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Reporting on innovative ideas in business.

A Conversation on Creativity, Passion, Education--and Psychology's Role in Each

Ever wish you could ask a psychologist about how creativity really works? If you had this pscyhologist's attention, wouldn't you also love to ask about whether the passions you pursue at work and at play were healthy and balanced? And then...why not ask about how to cultivate more creativity and positive passions among future generations of designers and innovators? 

At frog's New York studio, we had the opportunity to do so on May 11. Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, who teaches at New York University and blogs for Harvard Business Review and Pscyhology Today--and who was featured in the current "Passion" issue of Design Mind magazine--joined us for lunch. It was the second in a series of thought-leadership discussions at frog New York, for which we invite leading thinkers to not only present, but also discuss timely ideas with us.

As we all enjoyed a mid-day feast of Indian food, Dr. Kaufman spoke in the same casual, ultra-accessible tone that he uses in his posts. He both summarized and translated current research in psychology, revealing some interesting tidbits to the crowd while avoiding dry statistics or jargon. At one point, for instance, he quizzed the room, asking whether we thought we are more creative if given a blank slate for developing fresh ideas, versus presented with a model or sets of examples to follow. Then he revealed that current research shows that people are consistently more imaginative if they follow examples, rather than when they have carte blanche to create. Part of the reasoning, he explained, is that people generally refer to popular, existing (i.e. generic) ideas when they have full freedom. For instance, data shows that most leading science fiction writers describe aliens or other "invented" otherwordly beasts in ways that reflect well-known animals much more than they are truly original creatures. Counterintiuitively, following examples can offer more effective springboards that can actually guide us away from more typical ideas.

Dr. Kaufman also shared some traits of motivated creative people: a positive attitude, for instance, tends to result in more instances of self-reported "inspiration." And when people are passionate about their tasks and have minimal external stress, they feel more excited to work. While some of these findings may seem obvious, the fact that they're backed by numerous scientific studies is, well...inspiring. Or at the very least, comforting.

At frog, Dr. Kaufman also took time to discuss his own passion: re-booting the U.S. educational system. He's involved in an organization called The Future Project, which aims to do so by empowering kids to engage in project-based learning, group collaboration, and engaged problem solving. All of these goals are combined with encouraging students to present their work with confidence. When he described this type of approach, it was easy to see a parallel to frog's own idea-generation process--a rewarding and fascinating context for Dr. Kaufman's lunch conversation.

Photos: Kajsa Westman


Reena Jana is frog's Executive Editor. Based in New York, Reena is the former innovation department editor at BusinessWeek, and has contributed to a variety of publications including Wired, the New York Times, Harvard Business Review online,, and numerous others.