on April 20, 2012
I've just finished reading Tina Seelig's "InGenius" and the best compliment I can pay it is that it has changed me, "supercharged" me and provided me with inspiration, motivation and - best of all - it has helped me find creative answers to specific innovation challenges I had been working on for some time.
Her model of the Innovation Engine with its six components (culture, attitude, imagination, resources, knowledge, habitat) is brilliant. When you think of the process of innovation in this way, you realize how critical each component is. In a proper engine, each part is necessary but not sufficient - take one small valve or bearing out and the engine grinds to a halt. But in most environments that want to foster innovation and creativity, we often see several components that are inadequate or missing altogether - which explains why so many such efforts are unsuccessful.
As she elaborates on the engine model, she covers tools that are probably familiar to people who have an interest in creativity and innovation. However, as she did with the engine model, she analyzes how and why these tools work and, more importantly, how they are often mis-used. Her section on brainstorming is a perfect example. Most people think they understand how to run a brainstorming session, but they really don't; they just collect a random bunch of people in a room (often a room unsuitable for the purpose) and start tossing ideas out in a free-for-all frenzy. Tina summarizes the "rules" of brainstorming clearly and succinctly, and in a way that will probably make you realize that most of the brainstorming sessions in which you have participated were, at best, poor and pale imitation of what really effective and efficient brainstorming should be like.
I could tell you more, but I don't want to spoil the pleasure and insights you'll get by reading "InGenius" yourself.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, "InGenius" changed and energized me. I read it over two mornings and, while reading, I found myself taking many notes and furiously writing down ideas. When a book permanently and substantively changes the way you view things - your long-term perspective - while giving you immediately applicable insights, advice and tools, you can't ask for more. "InGenius" is such a book. Highly-recommended. Thank you Tina!
on April 22, 2012
After reading Tina Seeligs last book "What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20" two years ago, I had to track down her personal email address and thank her for writing such a great book on fostering personal creativity. With this book, she really focuses in how to create an environment and culture that promotes creative an innovative thinking not just for yourself, but among employees and colleagues as well. With her two books, she gives an inside look at what she teaches in her creativity class at Stanford, and the lessons techniques she uses are very powerful!
I found her writing in this book so uniquely valuable for two major reasons:
Focus on creativity: In my own formal and self education, there has been a supreme lack of focus on creativity and imagination. Creativity is a tough metric to quantity and measure, and I'm afraid that most educators (and business managers - myself included) shy away from it for that exact reason! Once grading begins, assignments are tailored to become easily grade-able, via multiple choice tests and the memorization and regurgitation of facts, and our "creative muscle" atrophies. In the workplace, and in plenty of business writing, the major focus is on improving employee productivity on linear tasks. The last creative assignment I was assigned in a classroom was in the 5th grade (and I made one heck of a solar system project!), and I have never once been asked to come up with creative solutions in a workplace! This book has given me the tools (via Tina's techniques on leading brainstorming sessions specifically) to use to really change the attitude and culture of my own office to focus again on creativity, imagination, and innovation, like we all used so naturally when we were children!
Focus on workspace design: Tina has opened up my eyes to a key element of the "Innovation Engine" that had never occurred to me as important before: creating a workplace habitat to foster imagination! It is so obviously important, and yet it seems to be so widely overlooked! I am ashamed to admit that I have completely overlooked this element before, and It is something I know needs to change in my own office if I want to see better results and creative collaboration.
If you want to give your coworkers and employees the tools they need to begin creating new solutions - as opposed to the typical goal of getting them to just move faster - then this is the book you need to read!
on July 10, 2012
To be clear, I am an accidental reader of inGenius: A Crash course on Creativity. I heard a discussion of the book on the radio on the same morning I needed to spend a few more dollars to qualify for free shipping of my Amazon.com order (their plan worked). I have not read Dr. Seelig's prior works. As I make both critical and complementary remarks, please read the whole review or skip to the next one.
The premise of the book seems to be that we can all be more creative than we are. I agree. While I have no doubt that the author is very creative and has inspired many others to be more creative. I am less certain that she has considered the challenges faced outside of her own environment. She teaches in a creative field (design) in a highly selective university (Stanford) where she is able to hand select the students she teaches (150 students competing for 40 seats in the class). She works in a region buzzing with creativity and with people (entrepreneurs, et al) who are already bent toward creativity. This is not reason enough to reject the book. I just suspect that she slightly oversells the ease with which this creative transformation can occur among less inspired, more downtrodden, average folks working in more mundane industries and regions.
