As readers of this blog know, I’ve long been interested in innovation. Is there a creative gene? Are you able to develop it like a skill? How can company culture be changed to improve the odds in favor of creative teams?
The International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State University offers programs in creativity. Chris Grivas and Gerrard Puccio wrote The Innovative Team to make fifty years of research at the institution available outside of the academic institution. Gerard Puccio is department chair and professor at Buffalo State University, and Chris Grivas is an organizational and leadership development consultant.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Chris about the book and his observations on innovation.
What first started your interest in innovation?
Back in the days when I was in college, I had what can best be described as a “grunt” job. It was long days with people vying to work the weekends where they would get extra pay. Most of my colleagues did not have college degrees and few could have hoped for a better job. They seem resigned to accept this state of life rather than work on improving their options. Why would people settle for a life like this? What would inspire them to do something more and find a way to make it work? I talked with friends and professors about it, and one answer that came up made a lot of sense to me – it’s about how they use their creativity. If they were confident in their ability to create new alternatives, they may become inspired to innovate their way to a better life. Now that was a topic that got me excited, so I went on to explore it in graduate school.
You decided to write this book in story form. Why?
When the advance copy of Tina Seelig’s inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity came across my desk, I couldn’t wait to read it. Read her book and you will find yourself on the front row of her always-filled class on innovation. It’s a practical guide helping anyone improve his or her creativity. Tina Seelig is the director of the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation and the executive director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. In addition, she has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Stanford University Medical School.
Dr. Seelig recently answered a few questions for me about her work.
Are we born with a creative gene or are we able to learn it as a skill?
Our brains are built for creative problem solving, and it is easy to both uncover and enhance our natural inventiveness. The human brain evolved over millions of years from a small collection of nerve cells with limited functionality to a fabulously complex organ that is optimized for innovation. Our highly evolved brains are always assessing our ever-changing environment, mixing and matching our responses to fit each situation. Every sentence we craft is unique, each interaction we have is distinctive, and every decision we make is done with our own free will. That we have the ability to come up with an endless set of novel responses to the world around us is a constant reminder that we are naturally inventive.
Make innovation a study and you inevitably will run into one name: Jeff DeGraff. Dr. DeGraff is a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. He’s been called the Dean of Innovation. Before moving to Nashville, I lived in Ann Arbor and had the opportunity to meet him and see him in action. Jeff has worked with some of the biggest global corporations including Apple, Visa, GE, Coca-Cola, and Johnson & Johnson.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Jeff when I visited the University of Michigan. He has created an innovation laboratory called the Innovatrium.
NOTE: Sadly, in July 2012, Jonah Lehrer resigned from The New Yorker and Wired after accusations of plagiarism and making up quotes. The book Imagine was pulled from bookstore shelves and thus is not available.
One of my favorite thought leaders is Jonah Lehrer. He’s a Contributing Editor at Wired, writes frequently for The New Yorker and Radiolab, and I never miss his “Head Case” column in The Wall Street Journal. His book How We Decide was an instant bestseller. On a plane the other day, I struck up a conversation with someone engrossed in his first book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist. My seatmate was sold on getting his newest book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, as soon as he could get his hands on it.
Recently, Jonah answered a few questions about creativity and innovation.
Erin Morgenstern debuted as an author last year with a most creative book, The Night Circus (it’s also one of my favorite book covers of 2011). In addition to receiving numerous rave reviews, the book was recently awarded the Alex Award by the ALA, which is given to the top ten adult books that also appeal to young adults.
As I talked with Erin about her achievement, I was struck by three success themes: