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How to Raise a Creative Child

By Shlomo Maital

creative child

Adam Grant, a Wharton management professor and New York Times Op-Ed contributor, has written a wonderful piece on “how to raise a creative child”, based on solid research. Here are a few of his observations. Parents (and grandparents): Take note.

  • Malcolm Gladwell, in one of his books, says success depends on investing 10,000 hours of practice. OK…but, says Grant, “can’t practice blind us to ways to improve our area of study?…the more we practice, the more we become entrenched – trapped in familiar ways of thinking?
  • What motivates people to practice a skill…is passion – discovered through natural curiosity or nurtured through early enjoyable experiences with an activity or many activities.
  • Psychologist Benjamin Bloom’s study of the early roots of world-class musicians, artists and scientists found that “their parents didn’t dream of raising superkids. They responded to the intrinsic motivation of their children. When their children showed interest and enthusiasm, their parents supported them.”
  • What does it take to raise a creative child? One study showed: parents of ordinary (non-creative) children had an average of six rules, like schedules, bedtime… parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule.
  • Harvard Prof. Teresa Amabile, creativity guru,  says parents of creative children placed emphasis on moral values, rather than on specific rules. At Grafton MA.’s Touchstone School, I had a wonderful discussion with children; they told me that once they integrated the school’s core values, rules of behavior were no longer necessary.
  • Parents of creative children encouraged their kids to find “joy in work”. Their children had the freedom to sort out their own values and discover their own interests. And that set them up to flourish as creative adults.


  •    It’s not rocket science. Find what your kids love doing, what stimulates their interest. Help them pursue them. Let them enjoy the pursuit. Build in their core values, then make them think for themselves about how to apply them. Avoid long lists of rules. Let them have fun. Give them freedom to explore.   And, though Grant doesn’t say this, make them T-shaped. Deep knowledge in something. Wide broad knowledge in many things.

Adam Grant. How to raise a creative child. International New York Times, Wed. Feb. 3, 2016, p. 9. 

Read This Blog — Tomorrow

 By Shlomo Maital


   There are two personality styles, for dealing with pressing tasks.   One – reduce the tension, stress and anxiety they cause, by getting them done, now and quickly, and end the source of the stress. Two – reduce the tension, by putting off the task, “I’ll do it tomorrow”, procrastinate, and basically shove the task under the carpet.

     Which one is you?   Me? I’m the first. I do things now, quickly, often rather poorly, just to get rid of that nagging tension, that something HAS to be done, often something not pleasant. I think of myself as a creative person. But it turns out, according to U. of Pennsylvania Wharton School Professor Adam Grant, writing in The New York Times, procrastination may HELP creativity, not hinder it.   Here is his argument:

     So Jihae, now a professor at the University of Wisconsin, designed some experiments. She asked people to come up with new business ideas. Some were randomly assigned to start right away. Others were given five minutes to first play Minesweeper or Solitaire. Everyone submitted their ideas, and independent raters rated how original they were. The procrastinators’ ideas were 28 percent more creative. Minesweeper is awesome, but it wasn’t the driver of the effect. When people played games before being told about the task, there was no increase in creativity. It was only when they first learned about the task and then put it off that they considered more novel ideas. It turned out that procrastination encouraged divergent thinking.

     Our first ideas, after all, are usually our most conventional. My senior thesis in college ended up replicating a bunch of existing ideas instead of introducing new ones. When you procrastinate, you’re more likely to let your mind wander. That gives you a better chance of stumbling onto the unusual and spotting unexpected patterns. Nearly a century ago, the psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik found that people had a better memory for incomplete tasks than for complete ones. When we finish a project, we file it away. But when it’s in limbo, it stays active in our minds.

    So, hey!   Why do today what you can do tomorrow? Tomorrow – you may have far better ideas for doing it.   If you’re already a procrastinator…   enjoy! You’re on the right track.

p.s. faithful Timnovate readers: the long silence, since Jan. 9, is not because I procrastinated. My wife and I have practiced what we preach, and have innovated in our personal lives – we’ve moved our household lock stock and barrel from Haifa, from the house we lived in for 35 years, to a community south of Haifa, where we found new friends and new adventure. So far, the leap of faith is proving to be wonderful….


