Jérôme Provensal

Oct 262013

Unleash your Raw creativity

raw creativity of children

Credits: http://bit.ly/XgMtDN

Michael Michalko’s book: Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques is so chock full of ideas on creativity, that once again, today’s post on “raw creativity” is inspired by the book.

Read this paragraph and unless you have done this experiment before, prepared to be astonished:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and

you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

This shows that we all have a raw natural talent to interpret the essences of things. We make sense out of these jumbled letters because we immediately see the essence. This raw talent is why we are all creative as children. A box could be a fort, a car, a house, something to draw on and even a spaceship. When we are kids , our imaginations is not structured or restrained by rules, constraints of logic or risk of embarrassment. We did not strive to eliminate possibilities – we strove to expand them.

As we grow older and start making sense of the world that surrounds us or become expert in our fields, our brains become a blessing and a curse. A blessing because we can quickly grasp the complexity of our surroundings, understand how things connect together logically, and become adept at sensing and trimming the nonsensical ideas. Yet, it’s a curse because, by piling up constraints/structures and filtering out early ideas for the reason that they don’t directly abide by some logical rules, we end up with non-innovative ideas/solutions whose best redeeming value is that they conform to the mold that we wanted to escape.

Raw creative-thinking techniques are designed to remove the constraints of logic and free your imagination to be creative again. Pablo Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”. The value of learning “raw” creative techniques is to do just that – to learn how to think like a child again.


My favorite exercise to flex your raw creativity: synthesis

The book then goes on to describe 12+ exercises to help free imaginations to create innovative ideas. However, it would take too long to summarize all of them here. Here’s one of my favorite exercises called one + one = one(synthesis):

When one drop of water is added to another drop, they make only one drop not two. That’s how 2 completely different concepts can collide to form a brand new one. Consider the following examples: “home page”, “conference call”, and “race card”.


Much of creative thinking involves combining previously unrelated ideas, goods or services and turning them into something new. The process of combining ideas or elements or part of ideas is called synthesis.

The author coined the evocative “ideas having sex” phrase to describe this activity

For this exercise ask participants to think of a name of an object that begins with the same letter as their last name. Write the name on a sticky note and post it on their forehand  and have the participants mingle around the room and combine their object with someone else’s in the room to create something new. For example:

  • Deck + Legos:  A put-in-together adjustable wooden deck that can be dismantled and stored
  • Desk + Treadmill: A treadmill desk. You can walk at one-mph pace while you work at your computer, guaranteeing weight loss without dieting. BTW, the concept has been implemented successfully
  • Stove + Bicycle:  Portable kitchen. While in France this year, I saw a cooking TV show whose premise is to approach shoppers coming out of Parisian marchés (open-air markets) and offer them to prepare a great meal with whatever they were carrying in their grocery bags. The cooking was done on, you guessed it, a basic 2-burner stove, setup on tricycle. The show is aptly named: Street Cuisine.
  • Tape + Glue: Scotch Tape (a true inventor classic)
  • Ballot + Lottery: Encourage people to vote by having a lottery for voters. This too was implemented
  • Shark + Spaceship: The movie Alien as suggested in the recent post: Metaphorical Thinking
  • Etc…

For more exercise, do buy/read the book.

If you have young kids, watch them playing or better yet play alongside with them.

They might teach you a few things you forgot about the powers and pleasures of raw creativity!

Sep 292013

7 pebbles rocks red leather smallThis blog post was inspired by the talk that professor Raphael Diluzio gave at a TEDxDirigo conference last year.

A Remarkable story of brain injury

Raphael Diluzio’s personal story is compelling on his own. He describes himself as a creative artist, entrepreneur and professor. His life took a wrong turn when, as he puts it, an 18-wheel truck carrying a full payload  decided to “park” in the back of  his Honda Fit. The accident resulted in a massive brain injury that caused amnesia and a loss of his ability to draw and speak. Undergoing two years of speech therapy to speak again gave him the time and motivation to reflect on creativity and the nature of creative process.

Diluzio came up with what he called the 7 stages of creativity based on his research and own experience as a recovering artist.

7 Stages Of Creativity

(1) State the question or the problem to solve. The idea is to carefully establish in your mind what requires your creativity. So, clearly frame the question/problem at the onset of the process. Note that it doesn’t have to be a grand problem like cold fusion. Things like what to give my spouse for her birthday, the next stage of a project at work, or what to write for your next blog post will do just fine.

