing and recalling memory.

    “A teaching approach based on the development of processes could be beneficial in music improvisation at several levels. A process-oriented teaching method can provide inputs for developing specific skills such as problem solving and critical thinking to assist the reflective practice during improvisation. The target processes were the following: anticipation, use of repertoire, emotive communication, feedback and flow,” explains Biasutti.

    This process approach encourages students to think about their creative processes and to self-assess their experiences, thus developing a more complete awareness about the activities performed. In the past, teaching and learning consisted of information being passed-on, memorised and repeated. Now, students have to increasingly find their own knowledge by using information in creative ways, which requires a shift in how students are taught. The paper suggests that this could be achieved by teaching improvisation abilities, whereby teachers become more of facilitators who shift the focus from the evaluation of learning outcomes to the quality of processes that lead to improvisational expertise.

    Biasutti concludes “There are several educational benefits to developing improvisational skills also for other disciplines. Improvisation could be considered an adaptive behaviour to a real-time unpredicted event. The response can be shaped through creativity and the divergent skillset that improvisation fosters. Improvisation could become a teaching technique to be used in educational contexts. Promoting improvisational skills would allow the students to develop the ability to adapt to tomorrow’s changing world, providing tools for lifelong learning.”


  5. Scientists improve people’s creativity through electrical brain stimulation

    June 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Queen Mary University of London press release:

    Scientists have found a way to improve creativity through brain stimulation, according to researchers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and Goldsmiths University of London.

    They achieved this by temporarily suppressing a key part of the frontal brain called the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), which is involved in most of our thinking and reasoning.

    The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, show that participants who received the intervention showed an enhanced ability to ‘think outside the box’.

    “We solve problems by applying rules we learn from experience, and the DLPFC plays a key role in automating this process,” commented Dr Caroline Di Bernardi Luft, first author from QMUL’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences who conducted the research while previously working at Goldsmiths University of London, with Dr Michael Banissy and Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya.

    “It works fine most of the time, but fails spectacularly when we encounter new problems which require a new style of thinking — our past experience can indeed block our creativity. To break this mental fixation, we need to loosen up our learned rules,” added Dr Luft.

    The researchers used a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which involved passing a weak constant electrical current through saline-soaked electrodes positioned over the scalp to modulate the excitability of the DLPFC. Depending on the direction of the current flow, DLPFC was temporarily suppressed or activated. The very low currents applied ensured that it would not cause any harm or unpleasant sensation.

    Sixty participants were tested on their creative problem solving ability before and after receiving one of the following interventions: DLPFC being suppressed, DLPFC being activated, and DLPFC being unstimulated. The participants solved “matchstick problems,” some of which are hard, because to solve these problems, participants need to relax the learnt rules of arithmetic and algebra.

    The participants whose DLPFC was temporarily suppressed by the electrical stimulation were more likely to solve hard problems than other participants whose DLPFC was activated or not stimulated. This demonstrates that suppressing DLPFC briefly can help breaking mental assumptions learned from experience and thinking outside the box.

    But the researchers also observed that these participants got worse at solving problems with a higher working memory demand (where many items are needed to be held in mind at once). These problems require the participants to try a number of different moves until finding the solution, which means they have to keep track of their mental operations.

    “These results are important because they show the potential of improving mental functions relevant for creativity by non-invasive brain stimulation methods,” commented Dr Luft.

    “However, our results also suggest that potential applications of this technique will have to consider the target cognitive effects in more detail rather than just assuming tDCS can improve cognition as claimed by some companies which are starting to sell tDCS machines for home users,” she added.

    “I would say that we are not yet in a position to wear an electrical hat and start stimulating our brain hoping for a blanket cognitive gain.”


  6. Personality factors are best defense against losing your job to a robot

    May 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Houston press release:

    Worried robots will take your job? Researchers say people who are more intelligent and who showed an interest in the arts and sciences during high school are less likely to fall victim to automation.

    Later educational attainment mattered, but researchers said the findings highlight the importance of personality traits, intelligence and vocational interests in determining how well people fare in a changing labor market. The work was published this week in the European Journal of Personality.

    “Robots can’t perform as well as humans when it comes to complex social interactions,” said Rodica Damian, assistant professor of social and personality psychology at the University of Houston and lead author of the study. “Humans also outperform machines when it comes to tasks that require creativity and a high degree of complexity that is not routine. As soon as you require flexibility, the human does better.”

    Researchers used a dataset of 346,660 people from the American Institutes of Research, which tracked a representative sample of Americans over 50 years, looking at personality traits and vocational interests in adolescence, along with intelligence and socioeconomic status. It is the first study to look at how a variety of personality and background factors predict whether a person will select jobs that are more (or less) likely to be automated in the future.