The Two Brain Centers That Drive Creativity

By Shlomo Maital

Mayseless   Dr. Naama Mayseless

How do our brains cook up creative ideas?   Functional MRI imaging now enables scholars to track precisely which areas of the brain are involved, when the brain is trying to be creative. Using this tool,   Haifa University researcher Dr. Naama Mayseless (in her doctoral research, directed by Prof. Simone Shamay-Tsoory), Dept. of Psychology, found that:

     “…. for a creative idea to be produced, the brain must activate a number of different – and perhaps even contradictory – networks.  Developing an original and creative idea requires the simultaneous activation of two completely different networks in the brain: the associative – “spontaneous” – network alongside the more normative – “conservative” – network.  

In the first part of the research, respondents were give half a minute to come up with a new, original and unexpected idea for the use of different objects. Answers which were provided infrequently received a high score for originality, while those given frequently received a low score.

   In the second part, respondents were asked to give, within half a minute, their best characteristic (and accepted) description of the objects. During the tests, all subjects were scanned using an FMRI device to examine their brain activity while providing the answer.

For the answer to be original, an additional region worked in collaboration with the associative region – the administrative control region. A more “conservative” region related to social norms and rules. The researchers also found that the stronger the connection, i.e., the better these regions work together in parallel – the greater the level of originality of the answer.

   “On the one hand, there is surely a need for a region that tosses out innovative ideas, but on the other hand there is also the need for one that will know to evaluate how applicable and reasonable these ideas are. The ability of the brain to operate these two regions in parallel is what results in creativity. It is possible that the most sublime creations of humanity were produced by people who had an especially strong connection between the two regions,” the researchers concluded.


   In short: As I have been teaching – head in the clouds (“associative brain”) and feet on the ground (administrative pragmatic brain).  

   I think the crucial connections that Dr. Mayseless discovered can be strengthened. Think of creative ideas. Then think of how to make them practical, useful, feasible, implementable. Together, those two brain centers can change the world.

Scientific Evidence: Origins of Creativity

By Shlomo Maital

Scientific American

In our book Cracking the Creativity Code:   my friend and co-author Arie Ruttenberg and I present a framework for creativity called ZiZoZi – zoom in (on the problem), zoom out (to find solutions), zoom back in to apply them.  Repeat as needed.

   Recently browsing through old Scientific American issues, (March 2013), I found an especially wonderful one on “The Evolution of Creativity”. In it Heather Pringle, who writes on archaeology, explores how human creativity evolved, over thousands of years of human history. It includes this passage, which describes a process similar to zoom in/zoom out:

     “….[creative] individuals are excellent woolgatherers. When tackling a problem [according to cognitive scientist Liane Gabora, U. of British Columbia, and Scott Barry Kaufman, psychologist at NYU],   they first let their minds wander, allowing one memory or thought to spontaneously conjure up another. [Zoom Out].

   “This free association encourages analogies and gives trise to thoughts that break out of the box.   Then as these individuals settle on a vague idea for a solution, they switch to a more analytic mode of thought. They zero in on only the most relevant properties, Gabora says, and they start refining an idea to make it work. [Zoom In].

     Gabora believes that as hominoids developed bigger brains, this led to a greater ability to ‘free associate’. More stimuli could be encoded in a brain made up of many billions of neurons. More neurons could participate in the encoding of a particular episode, leading to a finer-grained memory and more potential routes for associating one stimulus with another.

   The key seems to be the word “associate”.   Creative people link things that other people find totally unrelated. These ‘leaps’ of insight occur in brains that are good at making such connections.

     And the more we practice, the better we get at it.  

How to Cope with a VUCA World

By Shlomo Maital


   What in the world is a VUCA world?   VUCA is an acronym, standing for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity . And daily, the world seems determined to prove how increasingly VUCA it is!

     This is why, in this blog, I write so often about discomfort, ambiguity, chaos and how we relate to them all.   In the latest Scientific American, Gareth Cook interviews author Jamie Holmes about his new book Nonsense: The Upside of Ambiguity. Here are some excerpts from what Holmes observes:

        Moments of confusion can be pretty memorable, and not in a good way. How is this thing supposed to work? What is the teacher’s point? Where am I, and how do I get to where I am going? But confusion is greatly underrated, argues the journalist Jamie Holmes in his new book, “Nonsense.” Naturally, it is good to understand. Yet, Holmes writes, our discomfort with not knowing can lead us astray — to bad solutions, or to brilliant options never spotted. If we could learn to embrace uncertainty, we’d all be better off — and better prepared for modern life.