Having stated my caveat I can say I enjoyed reading the book. My normal fare is more academic in orientation so the light writing style made it a quick, refreshing read. The exercises she discusses and the anecdotes she shares are useful in evoking ideas on how one might be more creative and/or encourage more creativity in others. The final chapter presents a generalized model, the Innovation Engine, which summarizes the lessons of the book. The basic concepts were not new to me but I did find some inspiration by reading the book. As suggested by the author (and experienced by the reviewer) it is easy for one's attitude and perspective to erode until new ideas seem silly and solutions to problems seem impossible; ruts become comfortable. Reading this book will not fundamentally change my life but it has inspired me to dust off my creative side a bit and to reexamine some of my routine ways of doing and being. Those of you with equally dusty minds might benefit as well.
on April 18, 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."
on April 28, 2012
The basic goal of this book is to explore creativity through a particular model that Prof. Seelig discusses fairly thoroughly in the last chapters of the book. She calls the model the "innovation engine", and discusses it in terms of three attributes, each attribute having a dual character, partly subjective and partly objective. These dual pairs are "knowledge-resources", "attitude-culture" and "imagination-habitat".
With this general model, her principal interest is in applying it to what one might call the "American" or "entrepreneurial" character. This character is recognizable in terms of its focus on goals, competition, image, success, and rewards. Although there are other applications she makes for her innovation engine, she develops, through anecdote and practical suggestions, this attention to "entrepreneurship".
At the beginning of each chapter, she clearly states the theme and focus of the chapter. Following this, she supplies interesting and attractive anecdotes to illustrate the theme, and then at the end of the chapter summarizes the theme clearly. Each chapter has just a few clearly-defined goals, so as to make this approach effective.
As an example, the chapter that emphasizes the importance of experimentation is called "Move Fast - Break Things". At the end of just the first paragraph of that chapter, she registers the theme with outstanding clarity, with the last sentence of the paragraph consisting of a very apropos quote from a scientist: "An experiment is a question which science poses to Nature, and a measurement is a recording of Nature's answer". She then gives a discussion of using experimentation in education, providing an example of a comparison between experimental styles of two groups of young students, who are, incidentally and very cleverly, themselves part of an experiment. She pursues her discussion with several more examples, all very interesting and poignant. There are nice sharp breaks between each anecdote so that one can easily grasp the points she is making with them as the chapter progresses. In the course of these sections, she tries to draw our attention to how the examples or anecdotes apply to different aspects of the "innovation engine". She closes, in the final paragraph, with a nice summary of the chapter, and another pithy quote, this time from Henry Ford: "Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently".
Overall, this is a superbly written and organized book, which anyone can appreciate, whether or not one feels connected to the "entrepreneurial" focus. The "innovation engine" is a very useful model, and one that is worth taking into account seriously in considering the nature and fostering of creativity. Prof. Seelig opens our eyes extremely well to the power of this model by a very efficient and engaging account, through numerous examples. I strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in creativity.
on February 6, 2013
This is a book about fostering creativity. Compared to the author's last wonderful book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World, this book, although similarly drew from the author's couse at d.school of Standford University, contains fewer in-class concrete exercises and classroom interaction. Instead, the book adds more case studies and examples from related field, which is useful but provides less an action plan or insight to otherwise pretty easy to understand but hard to practice ideas (for example, if I may summarize each chapter in one phase, Chapter 1 is "Change frame of reference", Chapter 2 is "Combine different ideas", Chapter 3 is "Brainstorming", Chapter 4 is "Paying attention", and so on. These concepts are not completely unheard of in other places).