    “We found that regardless of social background, people with higher levels of intelligence, higher levels of maturity and extraversion, higher interests in arts and sciences … tended to select (or be selected) into less computerizable jobs 11 and 50 years later,” they wrote.

    In addition to Damian, the researchers included Marion Spengler of the University of Tuebingen and Brent W. Roberts of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    Damian said the findings suggest traditional education may not be fully equipped to address upcoming changes in the labor market, although she acknowledged the educational system has changed since the research subjects were in school in the 1960s.

    “Perhaps we should consider training personality characteristics that will help prepare people for future jobs,” she said.

    The researchers found that every 15-point increase in IQ predicted a 7 percent drop in the probability of one’s job being computerized, the equivalent of saving 10.19 million people from losing their future careers to computerization if it were extrapolated across the entire U.S. population. Similarly, an increase of one standard deviation in maturity or in scientific interests — equal to an increase of 1 point on a 5-point scale, such as moving from being indifferent to scientific activities to liking them fairly well — across the U.S. population would each be equivalent to 2.9 million people avoiding a job loss to computerization.

    While IQ is not easily changed, a solution could be to find effective interventions to increase some personality traits — doing well in social interactions, for example, or being industrious — or interest in activities related to the arts and sciences, Damian said.

    Machine learning and big data will allow the number of tasks that machines can perform better than humans to increase so rapidly that merely increasing educational levels won’t be enough to keep up with job automation, she said. “The edge is in unique human skills.”

    Still, that can correlate with more education, and the researchers say an across-the-board increase in U.S. education levels could mean millions fewer jobs at risk. Targeting at-risk groups would yield significant benefits, she said.

    And while skeptics question whether the labor market will be able to absorb millions of higher skilled workers, Damian looks at it differently.

    “By preparing more people, at least more people will have a fighting chance,” she said.


  7. Alternating skimpy sleep with sleep marathons hurts attention, creativity in young adults

    May 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Baylor University press release:

    Skimping on sleep, followed by “catch-up” days with long snoozes, is tied to worse cognition — both in attention and creativityin young adults, in particular those tackling major projects, Baylor University researchers have found.

    “The more variability they showed in their night-to-night sleep, the worse their cognition declined across the week,” said study co-author Michael Scullin, Ph.D., director of Baylor’s Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory and assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

    “When completing term projects, students restrict sleep, then rebound on sleep, then repeat,” he said. “Major projects which call for numerous tasks and deadlines — more so than for tests — seem to contribute to sleep variability.”

    The study of interior design students is published online in the Journal of Interior Design. It also has implications for art, architecture, graphic design and other disciplines that use a model of design studio-based instruction, researchers said.

    Interior design is “a strange culture, one where sleep deprivation is almost a badge of honor,” said lead author Elise King, assistant professor of interior design in Baylor’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.

    Staying up late to work on a project is not seen as procrastination but considered by some students and faculty members to be a tradition and a normal part of studio-based curricula to prepare them for their careers, she said.

    “Since the general public still doesn’t understand the profession of interior design, and mistakenly thinks we’re the same as decorators, there is a sense that you want to work harder and prove them wrong,” King said. “But recently, we’ve seen the consequences of that type of thinking: anxiety, depression and other mental health issues — and also the dangers of driving while sleep deprived.”

    The study challenges a common myth — that “the best design ideas only come in the middle of the night,” King said. But researchers found the opposite — that “consistent habits are at least as important as total length of sleep,” Scullin said.

    Irregular sleep is a negative for “executive attention” — intense focus for planning, making decisions, correcting errors and dealing with novelty. Erratic sleep also has a negative effect on creativity, the study found.

    The National Sleep Foundation recommends that young adults have seven to nine hours of sleep each day. But for the 28 interior design students in the Baylor study, sleep was short and fragmented. Only one participant slept seven hours or more nightly; 79 percent slept fewer than seven hours at least three nights during the week.

    “Most students think they’re getting about four more hours of sleep each week than they actually are,” Scullin said.

    “Projects are often lengthy, with final due dates looming weeks or months in the future,” King said. “The stress of juggling several projects, each with multiple deadlines, is likely to contribute to students’ tendency to cycle between several days of poor sleep leading up to a project due date, followed by a catch-up day with 10 or more sleep hours.”

    Researchers measured sleep patterns through actigraphy, with students wearing wristbands to track movement. Students also kept daily diaries on the quantity and quality of their sleep.

    “The wristband is somewhat similar to Fitbit devices, but much more reliable in detection, including the many brief awakenings during sleep that affect sleep quality,” Scullin said.

    All participants completed two cognitive testing sessions for creativity and executive attention — each about an hour long and in a laboratory. The sessions were done on the first and last day of the study at the same time of day.

