On Tuesday, June 10 cognitive psychologist and author Scott Barry Kaufman challenged the NeoCon audience with his research on success and creativity. Kaufman is Scientific Director of the Imagination Institute and a researcher in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
The keynote presentation focused primarily on the conventional wisdom around human potential and how to better design environments to inspire children and employees alike. Kaufman explained how his childhood experience of struggling with and overcoming a learning disability spurred his passion for dreaming and goals. Sourcing creativity researcher Paul Torrance, he described how there are ways to predict the creative success of a child. The characteristics identified by Torrance include a love of work, persistence, a purpose in life, deep thinking, and a tolerance for mistakes, among others. The greatest predictor however is a child’s ability to fall in love with a future version of his or her self.
Kaufman credits what he has termed the “imagination network” as the central hub for this kind of thinking. Arguing that both sides of the brain are used in the process of creativity, Kaufman explained that this network is associated with mind wandering, daydreaming, reflective compassion, and mentally simulating the perspective of another person. According to Kaufman, this is where design is used. While creativity involves imagination, it is more importantly where a sense of audience comes into play.
“Innovation is creativity implemented on a large scale,” said Kaufman. There are three ways to fuel innovation, Kaufman explained, including intrinsic motivation, passion, and inspiration. People are most creative when they are passionate about their task and are often driven by self-determination, the feeling that one’s skills are being utilized, and positive feelings when engaging in a task.
The environments that are most conducive to intrinsic motivation are a need for autonomy, some choices, and a need for competence. There is also a need for flow, personal development, and a need for relatedness. People need to feel as though they belong.
“Inspiration is the springboard for creativity,” Kaufman explained. One of his initiatives is putting dream directors in schools. This person should work to inspire and transform the school by helping children to take small steps towards their dreams. Kaufman challenged designers to inspire students and employees in the same way.
“We live in a society that’s obsessed with evaluating,” he said. “What would happen if we shifted to a culture of inspiration?”