How To Become More Creative and Why it Matters

By Giovanni Corazza
Co-authored by Paula Reinman

Whether you’re a business leader searching for talent, a job seeker looking for your next gig or a parent committed to educating your child for success, you’re in the midst of a new industrial revolution. It’s a world where information is a commodity – we have nearly all the known facts (and a lot of speculation) at our fingertips, anytime, anywhere. While this information is not necessarily knowledge, advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence are already integrating location, context and content to turn it into a much more intelligent experience than we’ve ever had before. In a society where success and human value have long been based on possessing knowledge and expertise, we find ourselves in new territory where these qualities will no longer be sharp differentiators.

Why Creativity Counts

What will be the great distinguishing ability as we enter the age of artificial intelligence? It will be creativity, our ability to imagine and ideate starting from the common layer of shared data. While machines will be able to slice, dice, parse and integrate our information and serve it up to us in ways that meet our needs at any moment in time, the main role of human beings will be to use that intelligence to generate new ideas that are both innovative and useful. Only human beings can imagine new futures and embed these visions with emotional content, hope, and human values. Therefore, we must develop everyone’s creative abilities, treating the subject as a required discipline, rather than as an option reserved for geniuses.

Though the idea of a discipline of creativity might seem like an oxymoron, it is a scientifically proven reality. The good news is that, while we all start at different levels, everyone has the capacity for creativity and we can use specific techniques to assess and improve creative skills. In fact, building creative capacity is one of the most important things we can do for our children, our teams and ourselves.

The Marconi Institute for Creativity (MIC), founded in 2011 as a joint initiative of the Fondazione Guglielmo Maroni and the University of Bologna, pursues the mission of establishing the science of creative thinking and moving it into research and education environments. Marconi Society Board Member and University of Bologna Professor Giovanni Corazza is at the forefront of this work and shares what MIC has learned.

The Science of Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is the multi-dimensional set of components that leads an individual or group to generate new ideas that have value. Creative achievement is the generation of these original ideas and their implementation into reality.

Not just any ideas will do. According to Corazza, “Creativity is defined as a potential for originality and effectiveness. You need to generate ideas, which are not only novel but also authentic and, in a sense, surprising. Not everything that is novel and surprising is useful, so you need to couple that with effectiveness. We speak of “potential” because no one can objectively assess originality and effectiveness: there are many examples in the history of technology, science, and art of ideas that were discarded at first but then turned into paradigm shifts.”

The science of creative thinking is complex and multi-disciplinary. It builds upon anthropology to understand the origin of this unique human behavior across our evolution. It uses cognitive psychology to model the creative thinking process and to measure related traits and abilities, neuroscience to understand the neuronal networks behind creative cognition, and bio-engineering technology to test and establish the links between brain and body states that help us identify creative thinking. There are also fundamental philosophical questions related to human creativity and the meaning of our existence.

Through experimental activities designed to reveal the fundamentals of the science of creative thinking, we have identified the top three traits and capabilities of highly creative thinkers.

Personality Traits: Openness

The most important personality trait for creativity is openness, or the ease with which people allow new and additional information into their thought processes, without requiring a-priori justification. Highly creative thinkers see alternatives by thinking about existing information in new ways or by introducing completely new ideas into the thought process to come up with different ways to look at or solve a problem. Openness is the door to the source of potential originality.

Openness is a personality trait, which means it is relatively stable, and both individuals and teams can measure it through personality profilers such as the Ten Item Personality Measure (TIPI). However, the goal is dynamic improvement, rather than a static metric. People and groups can increase operational openness in several ways, such as creating multi-disciplinary teams with diverse skills and characteristics, or by using classic brainstorming sessions that bring seemingly strange or irrelevant information into the processes, forcing people to open their minds to the unexpected.

On the individual side there are thinking tools that we can use to cultivate openness on our own. These tools are called Divergent Modifiers (DM) and than can be applied to any piece of information to transform it into an unexpected element.