(2) Research it. Humans are curious by creature; a baby will start exploring his world by sticking anything coming nearby in his mouth. This innate tendency to research a problem is even very satisfying to some of us. The gathering of data about a specific topic through reading books, exploring the Internet, and sharing your newly-found knowledge with others is the perfect way to saturate your mind with the elements related to the problem.

(3) But “Enough is enough!”. In other words, don’t get stuck in the research phase. This is what Diluzio calls the basta stage. Some might get lost in the satisfying nature of research phase, but at some point it’s time to stop inputting information and start reflecting.

(4) Gestation—You need to detach yourself from the problem and instead give it some space. It’s the stage of detachment. Let it stew. Keep the new information in the back of your mind while holding the problem gently in your mind. Look at the problem in a different way, with a different perspective: how would I solve the problem if I were a lobster or POTUS? Visualize the problem as something else. Apply divergent thinking. The use of metaphors or “psychological distance techniques“, as reported in this blog, can be particularly helpful. Don’t be afraid to think crazy ideas and more importantly don’t filter yourself. Diluzio suggests to operate with the fearlessness of imagination of an artist. Mesh the world of empiricism and intuition/imagination.

(5) Then if everything goes well, you should have a “eureka moment” that can comes as little flashes or major light-bulb illumination. What is very important at this stage is to write down ideas that comes with those eureka moments. So don’t waste those ideas: dictate them, draw them, capture them in Evernote (my personal favorite), write them down in your paper ideas journal, etc…

(6) Once you have the idea(s), you must “bring it into being“. A lot of people are afraid of failure and don’t give the idea a chance to become something concrete. We must operate without fear. DiLuzio  says that he prefers “eloquent failures to boring success”. If you can concretize the idea yourself, get people around to help or describe it in minute details so others can realize it later. It’s important to bring the ideas out and share them otherwise the world or your company doesn’t move forward. Be the driver of innovation.

(7) Finally comes the stage of testing and criticizing by sharing those new ideas with the world. Invite criticism and feed it back into the creative process to refine the idea or branch out into better ideas.

7 vs. 4 or 5 stages of the creativity?

The motivated reader of this post should feel free to compare-and-contrast these 7 stages with others, such as Graham Wallas’s The Art of Thought (written in 1926, with 4 stages)  James Webb Young’s A Technique for Producing Ideas (written in 1939, with 5 stages)

Recognize, engage with and use the 7 stages to become more creative

Recognizing and engaging in those 7 stages is essential because it will allow you to become more proficient at generating ideas at home, at school or at work.

Do you have a question or problem you need answered? Watch the video and/or follow these steps and don’t be surprised when you have your own, “eureka moments”.

Have you personally experienced those stages? Do you think that having the 7 stages mapped out will help you become more creative? I invite you to share your comments below.

Sep 082013


Creative Diversity

I’ve started taking this Coursera course ambitiously called Creativity, Innovation and Change.

As part of the first class, Dr. Kathryn W. Jablokow (Penn State University) introduced us to the concept of Creative Diversity and more specifically Creative Style.

The good news according to Jablokow is that EVERYBODY is creative and she goes on to dispel 2 myths:

Two Myths about creativity

Myth #1: Only some people are creative (this is at the core of this whole blog!).

We need to dispel the myth that “only some people are creative” where people are classified as creative and non-creative typically based on one’s main occupation.

Artists, musicians, writers? Creative!

Engineers, accountants, plumbers, science teachers? Non creative!

If we define creativity as ” bringing something into existence that wasn’t there before”, then why would the domain in which the idea came into being matter?

Anyone can show creativity in art but also engineering, plumbing or gardening.

Myth #2: Only certain kinds of ideas are creative.

We often think of “creative ideas” as breakthrough ideas, revolutionary inspirations, out-of-the box strikes of genius.

But there’s another kind of creativity; one that is more evolutionary (vs. revolutionary). The kind that comes out of refining/combining previous ideas or digging deeper into a problem. Out of it comes from new insights.

One is not better than the other and in fact we need both because they are interrelated. Both evolutionary and  revolutionary ideas feed each other into a never-ending vortex of creativity.
In the second part of the class, Jablokow describes the “Creative Diversity Model”, which is based on the research of important scholars like Michael Kirton, Robert Sternberg, and Teresa Amabile. The model’s view on creativity is more inclusive and more precise.

Four Creative Diversity Principles

It starts with the first four principles: (reproduced verbatim from first week’s class lecture)

Creative Diversity Principle #1: All people are creative. 

