Dr. Kim is a professor at the College of William and Mary. Take a few minutes to check out her wiki. Like most of my reviews, I try to learn more about the author or content. There is an excellent interview posted on blogcritics.org that shares even more her life story. Her passion and expertise in creativity is evident.

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This book was propelled into fruition following a 2010 Newsweek article title “The Creativity Crisis in America” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merrryman (http://www.newsweek.com/creativity-crisis-74665), who shared, the perhaps startling findings, of Dr. Kim’s research on declining creativity scores. Kim’s research utilized the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT). If curious, here is a link to a simple TTCT overview, referencing some of the author’s research.

Per original Newsweek article, “the accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful.” Dr. Kim distinguishes artistic from creativity and makes the key linkage of creativity resulting in innovation. In the first chapter, The Creative Crisis, Kim includes a useful list of creative skills and attitudes derived from her TTCT research. While only in the opening chapter, this list (partially shared below) was my biggest takeaway from the book. I see her statements as great self-assessment markers or descriptors for resumes, profiles or when seeking out talent for projects. The aspects of creativity, according to Kim include:

  • Deal with hidden aspects of problems
  • Work out the meaningful details of ideas
  • Think in the big picture and distill ideas without losing essence
  • Connect seemingly irrelevant ideas
  • Be open-minded to opposing views and delay judgment
  • Courageously defy or change existing norms, values or traditions

I admired and appreciated the author’s willingness to share her personal story, originating in Korea, and journey that revealed significant life choices/changes, professional mission, research accomplishments, and publication of this book. The author also presents some interesting vignettes of innovators, in particular Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and Mileva Maric. However, I really struggled with the remainder of the book in terms of meeting its stated purpose of offer “three practical steps that produce innovation” targeted at three groups: “parents and educators, organizations and creative adults and students.” I did not find the steps to be practical or intuitive as they are each composed of additional models, quite a few acronyms and some loosely associated analogies related to gardening. As such, the book felt very forced and disjointed bounding from CATs (climate, attitude, thinking), 4S of climates (soil, sun, storms, space), PTIs (parents and teachers of innovators), cacti (as metaphor for innovators, relates to ability to thrive in a desert and thorny/negative attitudes in innovators), ION (inbox, outbox and newbox) and ACP (apple-tree Creative Process).

Nature offers a useful framework I often use in idea generation or problem solving or as inspiration for design or crafting projects. However, its application and continued reference in this text was more stretched than necessary and for individuals with gardening knowledge, the inaccuracies (e.g. noting that apple trees need a certain number of cold hours for fruit production – false, they need to be pollinated AND then the rest) will likely be distracting at best.

Finally, the section addressing how culture affects creativity, aimed at comparing and contrast some general groups of people (male/female, Jewish, Asian) and their level of innovative-ness as estimated by the number of Nobel Prizes, presents some curious statements with some citations seeming a little outdated, in particular those supporting her gender statements regarding recent declines (versus historical evidence), as well as potentially limiting or diminutive to a culture. For example, the author predominately uses the word “Jew” versus Jewish person etc. to present statements supporting their innovative culture. I am not Jewish but the word felt harsh and uncomfortable to me even though not used in a derogatory fashion. However, to round out my comment, Dr. Kim did publish a version of her chapter titled “Are Jews really more creative than Asians are” on aish.com, a Jewish/Judaism content website based in Jerusalem. The word Jewish is notably used in lieu of the majority of ‘Jew’ references and the comments are a good read as well.

She also includes statements about female inferiority that certainly and sadly still have truth today but stem from what appears to be older (1990s) references. In transparency I did not research each of these cultures independently, rather just thought about how the supposition resonated with me (the reader), looked at the notation, consider other material I have read and went from there. There are about 100 pages of references/notes at the end of the book supporting the author’s research and statements.

I do suggest reading some of KH Kim’s other publications including Can We Trust Creativity Tests? A Review of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT). Creativity Research Journal 2006, Vol. 18, No. 1, 3–14.

I found a couple example questions for the TTCT and gave them a shot. You should try and comment with your results. Also, a curious quote discovered on the bottom of some sample tests: “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” – Albert Einstein

Example activity: What are the maximum number of unusual uses of your pencil? You have 3 minutes to list. [I came up with 14 but got stuck on the ‘stick’ aspect.] Classic versions of this activity use a tin can.

  1. Hold hair up in a twist
  2. Chop stick
  3. Something to pierce receipts over
  4. A prop to level keyboard (or other things)
  5. Eraser end to help turn sewn fabric right-side out
  6. Eraser end to remove scuffs off of floor from shoes
  7. Stress-reliever to chew on
  8. If mechanical, remove lead and use to clean out dirt from under nails
  9. Drum sticks
  10. Coffee stir stick
  11. Bookmark
  12. A series of pencils laid out to help roll/move along a heavy item
  13. Straight-edge for drawing or tracing
  14. Kickstand/prop

Incomplete Figures Test (aka exquisite corpse): Take 5 minutes and draw on/around/inspired by the base figure (in dark sharpie). Not my most freethinking work by any means, I think the office-y environment weighed on my ginormous paperclip on top of a book review. 🙂

Thank you to Dr. Kim for offering up her personal journey, passion and inspiring me to think about fostering creativity in myself and family. While the book in its entirety is not something I will widely recommend, her provocations about the importance of creativity to our society and illustration of the fact that creativity can be nurtured (vs. nature) are all recommendation-worthy. I will continue to watch for additional tools, content from Dr. Kim.

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