Cognitive Abilities: Convergent and Divergent Thinking

Creativity is also about how you think. There are two fundamental thinking modalities:

  • Convergent thinking – given a set of inputs, convergent thinking finds the best single answer or consequence for the inputs.
  • Divergent thinking – given a set of inputs, divergent thinking finds, or imagines all possible consequences for those inputs; there is no fixed number of answers.

Highly creative thinkers move nimbly back and forth between convergent and divergent thinking to develop a handful of possible strategies. These people are able to use divergent thinking to generate a range of innovative ideas and then bring in convergent thinking to analyze and sort these ideas in order to identify those with the most value.

As with openness, there are exercises to build individual and team capacity in both types of thinking, as well as the ability to move flexibly between the two. A simple example is to generate unusual uses for common objects and to select the most adaptive use in different scenarios. All of this is based on an understanding of the overall creative thinking process, both from a cognitive and an emotional point of view.

Emotional and Motivational Abilities: Persistence and Self-Efficacy

Generating new ideas is risky and bringing them to fruition is even riskier. Disruptive innovations meet with a lot of resistance. The moment an innovator presents new ideas to the world, his or her reputation is at risk. Adding a new idea to the status quo often means subtracting something else that is no longer valid once the new idea is accepted. Those ideas that are subtracted have their own experts and gatekeepers who typically doubt new innovations that run contrary to the order they have created. In order to be successful, highly creative thinkers must believe in their ideas and persistently pursue them with passion.

Guglielmo Marconi was a great example of this. The physicists of his time proved that it was mathematically impossible to transmit radio waves across the Atlantic Ocean. Marconi’s intuition was different, though – he followed that intuition and proved that it was indeed possible. No one knew about the ionosphere at the time. Since mathematical proof always comes after intuition, it is particularly important for highly creative people to be able and willing to strongly defend their ideas and bring them into reality. They also need a high degree of emotional intelligence to anticipate what others will say about their ideas and to find effective ways to persuade.

“As a creative thinker, you are the entrepreneur of your ideas,” says Corazza. “You take the risk of representing a concept to the outside world, which the world has never seen before, and you have to expect resistance. You have to invest resources and fight for it. You have to believe in yourself and in your ideas.”

The history of our culture shows that genius has always been tightly coupled with self-efficacy and persistence. Developing these characteristics should be one of the primary goals of our educational systems.

Democratizing Creativity

Since we all have the capacity for creative thinking, which will potentially be the most important, differentiator for people who are both successful and happy in the future, we must make creative thinking the norm, rather than the exception. Creativity can no longer be the exclusive domain of geniuses – it must become our common bond for human dignity. Here are some takeaways to pursue in order to increase creative thinking for yourself and for society overall:

  • Actively brainstorm: Plan for a weekly time slot dedicated to generating alternative ideas, focusing your attention on any topic of your interest.
  • Empower schools: Advocate for schools at all levels to teach and foster creativity by balancing critical and creative thinking and adding specific courses to traditional educational programs.
  • Use the power of the network: Leverage the tools provided by information and communication technology to enhance your creativity, while side-stepping the associated traps. Benefit from the facilitators of creativity, such as easy networking and idea sharing, and avoid the inhibitors of creativity, including reduced attention spans, and superficiality of judgment. 1

Creative thinking brings enjoyment and happiness to everyday life. It is the best way to keep discovering and inventing at any age. The time and the tools are here to enable everyone to take full advantage of the generative powers of our minds.


  1. On the Impact of ICT Over the Creative Process in Humans by G. E. Corazza and S. Agnoli

Young Scholar Wins ACES Award

By Anna Lynn Spitzer, UC Irvine Samueli School of Engineering Newsroom

December 1, 2016

UC Irvine Samueli School alumnus Salvatore Campione has been awarded the 2017 ACES Early Career award by the Applied Computational Electromagnetics Society. Campione, who earned a doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science in 2013, was recognized for “innovative contributions to the electromagnetic modeling of complex systems and structures, from microwave to optical frequencies.”

A senior member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, Campione’s areas of expertise includes electromagnetic theory, antennas, metamaterials, plasmonics in nanostructures and optical devices.