Everyone, of every age and profession, from birth until death – everyone is creative. The source of creativity is in every individual, whether they are working alone or in a small group or in a large organization. They may have a few ideas or a lot of them; those ideas may be revolutionary or evolutionary, simple or complex. The only people who are not creative are, well … dead.

Creative Diversity Principle #2: Creativity is diverse.
In other words, we recognize that while all people are creative, they are NOT creative in the same way. There are many different versions or “flavors” of creativity. There isn’t just one kind of idea or one approach to solving problems, but many – a wide range of possibilities across the human race. So, how do we describe this creative diversity?

Creative Diversity Principle #3: Creative diversity is described by four key variables:
Given our assumption that creativity is different across individuals, we need a way to describe those differences. Michael Kirton, a British psychologist, has come up with an elegant way to do this. We’re going to use four variables:

  1. Creative level – Creative level is related to your mental capacity . In other words, it’s related to the size and the shape of the “mental bucket” you have between your ears –and what you have stored in that bucket at any particular time! You are filling up your mental bucket from the moment you are born until the moment you die. We measure creative level using things like intelligence, aptitude, knowledge, skill, and experience .  So, you may have a special talent for music, or you may have a strong aptitude for math. You may be skilled in drawing, while your friend has experience in computer programming. All these differences will affect your creativity: we tend to be creative in proportion to our creative level.
  2. Creative style – Creative style is your preferred way of managing and using all the creative level you have acquired. In other words, it’s your preference for how you go about solving problems and bringing about change. Like other cognitive preferences, you are born with your creative style; it doesn’t change over time, although you can do things in ways that don’t match up with your style.  Some people have a more structured creative style, while others prefer a less structured approach to change. It’s actually measured across a wide spectrum. People with a more structured creative style are more likely to offer evolutionary ideas, while people with a less structured creative style are more likely to offer revolutionary ideas. All of them are creative – but in different ways!
  3. Motive – Motive is what channels our energy as we move through life. Our creativity is affected by what motivates us and whether that motivation is present. People are motivated by different things, like money, or helping others, or achieving recognition. Depending on what motivates you, you’ll put more or less energy into what you do, and that will affect your creative contributions.
  4. Opportunity – Finally, opportunity is the availability of a problem to solve and how we perceive it. Sometimes we have access to an opportunity that others don’t, or we recognize a situation as an opportunity when others think it isn’t interesting. Those perceptions also affect our creativity and how we think about the environment around us.

Creative Diversity Principle #4: There is no ideal kind of creativity. 
In other words, no particular creative level, or creative style, or motive, or view of opportunity is better than any other in general. The kind of creativity that’s most appropriate or most effective depends on the situation – that is, on the current problem you are trying to solve.

Sometimes you need a radical idea – but not always. Sometimes you need an evolutionary idea – but not always. Sometimes you need an idea that has elements of both revolutionary and evolutionary thinking! Sometimes you need a certain type of knowledge, skill or talent – perhaps at a high level, perhaps at a low level. Motives change depending on the situation, and you may have different opinions about the importance of an opportunity.

All of these options lead to change. All of them represent some form of creativity, and in some combination, they represent YOU.

Creative Types: adaptive / innovative

Later during the class we were invited to fill out a survey in order to determine where we fit on the adaptor/innovator continuum scale. On one side of the scale, the label adaptive given to those who have the ability to “do things better” and on the opposite side the label innovative for the ability to “do things differently”. Here’s more information excerpted from http://www.kaicentre.com/OK.htm



Safe, reliable, methodical Disciplined and efficient
Masters detail
Prefers defined problems
Rarely challenges the rules; solves probles by use of rule
Seeks consensus, values group cohesion
Does things better
Provides balance when working with innovator
Thinks in risky, unexpected ways
Little respect for past custom – seen as irrelevant
Trades off detail for over-view
Questions definition of problem
Often challenges the rules; solves probles despite  rule
Can appear insensitive, even abrasive, to group cohesion
Does things differently
Provides dynamics for radical change


I found out that I was more or less in the middle of the scale. See below:

cic-images-KAI Bell Curve

For more information on the topic check out M.J. Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation: In the Context of Diversity and Change or visit: http://www.kaicentre.com/

As the course progresses, I will report in this blog if I run into a topic worthy of a LightBulbBite!

In the meantime, let me ask you a question. Where do you see yourself as a creative person? More on the adaptor or innovator side?

[Photo credits: Darren Harvey)

Aug 252013


Meditation Makes You More Creative!

