Scott Barry Kaufman: Creative People are "Mindful Daydreamers"

Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee

Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee

Successful creatives are "'open to experience,' highly sensitive, often introverted, resilient and vulnerable." 

Is this description of creative potential also a description of intelligence?

Recounting his life story, cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman talked to IdeaFestival attendees on Friday about how traditional measurements of intelligence are now changing to account for what he referred to as "activators of potential," the so-called soft skills.

That accounting is happening in no small part to his work.

Kaufman's life long goal has been to "redefine intelligence" away from a relatively narrow confines of the traditional IQ test so that fewer children are consigned, as he was through the 9th grade, to special education, and more are helped to fulfill their talents. IQ tests, he pointed out, are great at measuring quick thinking, but not deep or reflective thinking, or mistake tolerance.

An ability "to fall in love," he said, "with a future image of themselves" is after all hard to do when that self is being treated as "ungifted," as he was.

That is also the title of Kaufman's book.

A quick story: in the presentation just prior to Kaufman's talk, the artist Titus Kaphar explained his revelation in his early twenties that "if he could make it visual, he could learn anything." That understanding of who he was has since been the key to his success as his haunting mixed media and paintings - and the acclaim they have won - can attest. What the IdeaFestival audience didn't see, sadly, was the huge hug exchanged between Kaufman and Kaphar backstage at the IdeaFestival after Kaphar came off stage.

As it turns out, the two have known each other for many years. And they met once more through sheer coincidence. Because of a last minute cancellation of one of the scheduled speakers, Kaufman was contacted relatively late in the process to speak during the Friday lunch hour at IdeaFestival 2015.

Not every success is planned.

As a cognitive scientist, Kaufman has founded the Imagination Institute to expand our ideas about intelligence to included the stage-setting abilities that so often precede insight. This dual-process theory of human potential is one that includes passion, inspiration, resilience, grit, grace and an ability to adapt among the qualities needed for any individual to flourish. They account, as well, for an ability to freely imagine while being simultaneously able to pick out and focus on important connections revealed by expansive thought. And in an age when innovative success depends less on what you know than what you do with what you know, that work, it strikes me, is needed more than ever.

Stay curious.™