While still a UC Irvine graduate student, he was named a Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholar. Campione is also a recipient of the 2016 Outstanding Young Professional award by the IEEE Eta Kappa Nu (HKN) honor society, and last year was selected as one of UCI’s top-50 graduate and postdoctoral scholar alumni.

The Applied Computational Electromagnetics Society (ACES) provides a forum for issues relevant to numerical modeling in applied electromagnetics, with a focus on computational techniques, electromagnetics modeling software and applications.

Campione will be recognized during an awards ceremony at the ACES 2017 annual symposium in Firenze, Italy, next March.

‘Father of the Cell Phone,’ 88, Still Bullish on Mobile

By Benny Evangelista, San Francisco Chronicle

December 28, 2016

Martin “Marty” Cooper claimed his place in technology history 43 years ago when he demonstrated a handheld cellular phone. But back then, he didn’t grasp how fully the concept would transform modern life.

“We knew from the beginning that it was going to be big,” Cooper, 88, said during a recent interview at a Silicon Valley startup he advises.

But “there were no digital cameras when we made the first cell phone call, and there were no personal computers,” he said. “We never could have imagined that you’d have this power in your hands.”

Spry and energetic, the “father of the cellular phone,” as Cooper is sometimes known, is working with San Jose’s Energous to solve one of the biggest headaches that have followed his April 3, 1973, call — keeping batteries on mobile devices charged. The 3-year-old company is developing technology that beams electrical power to recharge a device without cords or wires from as far as 15 feet.

Making mobile technology easier to use will lead to further transformations, he believes.

“We’re only starting,” he said. “The things that are going to happen over the next 20 years are going to be even more remarkable. Not only are the phones going to adapt to us, but there’s going to be a revolution in education, a revolution in health care and the most important thing, productivity. We’re finally going to solve the biggest problem in the world today, and that’s poverty.”

In the early 1970s, Cooper, an engineer, was a vice president and general manager at Motorola, a two-way radio communications company embroiled in a heated race against larger rival AT&T.

Marty Cooper was an engineer at Motorola who made one of the world’s first cell phone calls. Photo: James Tensuan, Special To The Chronicle Photo: James Tensuan, Special To The Chronicle Marty Cooper was an engineer at Motorola who made one of the world’s first cell phone calls.
AT&T and its powerhouse research unit Bell Laboratories had done pioneering work on car phones. In 1946, researchers there had made possible what AT&T describes as the “first mobile telephone call” by a driver in St. Louis, complete with nearly 80 pounds of equipment in his vehicle. The next year, Bell Labs engineer Douglas Ring wrote an internal company memo that was the first to outline the concept of a cellular telephone system.

Motorola, for its part, got ideas about the future by observing how its customers used two-way radio. So in 1972, Cooper, who had also been working on pagers, assembled a team to create a handheld stand-alone device that went beyond a car phone.

“We recognized the fact that people are inherently mobile,” he said. “And anything that you do to make somebody constrained, like a wire for your telephone, or you have to be in the car to talk, it’s unnatural.”

By spring of 1973, Cooper’s team had developed a working prototype, called the DynaTAC, short for dynamic adaptive total area coverage. It was a bulky, 9-inch-long handset with about 1,000 parts and a paltry 20 minutes of battery life.

The phone weighed 2 pounds. “So the 20 minutes was not a problem, because you couldn’t hold the phone up for 20 minutes,” Cooper said.

The team made a few cellular calls in private but felt they needed to publicly demonstrate the new phone. Having set up two demonstration cellular sites in New York, Motorola called a news conference in a Hilton Hotel in Manhattan, where Cooper made a call — to a wrong number, the New York Times reported at the time.

“After an embarrassed pause, (Cooper) said, ‘Our new phone can’t eliminate that, computer or not,’” the Times story reported. The journalists in attendance then tried the phones for themselves; one wife told her husband, “Your voice sounds a little tinny.”