(This is the second installment of my “Unconventional Innovation Boot Camp” series)

ARE YOU BRAINDEAD, TRAINEE?! I’m going to make innovators out of you! Drop down, sit with your legs crossed and do some MEDITATION!

Ugh?! Read on…

A recent study, has shown that certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking. The study, conducted by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato at Leiden University, clearly demonstrates that meditation is not only for relaxation but can have long-lasting effect on human cognition including the much coveted creativity that every innovator should care about.

I could also drop names from the likes of Steve Jobs (who encouraged Apple’s employees to learn meditation to “boost their creativity“) or Oprah Winfrey (who practices Transcendental Meditation) or David Lynch (who started meditation in 1973, and says “It has given me effortless access to unlimited reserves of energy and creativity“), but I will let the study speak for itself.

Two main ingredients of creativity:

divergent and convergent thinking

As reported in this blog before, creativity is often seen as having 2 main ingredients:  divergent and convergent styles of thinking. The study investigated the influences of 2 different types of  meditative techniques: Open Monitoring meditation and Focused Attention meditation. The researchers matched and measured the 2 techniques as follows:

Creativity Ingredient Meditative Technique
Divergent thinking
Divergent thinking allows many new ideas to be generated. It is measured using the so-called Alternate Uses Task method where participants are required to think up as many uses as possible for a particular object, such as a pen.
In Open Monitoring meditation the individual is receptive to all the thoughts and sensations experienced without focusing attention on any particular concept or object.This technique helped the participants perform better in divergent thinking, and generated more new ideas than previously 
Convergent thinking
Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is a process whereby one possible solution for a particular problem is generated. This method is measured using the Remote Associates Task method, where three unrelated words are presented to the participants, words such as ‘time’, ‘hair’ and ‘stretch’. The participants are then asked to identify the common link: in this case, ‘long’.
In Focused Attention meditation the individual focuses on a particular thought or object.Unfortunately, this technique had no significant effect on convergent thinking leading to resolving a problem. 


If you are not convinced by this single study, there are actually hundreds of studies all pointing in the same direction: there’s a strong link between meditation and creativity.

Tons of scientific studies on meditation

Of course, if you were to approach a Tibetan monk, and ask him whether he meditates for the sake of creativity, he will probably give you one of his typical smiles. People practicing meditation do it for a whole range of reasons since its benefits, both psychological (for stress, anxiety, cognitive function, depression, addiction, problem eating, focus, clarity, etc… ) and physiological (blood pressure, pain, stress markers, cellular health, sleep), have also been amply studied and are now being espoused by Western doctors, psychologists, etc…

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and the techniques themselves are fairly simple to master.  That’s one of the wonderful things about meditation; it’s easy yet so profound since it can literally change our brain both structurally and functionally thanks to what is called neuroplasticity. Here’s a fascinating study from the NIH describing how one can alter one’s brain using meditation.

Google embraces Mindfulness Meditation

Such overwhelming scientific evidence hasn’t gone unnoticed by corporations interested in the overall well-being of its employees. Google for example has been promoting meditation for many years because of its many benefits but principally because of what is called: Emotional Intelligence (EI), vs. IQ, EI has been shown to be a great predictor of job performance.

Google is in fact such a believer in the powers of meditation that it has open-sourced its meditation program through the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, so that individuals and corporations can benefit from the techniques of meditation that they have perfected. For more information, I would recommend that you read Google Chade-Meng Tan‘s wonderful book: Search Inside Yourself which advocates Mindfulness Meditation.

Some people might be reluctant to start meditation because they find it too “sect-like” or think that it requires them to switch their religious belief system. Nothing could be further from the truth in most cases! The same way one can practice yoga without believing in any of the Hindu gods, meditation and its many benefits can be experienced without any spiritual shift.

Do you want to try? Follow this mini-primer

If you wish to get a sample of what meditation feels like, here’s a mini-primer (inspired by the SIY book mentioned above)

  1. Find a place where you can sit comfortably (a train/subway/bus is actually OK)
  2.  Take three slow, deep breaths to inject both energy and relaxation
  3. Now, breathe naturally and bring a very gentle attention to your breath by either focusing on your nostrils, abdomen or the entire body.
  4. Be aware of the in breath and out breath and the space in between.
  5. Think of this exercise as resting the mind on the breath. You can visualize the breath to be a pillow or a resting place, and let the mind rest on it.
  6. Just be.
  7. (This is important!) If at any time, you feel distracted by a sensation, thought or sound, just acknowledge it, experience it and very gently let it go. Then, bring your attention very gently back to the breathing. It will happen over and over again. Don’t look down on yourself as a result. Just keep on bring your attention back
  8. Feel free to continue as long as you want or better set a gentle alarm to let you know that the 5 or 10 minutes are over.

