Creativity Course Shows Entrepreneurs How to Innovate

Teaching the next generation of entrepreneurs how to foster creativity is key to launching new business models.
Strategic Facilitation & Ideation, MatthewEMay.com
April 17, 2012

Many people believe creativity cannot be taught. But Dr. Tina Seelig disagrees. In a new book, inGenius: A Crash Course in Creativity, she provides techniques of interest to any small business owner grappling with how to create something new and deliver that new idea to the world.

Seelig is the executive director of  the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and the director of the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation at Stanford University. Her book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, was an international bestseller. inGenius gives its reader access to the material she teaches in a course at Stanford's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. (Only 40 students can take the course, out of the more than 150 who apply for each session.)

Seelig's premise is apparent from the beginning of inGenius, in which she cites two approaches to a problem. "What is the sum of 5 plus 5?" There's only one right answer, of course: 10. Now, consider a very similar question that's framed differently: "What two numbers add up to 10?"

"The first question has only one right answer," writes Seelig. "And the second question has an infinite number of solutions, including negative numbers and fractions. These two problems, which rely on simple addition, differ only in the way they are framed. In fact, all questions are the frame into which the answers fall. And as you can see, by changing the frame, you dramatically change the range of possible solutions."

Seelig has distilled her more than 12 years of teaching creativity at Stanford into a framework she calls the Innovation Engine. It explains how we generate creativity on the inside and how the outside world influences it. Six variables work together to catalyze or inhibit our creative abilities.

Inside your Innovation Engine are your knowledge, imagination and attitude.

  • Your knowledge provides the fuel for your imagination.
  • Your imagination is the catalyst for the transformation of knowledge into new ideas.
  • Your attitude is the spark that sets the Innovation Engine in motion.

Several outside factors influence your Innovation Engine, including resources, habitat and culture.

  • Resources are all the assets in your community.
  • Habitats are your local environments, including your home, school or office.
  • Culture is the collective beliefs, values and behaviors in your community.

Seelig's model suggests we cannot isolate these factors. They fit together as part of a whole system and profoundly influence each other. Your willingness to take risks, experiment and push through real and perceived barriers affects your ability to find creative solutions to difficult challenges.

The book includes exercises, projects, tools and techniques that stimulate creativity. Readers can use that creativity to develop business models that delivers something new to the world. The book also features anecdotes that bring those tangible takeaways to life.

"I chose the word 'engine,'" writes Seelig, "because it, like the word 'ingenious,' is derived from the Latin word for innate talent and is a reminder that these traits come naturally to all of us. My goal is to provide a model, a shared vocabulary and a set of tools that you can use right away to evaluate and increase your own creativity and that of your team, organization and community."

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Strategic Facilitation & Ideation, MatthewEMay.com