Cooper said the actual first public call was supposed to be placed earlier that morning on NBC’s “Today” show, but the segment was bumped for another story. So he had a spur-of-the-moment idea: While walking across Sixth Avenue to the news conference with a radio reporter, Cooper said he decided to dial his counterpart at rival Bell Labs, Joel Engel.

“I took a chance and called him. And he answered the phone,” he recalled. “He happened to be in the office. And I said, ‘Hi, Joel, it’s Marty Cooper. Joel, I’m talking to you from a cellular phone, a real cellular phone, a personal, portable, handheld cellular phone.’ Silence on the other end of the line. To this day, Joel doesn’t remember that call, and I guess I don’t blame him.”

Indeed, Engel has repeatedly said he doesn’t remember Cooper’s call.

“We’re not denying that it took place; it just wasn’t very memorable,” Engel, now 80, said this month in a phone interview from his winter home in Florida. “We had made many, many cellular calls.”

Cooper can’t remember the name of the radio reporter he says was with him. But he does remember that the reporter pulled Cooper out of the way of an oncoming taxi as he talked, foreshadowing another hazard of modern life.

Richard Frenkiel, another Bell Labs wireless phone pioneer who authored AT&T’s cellular system proposal to the Federal Communications Commission in 1971, said Cooper was using a “concept example” of a “hand-carried phone,” but he noted that the first true commercial cellular system didn’t go into operation until 1983, after the FCC agreed to the operating rules.

“Marty likes to promote his version of history, and I’m used to it,” Frenkiel, now a senior consultant at the Wireless Information Network Laboratory at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said in an email.

Engel and Frenkiel were inducted into the Wireless History Foundation Hall of Fame this year for their work developing the basic architecture of cell phone networks. Engel is credited by the National Academy of Engineering with having “produced the system design for what became the first cellular telephone system.”

Cooper, a previous Hall of Fame inductee, and his team received the first patent for a portable cellular phone, said Liz Maxfield, the Hall of Fame’s executive director.

“The development of new technologies is a complicated process, and the evolution of cellular telephony is no different,” Maxfield said. “A number of remarkable individuals made key contributions to the development of cellular.”

Motorola’s initial payment plan for the cell phone sounds remarkably similar to the wireless bills of today. The company estimated in 1973 that the charges would run to $60 a month (plus additional fees), though it predicted they might eventually come down to $10 or $12 with rising usage, according to the New York Times.

But it would take another 10 years before Motorola was able to get a license from the FCC for the first commercially available cell phone, the DynaTAC 8000X, which cost $4,000. And it wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that cell phones became more common.

Now, there are more than 6 billion cell phones worldwide. The United Nations says that more people have the devices than have access to a toilet.

Cooper didn’t envision all that.

“People ask me what I was thinking about, was this a historic moment when I made the first public call,” Cooper said. “Really, all I was thinking (was), ‘Boy, I hope this thing works.’”

Cooper, who was born in Chicago, left Motorola before the launch of the DynaTAC 8000X to start a cellular billing company. He and his wife, entrepreneur and wireless Hall of Fame member Arlene Harris, have co-founded several other companies. These include Dyna, a business incubator, and GreatCall, the firm that makes Jitterbug, cell phones with bigger buttons and easy-to-use controls that are marketed to seniors.

The resident of Del Mar (San Diego County), who also serves on two federal technology advisory committees, joined the Energous board of directors last year.

Energous’ products, branded WattUp, can recharge mobile device batteries by sending radio waves carrying tightly focused beams of electricity from a transmitter to a receiving chip without the need to plug in a charging cord. The company expects to ship one version of WattUp early next year; though cordless, it requires the device to be placed in contact with the transmitter, similar in effect to wireless charging methods already common for some phones and powered toothbrushes.

Ultimately WattUp wants to be able to beam power over the air. And it is seeking federal approval for two future versions of WattUp: One can work on any device within a 3-foot radius and another works within a 15-foot radius. The power transmitter can be hidden in the TV monitor’s frame to automatically sense when phones, remote controls, smart home devices and other battery-powered devices need a charge.