Are you convinced yet?

If you are interested to find out more, I would suggest that you read Search Inside Yourself or Google “meditation” since there are many resources out there. For example, headspace (and its related mobile app) offers a free program to teach you some of the basics in 10 days, 10 minutes a day.

Interested in pursuing meditation? Or maybe you already are a avid practitioner? Either way, I would love to hear from you. Please do share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Aug 112013


Embrace restrictions to explore new creative paths.

We often think that when it comes to the creative process we need to take a “the sky is the limit” approach where everything and anything goes, without any restriction. In this post, I would like to object to the contrary.

If you were like me as a child, I disliked the essays that we had to write in elementary school where there was no mandated topic. Either by lack of imagination or maybe out of kindness, the teacher would ask us to write an essay on any topic we wished to talk about. I always struggled with those assignments because I would start writing on a topic, put down a few sentences, and then wished that I started on another more-interesting-after-all topic instead, to eventually move on to yet another topic, etc… In the end, I often ended up with a few half-baked drafts not worth sharing.

The problem was the lack of restrictions. When there was a topic, it felt like I could dive into it and explore it more thoroughly and offer more insightful ideas.

Don’t follow the path of least mental resistance

When faced with a problem requiring creativity, our lazy brains tends to follow the path of least mental resistance. Sure, we might find a solution, but is it really the best solution or even the right solution? More often than not,  the solution falls short of being optimal because we fail to have enough restrictions or requirements for it in order to focus the outcome.

A few years back, I challenged myself to “be a vegetarian for a year”, i.e. I restricted my diet to not eat meat (I was actually ovo-lacto, pescetarian, for the purists out there). As a result of such restriction, one would think that my diet became bland and unimaginative, but the opposite actually happened: I started exploring foods that I never tried before because I was previously stuck on “I must have meat” mode. Adding restrictions created a new void and forced me to try alternatives that I would have probably never tried before. It expanded my culinary palette and made me a more adventurous and more creative foodie.

Restrictions compel some creative responses from the brain

Restrictions compel some creative responses from the brain to find a way around them. It’s often self-imposed restrictions/constraints used by artists (choice of medium), musicians (limited choices of instruments, arrangements, etc…), poets (sonnet, haiku, limerick), writers (see Georges Perec’s 300-page novel “La Disparition” written without the letter “e”) and architects (material, site) that engender masterpieces.

Now I’m not saying that restrictions are fun and easy. They require more brain-power and more patience because they force us to abandon the aforementioned path of least mental resistance. Despite the pain, some people claim that it’s the only way that they can be creative and they actually welcome or even induce those restrictions. How many of us waited for the very last night before an essay was due before starting to work on it? I’m not saying that a self-induced time restriction is the way to go but some people thrive on it.

Restrictions forces us to explore new opportunities and escape the ordinary

So, don’t see restrictions as a limitation of your choices but as a shift of choices. Don’t view restrictions as a curse but rather as a chance to explore new opportunities and go down less-traveled roads, and as a welcomed challenge to stretch your creative muscles beyond the traditional and the escape the ordinary, in order to produce something truly innovative.


[Photo Credit: photo taken along highway 89, between Page, AZ and Zion NP]

Jun 052013

drill sergeant poetry

(This is the first installment of my “Unconventional  Innovation Boot Camp” series)

YOU MAGGOTS! I’m going to make innovators out of you! Grab a pad of paper, a pencil, and start writing POETRY!

Ugh?? Read on…

There’s no denying that to become an innovator one has to think outside the proverbial box, see what others have failed to see or discover the missing link between two unlikely ideas.

Sure, the execution of innovative ideas will certainly rely on a well thought-out process, maybe some engineering, a healthy dose of marketing, a sound infrastructure, a seasoned management team, etc… but before all that you need to come up with THE idea and whether you like it or not, the birth of that idea falls into the realm of creativity.

How does one develop creative aptitudes? Some will contend that you are born with them. Born with the typical skills associated with creativity: musical skills, a talent for painting or the gift of writing.

But studies have shown (including this one) that creativity can in fact be taught.

As 40-something man, trained as a Software Engineer, with zero talent for creating music or painting, I have nevertheless always considered myself creative, but I was never able to express that creativity through traditional means. Even though I would claim that being a Software Engineer and being able to create products or services out of nothingness requires for a fair amount of creativity, it is also restrictive and only appreciated by fellow nerds.

