Transcript: A Crash Course in Creativity by Tina Seelig at TEDxStanford Conference

Here is the full transcript of Tina Seelig’s TEDx Talk titled ‘A Crash Course in Creativity’ at TEDxStanford Conference.


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Tina Seelig – Professor of the Practice, Stanford University

What an amazing day filled with incredible ideas!

So, where do these ideas come from? This is a question that I have been pondering for the last 35 years. Where do ideas come from? I started as a neurophysiologist, poking little tiny cells with even tinier electrodes to see what they would tell me about creativity and innovation.

After I finished my PhD, I went out to study and sort of learn all about creativity in the wild, working in big companies and small companies, even started my own. And for the last almost 13 years I have been in Stanford, teaching classes on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. And in my classes I have done endless experiments with my students, trying to figure out what is involved with unlocking creativity.

What I’ve realized over the last few years is that we look at creativity in much too narrow a way. We really need to open the aperture and look at creativity in a very different light. And what I’ve done is put together a model that I’m going to basically explain to you in the next few minutes, about all the things we need to unlock creativity.

And I want to point out, before I take it apart, that this innovation engine, that’s what I call it, has two parts. The inside is you: your knowledge, your imagination, your attitude. And the outside is the outside world: the resources, the habitat, and the culture.

So let’s start, let’s start where most people start. Most people start thinking about creativity by thinking about imagination. So let’s start there. Now imagination, one of the sad things is that we don’t really teach people how to increase their imagination in school. And so there really are ways to increase our ability to come up with really interesting ideas, we have to go back to kindergarten to see what the problem is.

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If you are in kindergarten, it’s very likely you get a question like this: What is the sum of 5 plus 5? So what is the answer to this? 10. You guys are really smart, right? OK, we know it’s 10 because there is one right answer to this problem.

But what if we ask this question in a slightly different way? What if we ask: “What two numbers add up to 10?” How many answers are there to this? Infinite. Infinite number! And this is critically important, and something that many of the speakers have brought up today, is that the way you ask a question determines the type of answers you get. The question you ask is the frame into which the answers will fall. And if you don’t ask a question in a thoughtful way, you are not going to get really interesting answers.

Consider the fact that the Copernican revolution came about by re-framing. The question, what if the Earth is not the center of the Solar System? What if the Sun is? And that opened up the entire study of astronomy. But you know what, you don’t have to do this in such a serious way. You can practice it every single day with jokes. Because most jokes that we tell are interesting, because the frame switches in the middle of the joke.

Consider this, the Pink Panther, if you see them in this movie. He walks into a hotel, there is a little dog sitting on the carpet, he says to the hotel manager, “Does your dog bite?” And the manager says, “No, my dog doesn’t bite.” He reaches down. The dog basically attacks and he says, “What happened?” He says, “Well, that’s not my dog.”

Think about it. Whenever you hear a joke, you will find that almost always it’s that a frame switched in the middle, and it’s a really fun way to practice framing and re-framing problems. So that’s one of the ways that you can increase your imagination. But there are other ways.

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