Scott Barry Kaufman

To reach our full potential, we need a new theory of human intelligence: one that values passion and motivation, curiosity and imagination.

Former Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute | Professor of Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania

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Scott Barry Kaufman | Former Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute | Professor of Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

As a child, Scott Barry Kaufman was diagnosed with a learning disability and held back in school. Today, he’s a groundbreaking psychologist expanding our definitions of IQ and intelligence—with a moving story of what can be achieved through grit and inspiration. The four-year Scientific Director of the Imagination Institute, and the author of many books, including Wired to Create and Ungifted, Kaufman helps all kinds of minds lead creative, fulfilling, meaningful lives.

“Scott Kaufman is going places … [He’s] the leading empirical creativity researcher of his generation.”

— Martin Seligman, Founder of Positive Psychology

Diagnosed with Central Auditory Processing Disorder, Kaufman spent the first three years of his life almost deaf, suffering 21 ear infections in the same span. Slow to process auditory cues, he was diagnosed with a learning disability and held back in school. By the age of 11, his standard IQ test ranked him as borderline intellectually impaired. But Kaufman has never been slow. A teacher’s keen insight recognized him as not only misdiagnosed, but underestimated—and thus he began his incredible journey of self-actualization, resilience, and dedication. In a few short years, he went from special-ed to straight As—then, eventually, a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Yale and an M.Phil in Experimental Psychology from the University of Cambridge under a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. Knowing that traditional metrics for measuring intelligence were flawed from his own personal experience, he forged a new “Theory of Personal Intelligence”: a nuanced argument for a more holistic, individual way to assess cognitive strengths. This work was published in his book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined: a radical, original appreciation for all kinds of minds.


“Scott’s a force of nature … Time and time again, [he’s] demonstrated everything I study. He’s the epitome of perseverance and the realization of potential.”

— Angela Duckworth, Author of Grit

Martin Seligman, known as the founding father of positive psychology, then invited Kaufman to lead the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania—an exclusive position where Kaufman could investigate  ways we measure and improve human imagination and creativity. A Huffington Post article inspired by his research, “18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently,” went viral, and jumpstarting his next book: a collaboration with Carolyn Gregoire called Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. Throughout, Kaufman shows how creativity can be learned and cultivated, and offers an inspiring manifesto for living a more fulfilling, imaginative life.


Today, Kaufman is a whirlwind of creative output. As former Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University, and now as Professor of Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, he inspires students to rethink achievement and what defines intelligence. While Angela Duckworth was working on her book Grit, she chose Kaufman to teach her course Introduction to Positive Psychology—which quickly became one of the most popular at U Penn. He now teaches it indefinitely. His other edited and co-edited books include The Philosophy of Creativity: New Essays, The Complexity of Greatness: Beyond Talent or Practice, Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love, The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence, The Psychology of Creative Writing, and next year’s Twice Exceptional: Supporting and Educating Bright and Creative Students with Learning Difficulties


His writing is regularly featured in places like The Atlantic, Scientific American, Psychology Today, and Harvard Business Review—and insights from his work have been featured in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Brain Pickings, and Heleo. As host of The Psychology Podcast—named by Business Insider as a podcast that “will change how you think about human behavior”—he explores human possibility with guests like Alain de Botton, Gretchen Rubin, Susan Cain, and Robert Wright (as well as Lavin speakers Angela Duckworth, Mitch Prinstein, Dan Lerner, Emily Esfahani Smith, Mark Manson, and Ryan Holiday). He also writes the “Beautiful Minds” column for Scientific American, which features posts on mindfulness, creativity, sexuality, grit, resilience, music, comedy, and more. And he still finds the time to appear on radio, television, and the web for places like Big Think, the National Geographic Channel, MSNBC, CBS Sunday Morning, WNYC, and beyond.


As a keynote speaker, Kaufman brings sensitivity, openness, and infectious optimism to the stage, weaving his own story of resilience with original research into psychology and neuroscience. He’s plain-spoken and funny, articulate and warm—exhibiting a comfortable presence honed from his daily lectures at UPenn and from his major talks for groups like LEGO, Vogue, the Aspen Ideas Festival, the Creativity World Forum, and many more. Audiences of all sizes leave his talks inspired, and often moved.


In addition, he serves on the advisory board of the non-profit organization The Future Project, sits on the editorial board of journals BioMed Central Psychology and Journal of Intelligence, and is co-founder of The Creativity Post, a non-profit committed to disseminating new work on creativity in all categories: business, science, academics, technology, and more.


“Scott’s talk for FAN stands apart from others in three ways: He quickly establishes intimacy with the audience via a deft weave of personal narrative, research, and on-the-fly insight; he emanates a sensitive, deep optimism, and delivers his theories and observations with compassion and humor; and he has an open, curious ‘beginner’s mind,’ which is balanced with astute, nuanced observations. Scott’s wholehearted engagement with his work is a pleasure to witness.”

Family Action Network

“Scott Barry Kaufman is an inspiring speaker with an impressive ability to go with the flow of a highly engaged audience. His personal story and sense of humour ground his in-depth knowledge and research to make for an enlightening yet approachable talk. Highly recommended for parents, educators and anyone who cares about the future of our kids!”

Fraser Valley Regional Library

“Scott’s visit went very well. He is a delightful guest and an engaging and very bright speaker. Loved his sense of humor, his spontaneity, his ability to ‘play’ in a room full of academics, and his ease of being. He was so generous with his time and took our playful banter with great humor and ease. Really, I can’t say enough about how fortunate we are to have had Scott visit and present.”

Collin College

Speech Topics

Innovation & Creativity
You’re Wired to Create How to Develop Your Own Creative Talents

Creative people—artists, innovators, inventors—do things differently. But we’re often stumped to explain where creativity comes from. Are these people just ‘born different,’ blessed with an elusive gift? Or is there a way to make sense of inspiration? If we look closely at the world’s most creative people, can we pick up a set of habits and techniques to enrich our own imaginations? Scott Barry Kaufman offers a groundbreaking answer: that yes, we can understand creativity—and, with the right help, we can channel and improve it. In this illuminating keynote, Kaufman untangles the lives and habits of a diverse cast of thinkers—Picasso, Proust, Edison, Lennon, and many more—to reveal the top ten attributes of so-called “messy minds.” He demonstrates how play, openness, and diverse thinking can kickstart innovation in your work, practice, and personal life. He explains the important role of daydreaming and intuition for the creative process. And he’ll show you how to tap into your own adversity to imagine yourself out of setbacks. You can unlock your creativity—and, with Kaufman, realize just how creative you’ve always been.

Cultivating Grit from Within

Grit—passion and perseverance for long-term personal goals—lies at the core of Scott Barry Kaufman’s new theory of Personal Intelligence. According to this theory, if we want to increase grit in students, we need to take into account the child’s dreams, passions, and goals, and harness their greatest strengths in the service of realizing who they truly want to become. Dr. Kaufman’s research has particular implications for children who have learning difficulties, including dyslexia, ADHD, autism, and emotional and behavioral disorders, as well as other vulnerable populations, such as ethnic and racial minority students.


While Angela Duckworth was working on her book on grit, she chose Kaufman to teach the course Introduction to Positive Psychology. His course quickly became one of the most popular at U Penn—and now he’s been asked to teach it indefinitely. Presenting cutting-edge research, Kaufman shows how grit and resilience is a natural outcome of harnessing the unique strengths in children, as well as building on their unique learning challenges. As a result, we can see high levels of creativity and performance that we never could have predicted.