Cooper said he’s enthusiastic about the technology because it would free consumers from worrying about recharging — useful for devices like his hearing aid. It would also help usher in a future in which implanted sensors or other wearables will monitor a person’s health signs to detect a disease “before it actually happens.”

“Now how are you going to charge the batteries in all of those things?” he said. “Wireless charging is inevitable.”

William Gibson, senior research analyst with Roth Capital Partners, said Energous has to surmount some big hurdles, such as getting approval from the FCC and persuading device makers to include its technology. But he said the company is meeting certain milestones, and it recently received a $10 million investment from Dialog Semiconductor of the United Kingdom.

Cooper keeps up with Facebook and Twitter and is working on a book, with a collaborator, about his life. During the recent interview in his San Jose office, he mostly kept his smartphone — a Motorola, of course — in his pocket. But he took it out and slipped off the back to demonstrate its customizable design.

Technology, he resolutely believes, is a force for good: By definition, it’s “the application of science to create products and services that make people’s lives better,” he said.

“When people talk about technology, they’re forgetting about the people part. If you can’t make people’s lives better, it’s not technology.”

Irwin Jacobs: From Telecom Mogul to Salk Institute Leader

By Chris Emery, The San Diego Union-Tribune

December 27, 2016

Irwin Jacobs recently stepped down as chairman of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, replaced by Gateway computer founder Ted Waitt. During Jacobs’ decade-long leadership, the institute hired two presidents — first Dr. William Brody and then Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn, who took on the role a year ago.

During Jacobs’ tenure, the institute also conducted a capital campaign that raised $330 million, exceeding its goal by $30 million.

Jacobs discussed those highlights and other Salk achievements during a recent interview with science writer Chris Emery at the institute. The San Diego Union-Tribune is republishing a slightly edited version of that Q&A, which first appeared in the magazine Inside Salk.

Irwin Jacobs earned his place in tech history as founding CEO of Qualcomm, leading it from an underdog San Diego company into a worldwide force in digital wireless communications technology and equipment. He retired from the Qualcomm board in 2012.

With his Qualcomm fortune, Jacobs and his wife, Joan, have financially supported a wide range of causes. They have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to institutions such as UC San Diego, the San Diego Symphony, the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, and the new UCSD Jacobs Medical Center.

The Salk Institute also has benefited from the couple’s philanthropy. They first became involved with the life sciences institute in 2004, helping to establish the Crick-Jacobs Center for Computational and Theoretical Biology, which uses computer modeling to study how the brain processes information.

The couple also established a challenge grant to encourage other donors to endow 20 chairs for senior scientists. For every $2 million that a person contributed toward an endowed chair at the institute, Joan and Irwin Jacobs added $1 million to achieve the $3 million funding level required to fully endow a chair for a Salk senior scientist. All 20 such positions have been established.

And they launched Salk’s Innovation Grants Program, which supports riskier but potentially very rewarding research projects that might otherwise not receive funding.

Road to the Salk Institute

Q: You had a long and successful career in academia and later in industry at Linkabit and Qualcomm. Some people would have kicked their feet up in retirement on a beach somewhere. Why have you and Joan devoted so much of your time and resources to service and philanthropy?

A: I enjoyed a very fulfilling academic experience at MIT and UC San Diego, followed by a most rewarding business career, co-founding and leading Linkabit in 1969 and Qualcomm in 1985. During that period, I was fortunate to work with very good people on exciting projects, translating new ideas into useful products. I have always enjoyed learning about new areas, particularly in engineering and science.

When I retired, Joan and I decided to continue family tradition and focus on using our time and resources to support interesting nonprofit institutions. We choose areas that have the potential to impact many, including research, education from K-12 to university, social and community needs, and cultural activities. We enjoy working with projects that have well-defined goals and good leadership.

Q: You have been involved in many philanthropic endeavors. What attracted you to Salk?

A: The presence of the Salk Institute in La Jolla was one important factor in our decision to move here from Boston in 1966. Then, following retirement from Qualcomm, I became interested in learning more about biology and Salk, of course, was very attractive for its world-renowned research program.

