Saturday, May 9, 2009

FIVE FACES OF GENIUS : Creative Thinking Styles

In The Five Faces of Genius, author Annette Moser-Wellman presents an insightful categorization of five thinking styles she contends have been used by history's greatest to achieve their objectives. Each style in this schema is clearly described at outset, and there are many examples presented in illustration throughout the book. The examples and supporting text are far more useful than the test instrument Wellman presents to identify which style(s) one uses most.

She argues that "highly creative individuals use all five" creative thinking styles, but that most of us pursue a "one creative skill habit" in preference to developing additional creative skills and mastering all five styles. The objective is to "supplement your dominant creative style" by developing "a crucial portfolio of creative thinking skills", she tells us, leading to mastery of all five creative styles .

Wellman's schema is an attempt to explicate the ways in which we create and apprehend ideas through our capacity to imagine. She believes that everyone can learn and benefit from these creative styles, which have application in terms of personal development and "among teams in the workplace" The following excerpts provide basic descriptions of the five styles (citations and notes are presented below:

1. SEER: The power to image
Visualizing the problem or goal...

Seers see pictures in their mind's eye, and these pictures become the impetus for ingenious ideas. In the same way that someone can imagine his team's final jump shot at the buzzer or how his living room would look with a new color of paint, highly creative people use the skill of the seer to imagine new ideas. Seers are guided by the images in their mind's eye, visualize in great detail, and are able to manipulate these images along the way to maximize their impact and expand their ideas. Seers picture the outcome and "are typically good at designing the future of the business". Creative visualization may also be used to diagnose current problems, such that the image symbolizes the many factors at play in the operational equation.

Business disciplines traditionally considered "creative" are full of Seers. Communications, public relations, advertising, and design attract those with skills of creative visualization... Other less obvious careers attract Seers as well - attorneys, information technology engineers, and operations and sales people. Business areas in which logistical problems must be thought through, or process and systems areas where manipulation and alteration of the flow of information is required.

Mozart describes his Seer moment: "When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer ... provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodized and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost complete and finished in my mind so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance." The image leads to the breakthrough.

2. OBSERVER: The power to notice detail
Noticing detail and its intrinsic beauty...

Observers notice the details of the world around them and collect those details to construct a new idea. They scan their environment for interesting information and use this data to create breakthroughs. Observers stand in awe of the world around them, and its beauty is ...the ability to stand in awe of the world, notice small things, and make creative contributions from the details. The Observer's curiosity is like a radar, constantly scanning the environment, looking for small things that lead to big ideas. Observers are compelled by beauty ... awestruck by it. For them, beauty is the gateway to truth.

Observers are not interested in detail for its own sake. They are only interested in details as ingredients of a new idea. Your key to the Observer skill is knowing when and where to use it. The smart Observer knows what data to collect and when to turn off the radar. The goal is to be able to float between looking for details and appreciating the macro-perspective. Once Observer's collect their information ... they find a way to bring all the important details together to create a business insight a source of inspiration. They cherish the details and are driven by their unrelenting curiosity.

When Walt Disney took his young daughter to play in the park, he noticed... the adults looked bored, the rides were run-down, and the ride operators were unfriendly. He thought, "Wouldn't it be fun if there a place where kids and adults could play together?" And from those initial observations he hatched the idea for his theme parks.

3. ALCHEMIST: The power to connect domains
Insights in connections...

Alchemists bring together separate domains - different ideas, disciplines, or systems of thought - and connect them in a unique way to develop breakthrough ideas. The Alchemist's insights come from borrowing or even stealing ideas. They are motivated to invent by a broad range of interests, and they lead lives that connect work and play. Alchemists are attentive to what's happening in other fields of activity, and they use their broad range of interests as a reservoir from which new and relevant ideas may be drawn for their own industry or workplace. They avoid "silo thinking", which focuses on one's own industry and "leads to insularity that prevents business genius".