    “What we call ‘creativity’ is often people’s ability to see the link between things that at first glance seem unrelated, and one of the tests taps into that ability,” Scullin said.

    An example: participants are given three words that are loosely connected — such as “sore,”‘ “shoulder” and “sweat” — and asked to figure out a fourth word that would connect them all.

    “What first comes to mind are words related to exercise, but in this case, no single exercise word really works. Instead, the ‘creative’ and correct answer is ‘cold,'” Scullin said.

    Meanwhile, executive attention — “working” memory — enables people to hold memories for a short time while doing a separate task. In the study, participants completed a task in which they saw a grid with black and white squares.

    “They had to decide very quickly whether that grid was symmetrical or not. Symmetry decisions by themselves are easy,” Scullin said. “But after each decision, participants were shown a grid with one square highlighted in red. Then they made another symmetry decision, followed by a different square highlighted in red. They repeat that cycle up to five times before being asked to recall all the square locations in the correct order. It’s very challenging to cycle between those two tasks and keep the square locations in mind.”

    Further investigation with a greater range of students across multiple studio-based majors and multiple universities would be valuable, researchers said.

    “Interior design programs are changing,” King said. “People are open to the conversation and willing to discuss ways to reduce that pressure on our students and encourage them to be healthier.”


  8. Too much structured knowledge hurts creativity

    April 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management press release:

    Structure organizes human activities and help us understand the world with less effort, but it can be the killer of creativity, concludes a study from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

    While most management research has supported the idea that giving structure to information makes it easier to cope with its complexity and boosts efficiency, the paper says that comes as a double-edged sword.

    “A hierarchically organized information structure may also have a dark side,” warns Yeun Joon Kim, a PhD student who co-authored the paper with Chen-Bo Zhong, an associate professor of organizational behaviour and human resource management at the Rotman School.

    The researchers showed in a series of experiments that participants displayed less creativity and cognitive flexibility when asked to complete tasks using categorized sets of information, compared to those asked to work with items that were not ordered in any special way. Those in the organized information group also spent less time on their tasks, suggesting reduced persistence, a key ingredient for creativity.

    The researchers ran three experiments. In two, study participants were presented with a group of nouns that were either organized into neat categories or not, and then told to make as many sentences as they could with them.

    The third experiment used LEGO® bricks. Participants were asked to make an alien out of a box of bricks organized by colour and shape or, in a scenario familiar to many parents, out of a box of unorganized bricks. Participants in the organized category were prohibited from dumping the bricks out onto a table.

    The findings may have application for leaders of multi-disciplinary teams, which tend to show inconsistent rates of innovation, perhaps because team members may continue to organize their ideas according to functional similarity, area of their expertise, or discipline.

    “We suggest people put their ideas randomly on a white board and then think about some of their connections,” says Kim. Our tendency to categorize information rather than efficiency itself is what those working in creative industries need to be most on guard about, the researchers say.

    The paper is forthcoming in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.


  9. Creative people have better-connected brains

    April 1, 2017 by Sue

    From the Duke University press release:

    Seemingly countless self-help books and seminars tell you to tap into the right side of your brain to stimulate creativity. But forget the “right-brain” myth — a new study suggests it’s how well the two brain hemispheres communicate that sets highly creative people apart.

    For the study, statisticians David Dunson of Duke University and Daniele Durante of the University of Padova analyzed the network of white matter connections among 68 separate brain regions in healthy college-age volunteers.

    The brain’s white matter lies underneath the outer grey matter. It is composed of bundles of wires, or axons, which connect billions of neurons and carry electrical signals between them.

    A team led by neuroscientist Rex Jung of the University of New Mexico collected the data using an MRI technique called diffusion tensor imaging, which allows researchers to peer through the skull of a living person and trace the paths of all the axons by following the movement of water along them. Computers then comb through each of the 1-gigabyte scans and convert them to three-dimensional maps — wiring diagrams of the brain.

    Jung’s team used a combination of tests to assess creativity. Some were measures of a type of problem-solving called “divergent thinking,” or the ability to come up with many answers to a question. They asked people to draw as many geometric designs as they could in five minutes. They also asked people to list as many new uses as they could for everyday objects, such as a brick or a paper clip. The participants also filled out a questionnaire about their achievements in ten areas, including the visual arts, music, creative writing, dance, cooking and science.

    The responses were used to calculate a composite creativity score for each person.

    Dunson and Durante trained computers to sift through the data and identify differences in brain structure.

    They found no statistical differences in connectivity within hemispheres, or between men and women. But when they compared people who scored in the top 15 percent on the creativity tests with those in the bottom 15 percent, high-scoring people had significantly more connections between the right and left hemispheres.