But I think what convinced me to later become involved was a lunch I had at the Salk in March 2003. Francis Crick, Sidney Brenner, Rusty Gage, Chuck Stevens and Terry Sejnowski were there, and the discussion was fascinating. I found that neuroscience had connections back to my work in information theory and communications which could be pursued.

Accomplishments

Q: Is there anything from your tenure as chairman of the Salk’s board that you are particularly proud of?

A: A lot of exciting things happened during my tenure as chair. Perhaps foremost, we selected two new presidents for the institute. That was a bit of a challenge, and I ended up being happy with the outcome in both cases.

For the first, I was given a notebook full of names and did a lot of research. I came across Bill Brody‘s name and thought he’d be ideal if we could lure him away from Johns Hopkins. Luckily, that all worked out and he served six years as a very successful president at the Salk.

When Bill retired, we began a broad search. But when we learned that Elizabeth Blackburn would consider such a step in her career, we focused on attracting her to Salk. I am very pleased that we succeeded.

Another significant event occurred early in my time as chair, and that involved guiding Salk into becoming one of the founding members of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, which continues to play a significant impact on science on the Torrey Pines Mesa.

Q: Are there particular areas of Salk research or projects that you’ve found most intriguing?

A: All of the areas of research are progressing well, often yielding surprising results. Neuroscience, because of its breadth, because it does have a connection to information theory, and because of increasing progress in understanding the brain at many levels, is perhaps most intriguing.

Brain research also requires substantial engineering effort to be able to sense what is happening in the brain. Indeed, the National Academy of Engineering chose reverse engineering of the brain as one of its “Grand Challenges.”

Of course, the allure of the Salk is its broad and innovative approach to science. We’ve made great progress in learning the biology of many cancers, leading to personalized treatments based on sequencing an individual’s tumors. From a scientific and even an artistic point of view, it’s exciting to see the work in biophotonics, allowing us to visualize life at a level previously impossible.

Q: Looking around your house, clearly you and Joan have a love of art. Is there something that art and science share that draws you to both?

A: We enjoy being surprised by new ideas and forms. Artists and scientists are interested in innovative outlooks on our world and are willing to experiment and take risks — and they must have persistence. We are often intrigued by the simplicity of the end results masking the many approaches explored along the way.

La Jolla’s appeal

Q: I noticed your house is very modern. What was your first reaction when you saw the architecture of the Salk?

A: During a trip to San Diego in 1965, Joan and I had a chance to explore the region and discovered the Salk Institute. I still remember it as a “wow” moment. Although the architecture first appeared brutal, it appealed very much to our personal aesthetic. It is so contemporary, so well sited and so beautifully thought through and functional.

When we considered moving to La Jolla, the Salk Institute and the opportunity to teach and help form a brand new university became deciding factors. However, it took one additional incident to sway our decision. It’s funny how small things do change the course of life.

When I was first offered the job at UC San Diego, I turned it down, with family, friends and career all on the East Coast. But for the next two days, we questioned our decision.

Returning home the second day, soaked from a major rainstorm, Joan read me a description of a contemporary home that was for sale. I said, “Let’s go see it tomorrow.” She said, “There’s only one problem, it’s in La Jolla.” And so here we are.

Q: Has the unexpected played out in other ways in your life?

A: Entering a business career provides another example. When we moved to San Diego, I didn’t really plan on going into business. However, I had co-authored a textbook on digital communications at MIT. As a result, I received many more requests for consulting from companies in California than I could handle.

I mentioned this to two faculty friends at UCLA and they suggested we should start a company to share the consulting. And that’s how Linkabit, my first company, began.

It began to grow, so I took a one-year leave from UC San Diego to get it organized, found the technology business great fun, and in 1972 became a dropout from academia. The digital communication theory that I had been teaching proved very useful in business, and Linkabit was a great success. I sold it in 1980 and remained (with it) until 1985.

Six persons who had worked with me at Linkabit suggested starting another company. Although we did not have any products in mind when starting, the unexpected occurred again and Qualcomm became another success driven by innovative products.

Union-Tribune staff writer Bradley J. Fikes contributed to this article.