   In hiring, for instance, a high need for closure (a clear firm yes/no decision) leads people to put far too much weight on their first impression. It’s called the urgency effect. In making any big decision, to counteract that, it’s not enough just to know that we should take our time. We all know that important decisions shouldn’t be rushed. The problem is that we don’t keep that advice in mind when it matters. Before making important decisions, write down not just the pros and cons but what the consequences could be. Also, think about how much pressure you’re under. Are you tired or feeling rushed? If your need for closure is particularly high that day, it’s even more important to be deliberate.

            I absolutely agree. Never EVER let pressure from others rush your decisions. Take a deep breath. Say to yourself, YOUR crisis is not necessarily MY problem.

       Holmes: “One area where there is more and more interest in ambiguity is among entrepreneurs and businesspeople, simply because the future in many business sectors is highly ambiguous. Earlier this year, Thomas Friedman had an op-ed about disorder in the business world (“Chaos is the New World Order”, see my blog on this) where he highlighted just how disruptive the business models of Uber, Facebook, Alibaba, and Airbnb are. Uber is the biggest taxi company in the world, he pointed out, yet has no cars. Facebook doesn’t create media, Alibaba has no inventory, and Airbnb doesn’t own the real estate it uses. So the communication platforms we’re using are revolutionizing a range of industries.”

In our schools — do we equip our children to deal with a VUCA world?  Or is the world we create for them one of canned tests with right and wrong answers, where you must not be wrong ever?    If the world is grey, rather than black and white,  why does that color never appear in our schools?

Touchstone School: “Magical Moments”

By Shlomo Maital


My wife and I are visiting Touchstone Community School, here in Grafton, MA, about an hour from Boston.   In this and several following blogs, I would like to recount briefly some ‘magical moments’ I experienced there, in a pre-K to Grade 8 school where children do not take formal tests and where their imaginations and social skills are fostered.

   Background:   Thanks to the hospitality of Touchstone, I’ve brought a Chinese family from Shantou, Guangdong (where Technion has a joint venture program), to visit the school – Jin, my former Shantou U. student,   his wife Yuen, and 3-year-old daughter Yue, or Sophia.   Together we’re making a documentary film, hoping to bring the message of Touchstone’s “transformative schooling” back to China and to Israel.

  sophia and friend Sophia and her new friend…language is no barrier!


   Values: We joined a group of Grade 7-8 children discussing Touchstone core values. The class itself had earlier chosen core values:   all began with “C” — Confidence, curiosity, connection, creativity.   These values appeared on a ‘flag’ created by the children which included one square per child, where the square reflected the child’s own personality. This emphasis at Touchstone on being an individual is pervasive.

   I asked the students about rules.   If you have core values, and act on them, do you really need rules?   Rules are external, externally enforced; values are internal, internally enforced.   The discussion was interesting, the consensus was – values can replace rules.

   There followed a discussion about table arrangements.   Pairs? Fours?   One big square table?   The consensus was: One big table, more inclusive.   Inclusiveness is a school-wide core value. I suggested, maybe a oval or round table? But there is no such table at Touchstone. However, there is an oval carpet. Let’s sit around the carpet, the students suggested.   I came up with a round table that splits into four segments, so work in pairs and small teams can take place.   We need to have it built.

   One conversation at a time? This is an IDEO principle.   It is implemented in this class with Jupiter, a soft toy, tossed from one child (the speaker) to another (who raises their hands and wishes to speak).   One child was applauded, for actually catching Jupiter with one hand (apparently, a first! The students joked about it…not in a mocking manner).  

   I could not help but notice the huge developmental gap between the girls and the boys…the girls are way way ahead of the boys, which is common at this age.  

   There is a core issue here. Teachers who graduate from teachers’ colleges learn about the rules of pedagogy and the rules of schooling. They then implement those rules in the schools where they teach, and children learn about following an external set of rules, with punishments (and rewards, at times).   Children who follow rules well, do well in school. Rebellious kids don’t. But creativity demands rebellion. Are we eradicating it with our rule-based system?   Touchstone begins with values. Values are internal. Why not replace external rules with internal values? And make ‘confidence’, and ‘creativity’ core values?  

Pile-On Meetings: How to Fight ‘Stovepipes’

By Shlomo Maital


Kathleen Finch

Kathleen Finch is the chief programming officer for  several cable TV channels: HGTV (Home & Garden Channel), Food Network and Travel Channel.   Her job requires a great deal of creativity, in keeping programming fresh, relevant and lively for viewers.