That’s until one day, a friend of mine suggested that I use poetry.

You have no creative skills? Think again. Enter poetry!


If you read these words then I will assume that you have some familiarity with the English language (not my mother tongue, BTW). That’s the good news since the same way that a painter has his palette of paint, various brushes and canvas, all you need to write poetry is a sheet of paper, a pen and the words in your vocabulary, and no prior skills required!

I’m no expert but to me, poetry is playing with words in order to express ideas. You can think of it as brainstorming on your own.

How does poetry cultivate creativity?

The way we typically think imposes (often self-imposed) thematic boundaries and logical frameworks within which ideas are allowed to develop. Poetry frees you of such limitations. You can be as silly and as illogical as you want. It’s all about playing with words and ideas and breaking out of the proverbial box.

By freely juxtaposing or clashing ideas together you invite the mind to generate even more ideas and go down innovative avenues that wouldn’t have been visible otherwise.

How do you get started?

They are many sites that will help you with getting started with writing poetry, including this simple how-to primer.

My only one piece of advice as a beginner is: don’t feel like you have to use rhymes, or specific forms or metre.  Use prose and keep it simple.

After getting the aforementioned paper-and-pencil (some people prefer to use MS Word or their mobile phone or tablet), look around you or within you, reflect on some past memories and start writing what comes to mind.

Force yourself to write for 10 minutes where you are not allowed to stop even if your words on paper might look like a stream of consciousness at first. You can then extract the ideas or sentences that stand out and that you would like to explore further.

If you can’t find the right time to do it, check out this blog post.

Poetry as creative tool for innovation

If you want to use poetry as a tool to develop ideas around a product or service that you have in mind, feel free to do so using these guidelines:

  • Use flowery, over-the-top language to describe your service
  • Write a love poem to your product
  • Explain your service in a poetic way to someone who just stepped out of a time-machine from 2000 years ago.

Do this often enough that you might become your company’s own “artiste in assignment“.

Finally, instead throwing away your art, type it up and save it somewhere. Better yet, share it as part of a blog to reread later and observe your progress. I just created a tumblr account for myself where I marry my pictures and (lame) poetry for that purpose alone.

Practice enough and who knows you might even be able to add “poet” to your business card…. Engineer, innovator and poet.  How cool is that?

May 282013

MBTI wheel


The reputable MBTI personality test to help you know yourself and others




Blurred signature


If you have ever received a work email from me, I’m wondering if you have ever noticed the last line of my signature? It looks like this:

It’s two URLs (highlighted in yellow here) and if you were to click on them you would find out that I’m an INTP-type person according to the well-known and respected Myers-Briggs test (based on the theories of Carl Jung).

The history behind this is that many years ago, my company invested money and effort to get a lot of people through the Myers & Briggs test and training.The rationale of knowing that type in the workplace were manifold but mainly:

(inspired by http://www.myersbriggs.org/type-use-for-everyday-life/mbti-type-at-work/)

The rationale behind the MBTI® personality test


  • Know thyself:

When you understand your type preferences, you can approach your own work in a manner that best suits your style, including how you manage your time, problem solving, best approaches to decision making, and dealing with stress. Knowledge of type can help you deal with the culture of the place you work, the development of new skills, understanding your participation on teams, and coping with change in the workplace. If your work involves selling, knowledge of type can be helpful in understanding what clients need from you, especially how they best like to learn about products and services and how they like to interact during the process of gathering information and making decisions.

  • support many different functions and situations including managing others, development of leadership skills, organizing tasks, creation and management of teams, training for management and staff, conflict resolution, motivation, executive coaching, diversity, recognition and rewards, and change management.

The rationale then is still very valid now.
The reason I’m bringing this up is that recently while researching my son’s type in order to help find a future college major (he’s 16), I found a website that allows you to take the test, for FREE. I took it and it arrived at the same conclusion that the professional tester did when she administered the test to me…. Minus the $$$ my company spent.

Take the test

I would encourage anyone to take the FREE (yet pretty thorough) test at http://www.mypersonality.info/basic-vs-pro/personality-type-test (it requires you to create a login but they have a “zero spam policy”).
If enough people take it and are interested in sharing their test, I think it would be pretty cool to create, in your organization, a wiki/SharePoint page listing everyone and their associated personality type.

