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Creativity & Ingenuity

optimal LIVING • Aristotle group

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In a move that grabbed media attention and caused many to question the company’s future, Steve Jobs recently announced his resignation as CEO of Apple Computers. Jobs is described as an enigmatic leader and, by definition, an enigma is something that is hard to understand, obscure, or mystifying. Not only credited with turning Apple Computer around, he is credited with changing the way we live. We can search for airline tickets with our iPhones, book hotels using our iPad, use our MacBook Air to finalize our presentation in flight and then recline our seats to listen to our customized play list on an iPod. His creativity is prolific with his name on more than 313 Apple patents.

Creativity is one of the 24 strengths of character identified in Character Strengths and Virtues, A Handbook and Classification by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. These attributes entail two essential components. The first is the generation of ideas or behaviors that are original, novel, or unusual and the second is that the originality must be adaptive in making a positive contribution. Creativity is both an end and a means to an end.

Jobs was also the CEO of Pixar until its acquisition by Disney. Still one of Disney’s largest shareholders, he is considered to be a leading figure in both the computer and entertainment industries. The connection to Disney is fascinating when you consider that Walt Disney was a similar paragon of creativity, ingenuity and originality, having a similar worldwide impact one generation ago.

Historically, creativity has been closely identified with genius. Roman mythology stated that each individual was born with a guardian spirit who watched out for that person’s distinctive individuality. Creativity was a “gift of the gods or spirits, not a human act.” (Peterson, 2004). While creativity has been linked with the word genius; creative individuals are more readily known by their disposition.

Is creativity a gift that only select few of us have? While creativity exists along a continuum, it resides in each of us and can be enhanced or inhibited. One of the best ways to enhance creativity is to create an environment that is supportive, open, informal and reinforcing. It is also helpful to work on a number of projects simultaneously. Oscillating between projects is a way to stay creative, allowing one project to incubate while you work on another. Giving permission has also been shown to positively affect creativity. Simply saying “be creative” can enhance ingenuity. Creativity is inhibited by time pressures, close supervision, constant critical examination and constraining potential solutions.

Studies find that it is easier to inhibit creativity than to facilitate it. An easy way to keep you open to originality and ingenuity is to simply explore the possible. Regularly asking yourself what else is possible helps to guard against closing in on a solution too quickly.

Ellen Langer is an award-winning researcher and professor at Harvard University who defines mindfulness as an effortless, simple process that consists of drawing novel distinctions. In her words, mindfulness is “noticing new things.” The opposite of mindful is mindless. We become mindless about things largely through repetition and limiting our exposure to information. Mindless behavior is governed by rules and routines, a series of mental shortcuts. When we are mindful we are sensitive to context and perspective. Mindfulness and creativity are two mutually supporting processes. We become more mindful and as we take time to slow down.

As demonstrated by Jobs and the team at Apple, creativity, ingenuity and originality result in significant tangible value. This value is not limited to stockholders and employees. Apple’s products have a positive impact on the lives of consumers around the world.

Successful goal attainment has two key components known as agency and pathways. Agency is the willpower and motivation to achieve a goal. Pathways are the “waypower” paths to goal attainment. Agency and pathways are critical as we face obstacles in achieving our goals. Expanding both agency and pathways has been shown to increase success in achieving goals. This is where creativity, originality and ingenuity come in. We can leverage ingenuity to identify additional potential paths to our goal. The more pathways, the greater our sense of possibility and the more likely we are to achieve our objective.

Looking at the history of Apple, it is apparent that Steve Jobs leveraged creativity in expanding agency and pathways. In 15 years he led Apple from near bankruptcy to a market value of $300 billion, the second highest in the U.S. Described as someone who “failed forward” where setbacks were as visible as success, he persevered and fully leveraged and shared his creative genius. Take some time this month to slow down, be mindful, and practice your creativity.


Gordon Parry is the President of Aristotle Group, a firm dedicated to helping individuals, teams, and organizations achieve their full potential. In 2005, Gordon was one of 35 students selected globally to complete the first graduate program in the new field of applied positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.


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