Pick an industry that captures your imagination - automotive? beauty care? online retailing? Track it for a while. What is happening? What trends are taking place? What competitive moves are being made? See what connections you can draw between that industry and yours. Alchemists do not lead compartmentalized lives; few boundaries exist between work and home because the creative connection of ideas and concepts occurs across locations. Everything is interconnected. Alchemists stay tuned to what gives them joy, intrigues them, thrills them. By staying on top of their interests they can be the first to recognize trends in their business or industry. They also rely on dialogue for inspiration, and they make frequent use of analogies to bridge ideas.

The architect Frank Lloyd Wright created the most original buildings in the history of American architecture by ... marrying the design of the building with the nature of the site.

4. FOOL: The power to celebrate weakness
Inversion, absurdity, and perseverance

The most complex Face, the Fool, celebrates weakness. Fools practice three related skills: excelling at inversion, seeing the sense in absurdity, and having unending perseverance. The Fool is the most complex of the Five Faces ... and perhaps requires the most mental firepower... Fools love to reverse expectations, find the surprise. Impressionists broke the status quo. Rather than worry about accurate representations, they painted their impressions of conventional reality, using small strokes and bright patches of contrasting color to create an illusion of what the naked eye saw. Their revolution inverted the nature of the craft.

Fools like to take a notion and push it to its extreme conclusion. They like to make sense through nonsense. They take what seems at first to be a mistake or disaster and find ways to fix it or make creative use of it. Risk taking is the underpinning of the Fool's way. Whether inventing conventional wisdom, pushing a notion to the absurd conclusion, or persevering, risk taking is central to each. The wisdom of Fools is that they know when to use these tools and they do not overuse them. They are not predictable.

Scientist Roy Plunkett was trying to come up with a new configuration of a chlorofluorocarbon and accidentally set a can of the chemical on the laboratory radiator. When he found it in the morning, the chlorofluorocarbon had polymerized and created a hard resistant surface on the bottom of the can. Instead of throwing it away and calling it a failure, he analyzed the accident. This mishap was the birth of a new product called Teflon. For the Fool, invention happens through redeeming weakness.

5. SAGE: The power to simplify
Keep it simple...

Sages use the power of simplification as the primary means to inspiration. They reduce problems to their essence and, in the process, create an ingenious idea. Simplicity is their credo. Also, Sages look to history as a resource for creative insight. They honor the past and find insights in what has happened before.The act of creation occurs when an idea is stripped to its essence. In an age of access tounlimited information, the skills of the Sage help us focus on how to generate a new idea without getting caught in the trap of searching endlessly for more... Homing in on the essentials, you can peel away all that is distracting and find an inspiration at the center. You imagine more by imagining less.

Sages are history addicts. History is like a manual that offers them a guide for living in the present. By remembering and telling stories, Sages make changes today in terms of eternal truths from the past... The ideas of the Sage have a timeless quality because there inheres in them the wisdom that has gone before. Sages focus on the high, holy calling as a discipline you administer to yourself, just like working out at the gym or taking vitamins. Every time you face an opportunity, grill yourself about the purpose behind what you are doing. It will keep you honest and guide you to leadership ideas.

Alfred Stieglitz, enchanted with Dutch painter Jan Vermeer, who painted some 300 years earlier drew inspiration from Vermeer's style to create photographs based on what he learned from Vermeer's compositions.

The Five Faces of Genius: Creative thinking styles to succeed at work.
Annette Moser-Wellman,
NY: Penguin Books, 2002
NY: Penguin Putnam, 2001
ISBN 0-670-89477-X (hc.)
ISBN 0 14 20.0035 3 (pbk.) [2001]

The test instrument devised by Wellman delivers results inconsistent with the subjective identification of creative styles made by respondents in my limited sample. Copyright does not permit me to present the test, but it is hoped that review of the five creative styles and their descriptors will provide the reader with sufficient information to identify which style(s) may be more dominant or require development.
Source :

# Note : After running this test a few months back in one of our workshop organized by the University, my thinking style seems to fall under the SEER group. Well, I have to agree with that because I've always thought my strength in thinking skills has always been my ability to VISUALIZE things! (just like Mozart!).

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