If you do take the test, the website will produce a nice summary chart like this one:

INTP chart for me

If you end up being INTP, I’m sure that you’ll agree that INTPs rock!
Take it and let me know…

And for those who know me and thought that I was an extrovert, you’ll come to the realization that I’m a good faker. 🙂

May 122013

how creative are you

So, you think you are really creative and can rock any brainstorming session like no one else!

But how creative are you? Can creativity be measured and evaluated? This blog post offers some answers and 3 ways to test your creativity.

As creativity’s role is becoming more and more essential in people’s life both at home, in school and at work, scientists are increasingly paying attention. In fact, the “science of creativity” has developed into a popular field of research.


1. Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT)

The truth is that even though the interest has grown exponentially recently, research on the topic is not new. In fact, as early as the 1940s, E. Paul Torrance, nicknamed “the father of creativity”, began researching creativity in order to improve American education. The problem is that, as any good scientist, Torrance first needed to be able to quantify, measure and analyze creativity.

That’s how he came up in the 60’s with the set of tests named  Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (or TTCT) where Torrance claims to be able to measure what he calls “divergent thinking“: the characteristic of coming up with more answers, or more original answers, rather than deriving a single best answer.

One of the most iconic elements of the TTCT was the Incomplete Figure test; the drawing equivalent of exquisite corpse. Here are 2 examples of incomplete drawings :


followed by 2 drawings inspired by them

ttct_2(image credits and for more drawings: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/galleries/2010/07/10/creativity-test.html#slide1)

Give it a try: download the template here (or this one, and this one) and let your creativity do the drawing.


2. Remote Associates Tests (RAT)

Remote Associates Tests are my favorite because they are more like puzzles instead of open-ended tests which are difficult to gauge.  The concept is simple: you are given 3 seemingly unrelated words, such as “falling , actor , dust”, and you are asked to come up with a fourth word that connects all 3 words. In this example, the answer is “star” for “falling star”, “movie star (actor)” and “stardust”.

Finding the 4th word is not always easy especially when trying a methodical approach or brute force.  The answer often comes as a flash of insight (almost out of nowhere). Relaxing your mind, and letting it wander, instead of applying the typical “think! think! think!” approach works much better. Supposedly being sleepy and drunk helps too.

Give it a try: here’s my personal favorite web page to test your RAT skills: http://www.remote-associates-test.com/. It’s addictive, so use responsibly.


3. Alternative Uses Task

Developed by J.P. Guilford in 1967, the Alternative Uses Task tests evaluate creativity by having you think of as many possible uses for a common house hold item (such as a brick, paperclip, or newspaper)

Example: name all the uses for a brick:

  1. A paperweight
  2. A doorstop
  3. A mock coffin at a Barbie funeral
  4. To throw through a window
  5. To use as a weapon
  6. To hit my sister on the head with

The test also measures divergent thinking and scoring is comprised of 4 components:

  1. Originality – how common is the use (vs. other people’s responses). For brick: “doorstop” (common) vs. ” A mock coffin at a Barbie funeral” (disturbingly original?)
  2. Fluency – total number of uses found
  3. Flexibility – or different categories. In this case there are five different categories (weapon and hit sister are from the same general idea of weapon)
  4. Elaboration – amount of detail (e.g. “a doorstop” vs.  “a door stop to prevent a door slamming shut in a strong wind”

Give it a try:  look around for a common house object, say a vase, how many uses can you think of for that vase.

For many more interesting tests, check out this fantastic resource page.

This post was partly inspired by this Studio 360 podcast.


May 072013

Socrates can still teach us a thing or two about idea sharing

Socrates re: idea sharing

This LBB is once again inspired by Michael Michalko‘s brilliant book: Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking techniques.

In ancient Greece, Socrates and his friends spent years freely meeting and conversing with each other, having dialogues that helped shape Western civilization. They exchanged ideas without trying to change the other’s mind and without bitter argument. They felt free to propose whatever was on their mind. They always paid attention to each other’s views and established an extraordinary fellowship. Socrates and his friends bound themselves by principles of discussion to maintain a sense of collegiality. These principles were known as “Koinonia,” which means “spirit of fellowship” (no religious connotation here).

The principles they devised were to establish dialogue, be collegial (thinking of others as equals), clarify your thinking, and be honest

Socrates’s 4 principles on how to share ideas

I) Establish dialogue. In Greek, the word dialogue means a “talking through.” The Greeks believed that the key to establishing dialogue is to exchange ideas without trying to change someone’s mind. This is not the same as discussion, which from its Latin root means to “dash to pieces.” The basic rules of dialogue for the Greeks were: “don’t argue,” “don’t interrupt,” and “listen carefully.”