   Interviewed in today’s International New York Times, she reveals some of her methods for maintaining creativity. One of them is called “pile-on meetings”.   I believe this is a remedy for stovepipe management – that is, narrowly defined management responsibilities, vertical ones, with very little interaction or overlap for creative ideas. Stovepipes are one of the reasons that big organizations with detailed vertical organizational charts   struggle to innovate.

   “I have a meeting every few months that I call a pile-on meeting,” she told the NYT. “I bring about 25 people into a room and go over all the different projects that are coming up in the next 6 months and the goal is that everybody piles on with their ideas to make those projects as successful as they can be. The rule walking into the meeting is that you must forget your job title. I don’t want the marketing person just talking about marketing. I want everyone talking about what they would do to make this better. It is amazing what comes out of those meetings!”

   Another key insight? “I love when things don’t go right, because it’s a good time to talk about taking smart risks. If everything worked all the time, that would mean we’re not trying anything crazy, and it’s the crazy ideas that end up being the really successful ideas.”

     Again, another reason big organizations fail to innovate. Who would attempt anything, in the corporate world, that could well fail?

How Teachers Ruin Inquiring Minds – And Why They Must Stop

By Shlomo Maital

elevator-cover one half

Illustration by Avi Katz

    Thanks to my outstanding colleagues at Technion’s Center for Improvement of Teaching and Learning,  our MOOC (massive open online course), Cracking the Creativity Code: Part One – Discovering Ideas,  launched on the Coursera website on May 18, and has over 6,000 students enrolled, worldwide, from Qatar, India, China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, among others.   The course is based in part on the book by the same name by  Ruttenberg & Maital.

   Part of the course involves “chat” forums,  organized as ‘forums’ on topics the students themselves initiate. 

   Lizzie writes:  “My 7th grade teacher’s response to many a question was ‘don’t show your ignorance by asking that’.   Which didn’t reduce my ignorance but did get me to stop asking questions and start hating school instead of loving it.”   Malgorzata responds: “Oh yes. I have suffered high school phobia because of it. Constant bullying by teachers was unbearable.”

    How many teachers encourage questions?  How many shut them off, destroying the spirit of inquiry and love of learning?  Are teacher training schools helping teachers encourage students’ questions, rather than shutting them off? 

   Javier writes about how his teacher, in Barcelona, requires the students to copy verbatim a short story.  He tried an experiment – writing with his eyes closed, to see if he could write straight lines without looking.  The teacher ridiculed him before the class.  End of experiment.  Could the teacher have responded:  Class! Javier is trying to write with his eyes closed.  Let’s all try it.  Let’s see what happens.  Javier, thank you for this interesting idea.!

     There are millions of superb, dedicated teachers all over the world, educating the next generation, overworked, underpaid, underappreciated.  But there are still too many to believe they should be teaching the laws of algebra, rather than (in addition) why mathematics is interesting and fun to explore.    

    The Nobel Laureate in Physics Isidore Rabi tells this story:  When he came home from school, his mother never asked him, what did you learn today in school? Instead she asked, Isador, did you ask good questions in class today?   He attributes his success as a scientist to his mother and to her question.   How many Nobel Prizes are we destroying, by shutting off kids’ questions?


What I Learned in China

By Shlomo  Maital  

    Shantou Class Photo 2014

  I try to write a blog almost every day – knowing this keeps me ever alert for new ideas to share.  In this sense, blogs are as much for the benefit of the writer as for the reader. 

   I’ve been in Shantou China, for a week, teaching entrepreneurship to 43 eager young undergraduate business majors at Shantou University.  Shantou is in the northern part of Guangdong Province, north of the provincial capital Guangzhou, close to the coast, and two hours by fast train from Shenzhen, which is opposite Hong Kong, on the mainland.  My university, Technion, has a joint venture with Shantou Univ., to establish GTIIT – Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology, now headed by Technion Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman.  The initiative arose from a generous grant by Li Ka Shing and his Third Son Foundation;  Li Ka Shing, a Hong Kong billionaire, was born in Shantou and his foundation is active in supporting the city and its university.  His investment company has invested profitably in Israeli startups.  

    Supposedly you cannot teach entrepreneurship to undergraduates because “they are too young and lack experience”.  But Babson College does it highly successfully,  using the method developed by my late friend Ted Grossman, an action learning approach in which teams of students form a real company, make a real product and learn the tools of business through running their company, under the guidance of mentors like Ted (who first launched a successful software company before joining Babson). 