    The differences were mainly in the brain’s frontal lobe.

    Dunson said their approach could also be used to predict the probability that a person will be highly creative simply based on his or her brain network structure. “Maybe by scanning a person’s brain we could tell what they’re likely to be good at,” Dunson said.

    The study is part of a decade-old field, connectomics, which uses network science to understand the brain. Instead of focusing on specific brain regions in isolation, connectomics researchers use advanced brain imaging techniques to identify and map the rich, dense web of links between them.

    Dunson and colleagues are now developing statistical methods to find out whether brain connectivity varies with I.Q., whose relationship to creativity is a subject of ongoing debate.

    In collaboration with neurology professor Paul Thompson at the University of Southern California, they’re also using their methods for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, to help distinguish it from normal aging.

    By studying the patterns of interconnections in healthy and diseased brains, they and other researchers also hope to better understand dementia, epilepsy, schizophrenia and other neurological conditions such as traumatic brain injury or coma.

    “Data sharing in neuroscience is increasingly more common as compared to only five years ago,” said Joshua Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University, who founded the Open Connectome Project and processed the raw data for the study.

    Just making sense of the enormous datasets produced by brain imaging studies is a challenge, Dunson said.

    Most statistical methods for analyzing brain network data focus on estimating properties of single brains, such as which regions serve as highly connected hubs. But each person’s brain is wired differently, and techniques for identifying similarities and differences in connectivity across individuals and between groups have lagged behind.


  10. Study looks into how to cultivate innovative traits

    March 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of South Florida media release:

    What innovation is and how it can be cultivated are two of the compelling questions raised in a paper exploring the potential for fostering innovation in students in the new issue of Technology and Innovation, Journal of the National Academy of Inventors® (full text).

    “Relatively little is known about how we can cultivate innovative thinking,” said paper lead author Victor Poirier of the Institute for Advanced Discovery & Innovation at the University of South Florida (USF), “and even less is known about how we can help individuals use and improve their innovative powers.”

    According to the authors, innovation can be defined as “the introduction of something new and different” that is created by inspiration and creativity. Innovation, they said, is “critical to improvements in how we live” and provides “social value.” The beginning of the innovative process is usually associated with “a fragmented inspiration” that is further developed by “joining with other fragmented thoughts to finally arrive at a creative inspiration.”

    The authors pointed to six key characteristics of innovation:

        * The timing of an innovative idea;

    * The environment in which the idea is formulated and developed;

    * The time to develop an idea or inspiration;

    * The time and organizational environment that allows for idea cross-fertilization;

    * Learning from errors; and

    * The development of an idea in one field that can be adapted in another.

    While education may not be able to create innovative traits in individuals, education may be able to improve the ability of individuals to better utilize the traits of creativity and innovation they already possess. However, how do we cultivate innovative thinking processes and unleash the creative powers of the individual? And, by what processes can educators help individuals to better utilize their innovative traits?

    “It takes a village,” explained Poirier, pointing out that Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park was an environment in which a variety of minds and skills came together to achieve innovative processes. Innovative industries such as Bell Labs, Xerox, Apple, and Google, as well as many of the federal government’s laboratory systems, such as NIH and NASA, are examples of creative environments that foster innovation collaboratively.

    Innovative processes do not always create something new, said the authors. Sometimes they greatly improve something already in existence or help to solve a problem. Motivation, persistence, and goal setting may also be keys to this process.

    “Contrary to the view that inspiration is purely mystic or divine, [it] is best viewed as an interaction between one’s current knowledge and the information one receives from the world,” suggested the authors. “We do not need to try to create innovative characteristics; rather, we simply need to show individuals how to cultivate innovative thought.”

    The first step in encouraging and nurturing inspiration and innovation, said Poirier, is to identify the characteristics and traits that can be fostered and developed through education. These include: abstract thinking and problem solving; a desire to ‘fill gaps’; motivation; creativity; curiosity; taking risks with no fear of failure; a positive attitude; persistence and passion; dissatisfaction with what exists; open-mindedness; and vision.

    These characteristics can be foundational to an educational process aimed at unleashing the creative and innovative potential that students possess. Therefore, as Poirier explains, our goal is “to develop an educational process whereby we could show individuals how to fully utilize the [innovative] traits they have, [and] awaken traits that are dormant.”

    The authors acknowledged that there may be roadblocks or resistance to this process from both students and faculty, as there are many who think that innovative thinking is something inborn in the individual and cannot be learned. However, the potential rewards — including an increase in innovative production — are substantial and warrant meeting and overcoming these challenges.

    To that end, Poirier and his co-authors are part of a team at the University of South Florida involved in an experimental training program in innovation. They anticipate future publications in which they will report on the results of those efforts.