II) Be collegial (thinking of others as equals). All participants must regard each another as equal colleagues, even if they have nothing in common.

It is important because thought is participative. Any controlling authority, no matter how carefully presented, will tend to inhibit the free play of thought. If one person is used to having his view prevail because she is the most senior person present, then she must surrender that privilege. If one person is used to being silent because he is more junior, then he must surrender the security of keeping quiet.

III) Clarify your thinking. To clarify your thinking, you must suspend all assumptions. Free thought is blocked if our thoughts and opinions are based on assumptions. For instance, if you believe certain people are not creative, you’re not likely to give their ideas fair consideration. Check you assumptions about everything and maintain an unbiased view.

IV) Be honest. Say what you think. Socrates and his followers believed Koinonia allowed a group to access a larger pool of common thoughts that could not be accessed individually. Through Koinonia, a new kind of thinking starts to come into being, based on the development of common thoughts. People are no longer in opposition but are participants in a pool of common ideas that are capable of constant development and change.


So, even though your goal might not be to reshape Western civilization, the next time you are in a ideation/brainstorming session, try to keep those guidelines in mind.

It worked for Socrates.

[Photo credit:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASocrates_Louvre.jpg]

May 022013



Whether you have been thinking about innovation for a while or want to get a good sense of the current playing field in academia, business or non-profit, reading a few good books is a brilliant way to inspire and guide you.

There are many books out there but I can’t read them all, so here’s my humble selection of books related to innovation that I read (or listened to thanks to audible.com) that have resonated with me:

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
Whether you already work for or own a start-up or business, this is a fantastic book.
It’s very inspiring and has a ton of great, practical advice to take you to the next step.
The book is full of technical tips and information, as well as real-life stories that make the book come alive.
The central idea of the book is to develop a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in order to get feedback from clients as early as possible. The feedback will tell you how to improve the product or “pivot” altogether toward another better/product.

The Little Black Book of Innovation: How It Works, How to Do It
There’s a saying telling us that in life there’s no short-cut but this book might prove that is wrong. It’s goal is to attempt to summarize the field of innovation. In this book, the author Scott D. Anthony strikes the right balance between clearly explaining the “state of the union” re: the theory of innovation as far as academia is concerned and his own experiences as an innovator himself and as a teacher on the topic.
Armed with wit and a gift for clearly explaining complex topic, the author does a brilliant job at making the discipline of innovation both appealing and inspiring.

The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth
If you have heard the expression “Disruptive Innovation”, you have to thank Clayton Christensen, the author of this book, for coining it. His seminal work was “The Innovator’s Dilemma” (in 1997) where he set the stage for his Disruptive Innovation theory. This more recent book is a continuation of “The Innovator’s Dilemma” where Christensen offers further thoughts on what make innovations disruptive.
Christensen being a Harvard professor, his assertions are backed by plenty of academic references (his own and others’).
The key idea is that even if a organization does everything right it will be at risk of attacks from a disruptive innovator with a “game changer” that is simpler, more accessible and more affordable.
This book tells how to guard from such attacks and/or become the disruptive innovator.
(BTW, no need to buy “The Innovator’s Dilemma” since the author summarizes it nicely in this book)

The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization
This brilliant book exposes us to the strategies that the world-famous design firm IDEO uses to foster innovative thinking, throughout its organization.
Tom Kelley, the founder of  IDEO, offers a lot of advice his this book for any organization that is serious about innovation. He masterfully mixes engaging anecdotes and business cases borrowed from his 20+ years of experience managing IDEO.
The main idea is that it takes more than one type of person to make innovation happen in an organization: from the Anthropologist—the person who goes into the field to see how customers use and respond to products, to the Caregiver who’s the foundation of human-powered innovation. Of course, one person can be more than one of those 10 faces.

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries
The premise behind this engaging book from Peter Sims is that successful, innovative men and organizations became that way by methodically taking small, experimental steps in order to discover, test and develop new ideas.
Planning a project around one big idea is risky because it’s almost impossible to determine whether it will succeed as-is.
The approach that the author recommends is to make a series of little bets in the general direction of the initial idea. By implementing those bets, one can then learn from small failures or great wins in order to lead the idea/innovation toward an inevitable success.

Have you read any of these books? Or do you want to talk about them, please feel free to use the comment section below.

Also, do you have one or more favorite books on innovation that is not listed above? Please do share!

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