This is a good book that tightly and with enthusiasm provides a valuable framework for generating personal and organizational creativity. Seelig covers a lot of ground that's been covered elsewhere, but she does it from a direct practitioner's perspective, which adds a lot of value to what she says. Her innovation engine metaphor is a little forced but it works to differentiate the various components needed to drive creativity - seeing things from a different perspective, combining knowledge from different fields, increasing your powers of observation, etc. Where I found the book a small disappointment was in Seelig's endorsement of group brainstorming since studies have shown that people are more creative alone or in modified brainstorming groups (brainwriting, for example). She also spent an excessive amount of space explaining the nuts-and-bolts of how to conduct a brainstorming session. Another area where I think she made a mistake is the way she characterized De Bono's Six Thinking Hats. The purpose of this technique is not to become aware that you usually "wear" one hat more than another, say the green hat of creativity vs. the red hat of criticism. The purpose of the technique is instead to deliberately wear a different hat over the course of a group session to take advantage of the benefits of each mindset. Other than these two faults I would recommend the book because Seelig's writing motivates the reader to take action and because she does cover all the necessary areas to get your personal or organizational productivity up and running.
on February 21, 2014
While I applaud the effort to help people hone in on their creativity - which is quite hard - the book fell somewhat flat for me. There were many platitudes along the lines of "collaboration fosters creativity", "work environment is important", or "you need to view yourself as creative in order to be innovative". While these truisms may be useful for some, I doubt most people could derive any real value from them, especially when practical applications are not suggested. There is somewhat of an academic naiveté and redundancy in her observations about entrepreneurship. The diagram about the Innovation Engine is essentially saying that everything matters, in broad concepts ("Imagination", "Knowledge", etc.). It's akin to saying: "In order to play a strategy game, you need to be strategic".
My other problem with this book is the dispersed, anecdotal evidence supporting her statements. For example, she claims that being limited in resources and constrained sparks creativity. Although I would argue that "resourcefulness" is more appropriate to describe what individuals in those situations have to resort to, I am willing to accept the premise. Unfortunately, she supports her theory with just one example from the space shuttle program (which is somewhat flimsy since one could argue that they had no choice but to improvise, and goes back to my point about resourcefulness). She then goes on to talk about the Lean Startup, which quite honestly has much more to do with shortening the cycles of customer validation. In addition, she ends the chapter by asserting that in some cases, having no constraints is also useful, which leaves the reader with very little to take away.
In general, most chapters get lost in a hodge-podge of buzzwords and random facts rather than building a comprehensive thesis. Her chapter on observing, and looking beyond what we expect to see, is probably the most thought-provoking part of the book.
Overall, a good catalog of ideas and anecdotes, but don't expect to get much deep insight from this book.
There are six components that comprise what Tina Seelig characterizes as an "Innovation Engine." Three are internal: information that becomes knowledge (fuel), imagination (a catalytic converter that transforms knowledge into new ideas), and attitude (a spark that ignites the Engine, setting it in motion). All three internal components are essential and interdependent. Seelig suggests that there are also three external components: resources (a community's assets), habitats (physical locations within which the Engine functions at peak performance), and culture (shared beliefs, values, and behaviors of the given community). As I read the Introduction in which Seelig briefly discusses the Engine, I immediately thought of an orchestra and chorus, comprised of world-class talent led by a great conductor, who perform Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Each of her Engine's components has a counterpart within the structure of a symphony orchestra in combination with its score and venue.
These are among the passages in the book that caught my eye:
o The "Theory of Inventive Problem Solving" or TRIZ (the Russian acronym) methodology (Pages 50-51)
o A two-by-two creativity/pressure matrix (106-108)
o Habitats that simulate or inhibit creativity (128-131)
o Edward de Bono's "Six Thinking Hats" model/exercise (128-131)
o Creating a habitat that encourages and supports risk taking and experimentation (160-163)
o Tapping into and activating strong emotional engagement (179-180)
o Précis: Knowledge, Imagination, and Attitude (185-189)
I commend Tina Seelig on immediately establishing a direct, personal rapport with her reader as she begins to provide a wealth of information, insights, and counsel within eleven chapters. She then sustains that rapport throughout her narrative. Presumably many others will feel (as I did) that she wrote this book specifically for them. When concluding the book, she observes, "You hold the key to your Innovation Engine and have creative genius waiting to be unleashed. By tapping into this natural resource you have the power to overcome challenges and generate opportunities of all dimensions. Your ideas - big and small - are the critical starting point for innovations that propel us forward. Without creativity, we are trapped in a world that is not just stagnant, but one that slips backward. As such, we are each responsible for inventing the future. Turn the key."
on April 3, 2013
I enjoyed Selig's first book and pn that basis bought this one. But its a huge disappointment. The book could have been condensed, without any loss, to an article. The small size of the book, the large font, the many blank pages, and so forth make for an overpriced affair. And, most of the content is stories with little tangible 'stuff'. Taken together, this adds little.