    I use the same method in Shantou.  And in one intensive week, the young students do amazing work; some of their ideas become reality, though not all.   The photograph shows last year’s class.

   Wages in China have risen dramatically, from about $100 a month in 2000 to $650 today  (this is still only one-fourth the average wage in America, and Chinese productivity is in many cases even higher).   But Philippines, for instance, has average wages of only one-sixth that of China.  So China in principle should be losing its manufacturing to low-wage countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, and Philippines.  And indeed it is, with shoes and textiles, low value added products, moving to those countries. 

    But China is keeping its high value-added jobs and enhancing them.  How?  China is the world’s biggest market for production robots, buying 20 per cent of worldwide production.  Labor productivity rose by 11 percent yearly (!) on average during 2007-12  (it barely budged in the West).  China uses its network of highly efficient suppliers to keep factories in China.  China has become the hub of a complex ecosystem, in which Asian countries specialize, make components and ship them to other Asian countries.  Asia now accounts for nearly half of all world manufacturing output, compared with 27 percent (about one quarter) in 1990. 

    Bottom line:  China’s strategy is:   Made in China 2025 (its official name) – boost productivity to keep competitive.  If wages rise by 12 percent year but productivity does too…the cost advantage stays.  But at the same time:  Created in China.  China is working to invent more of the products it makes.  Like Xiaomi, the innovative smartphone company.    And this is where I come in… teaching innovation to the young undergrads at Shantou University,  not even a tiny drop-in-the-bucket in huge China, but – China is all about scale, and good ideas spread with lightning rapidity.  

   I truly love my annual one-week courses in Shantou; the students are fiercely eager to learn and highly creative once their creativity machines are turned on.    These young people are literally eating our (Western nations’) lunch.  If we don’t wake up,  China’s living standards will continue to  grow by 11 or 12 per cent a year, the rate of growth of productivity, and our living standards will simply stagnate (the rate of growth of OUR productivity).   We need to save more, invest more, build better infrastructure, educate our young people better, and become more productive.  This is what I learned in my classroom from  43 eager young Chinese business-major undergraduates. 

Kids of All Ages (up to 100) Need to Play!

By Shlomo  Maital   


   Hilary G. Conklin, Ph.D., is a fellow with the OpEd Project and an associate professor in the College of Education at DePaul University in Chicago. Writing in TIME magazine’s IDEAS on-line blog, she writes:  “Helicopter parents and teachers, stand down. Kids of all ages need time to learn through play in school.”   It’s time we got serious about the crucial importance of play.  (My wife brought this piece to my attention).

   She continues:   “In classrooms across the country, the countdown to summer vacation has begun. The winter doldrums have always taken a toll, but in the era of test-dominated schooling and the controversial Common Core, it seems increasingly that it’s not until summer that teenagers have any prospect for having fun any more. One of the casualties of current education reform efforts has been the erosion of play, creativity, and joy from teenagers’ classrooms and lives, with devastating effects. Researchers have documented a rise in mental health problems—such as anxiety and depression—among young people that has paralleled a decline in children’s opportunities to play. And while play has gotten deserved press in recent months for its role in fostering crucial social-emotional and cognitive skills and cultivating creativity and imagination in the early childhood years, a critical group has been largely left out of these important conversations. Adolescents, too—not to mention adults, as shown through Google’s efforts —need time to play, and they need time to play in school Early childhood educators have known about and capitalized on the learning and developmental benefits of play for ages.”    

   “To be sure,” she continues, “there are times to be serious in school. The complex study of genocide or racism in social studies classrooms, for example, warrant students’ thoughtful, ethical engagement, while crafting an evidence-based argument in support of a public policy calls upon another set of student skills and understandings. As with all good teaching, teachers must be deliberate about their aims. But, given that play allows for particular kinds of valuable learning and development, there should be room in school to cultivate all of these dimensions of adolescent potential.   Purposefully infusing play into middle and high school classrooms holds the potential for a more joyful, creative, and educative future for us all—a future in which kids have more interesting.”

      Dr. Conklin might have added that adults, too, of all ages, especially us senior citizens, need opportunities to fool around, imagine, create and play.   Creative ideas emerge from an ambience of fun, joking and just general fooling around.  And most important — play is fun.  When life is enjoyed, it is prolonged. 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital