Scott Barry Kaufman

We can use psychological science to help everyone–all kinds of minds—live creative, fulfilling, and meaningful lives.

Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute

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Scott Barry Kaufman | Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Can intelligence be viewed in terms that reflect difference rather than difficulty? Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute and author of Ungifted and Wired to Create, Scott Barry Kaufman challenges the conventions that surround—and inhibit—personal creative potential. Fusing original research with firsthand experience, Kaufman speaks to those interested in cultivating a keener sense of individual intelligence.

Scott Barry Kaufman is a cognitive psychologist who studies the development of intelligence, creativity, and personality. In his book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, he takes a look at why our society is so obsessed with measuring intelligence, instead of using the test results to inform tailored interventions to help all people succeed. He is the Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute and a researcher in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where he investigates the measurement and development of imagination. His new book about creativity and imagination is Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (co-authored with Carolyn Gregoire).


“With cutting-edge science and timeless wisdom, Carolyn Gregoire and Scott Barry Kaufman shine a light on the habits, practices and techniques that can help us tap into our deepest creativity.”

— Arianna Huffington on Wired to Create

Kaufman was formerly an adjunct assistant professor of psychology at New York University. He is a co-founder of popular nonprofit website The Creativity Post, writes the blog “Beautiful Minds” for Scientific American Mind, and is co-editor of the book The Philosophy of Creativity: New Essays. Kaufman is on the editorial board of journals BioMed Central Psychology and Journal of Intelligence. He has a doctorate in cognitive psychology from Yale University and a master’s degree in experimental psychology from Cambridge University, where he was a Gates Cambridge Scholar.   


“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, 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 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 strengths in children, as well as building on their learning challenges. As a result, we can see high levels of creativity and performance that we never could have predicted ahead of time. 

From Evaluation to Inspiration Why the Culture of the Classroom is Broken, and How to Fix It

Severe ear infections rendered three-year-old Scott Barry Kaufman nearly deaf. As a result, he needed a few extra seconds to process things in real time—which landed him in a special education classroom. Inspired by his personal experience, Kaufman, now a cognitive psychologist, has made it his mission to debunk traditional methods of measuring intelligence. Why do we have such an obsessive need to compare students? Why do we insist on labeling and categorizing everyone?

In his talks, Kaufman encourages us—and specifically educators, school psychologists, parents, and caregivers—to move towards a culture of inspiration, where we only compare people to their past and future selves. He argues for intelligent testing as opposed to intelligence testing: deep evaluation that focuses on finding out a person’s strengths and weaknesses, and the characteristics that make them unique. And he advocates for thinking about talent and potential as moving targets—they’re not inherent qualities we’re born with; they’re based on our engagement with something that is meaningful to us.

When students are inspired or activated, they come alive. Instead of using testing to sort gifted from ungifted students, Kaufman encourages audiences to take a holistic approach to evaluation that benefits all students. It’s time to focus on a practical approach to individual needs that enables students to unlock their potential and reach their goals, at school and beyond.

Innovation & Creativity
Business Intelligence The Creative Guide to Employability, Success, and Happiness

New technology, automation, and AI will soon mean millions of jobs—even white-collar, graduate-level jobs—become obsolete. Financial crises, resource depletion, disruption, and the expanding global marketplace make secure, meaningful work precarious at best. And new research shows, consistently, that skills and values conventionally lionized in business (logical, mathematical, combined with an ability to be cut-throat, even ruthless) are increasingly counterproductive to success—or are at least insufficient to lead or innovate in today’s economic climate.

To adapt and achieve in the new world of business, we have to embrace a whole new set of ideals. With cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, author of Wired to Create, we need to harness the power of new creative intelligence: a revised definition of what it means to thrive, flourish, and tackle our world’s most challenging opportunities.

In this research-driven keynote, Kaufman explains how our current fixation on standardized test scores, IQ, productivity, and other task-related skills leave much to be desired. Instead, we need to stoke imaginations, reward and encourage creativity, and foster deep, reflective thinking. We need to show how a wandering, divergent mind can open unforeseen doorways; how exposure to different cultures and practices can be a gateway to empathy and tolerance; and how incorporating our emotional lives into our work can mean living actually meaningful lives. In today’s economy, those who succeed—and those who retain jobs that provide fulfillment and happiness—will have creative imagination. And with Scott Barry Kaufman, entrepreneurs, innovators, and leaders are discovering how to develop their own.

Creative Classrooms How to Stoke Imaginative Intelligence in Students

Today’s teachers are often saddled with institutional constraints on how, and what, to teach. Traditional pedagogy means standardized testing, task-related skills, and other cognitive-based curricula take center stage. But that often means soft-skills, the arts, and imaginative subjects are first on the chopping block when cutbacks invariably come down.

If students are our future, then it stands to reason that we should be preparing them for the realities of twenty-first century living. It should stand to reason that we should teach them not just left-brain competencies, but the whole intellectual spectrum. We should be teaching the whole student: fueling their emotional and imaginative lives, feeding their curiosities and dreams. According to cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, students who dream big—those who can imagine different, better, more satisfying lives—have a better chance of living them. And if we can’t equip kids with the ability to imagine a rewarding future, then we’re inhibiting their very ability to have one.

We need to open a space for play and experimentation in our classrooms. Encouraging students to be creative, to think differently, leads to creative behavior: novel problem-solving and divergent solution-mapping. If we allow students to let their minds wander, to daydream constructively, we can reinforce the intrinsic link between internal reflection and great ideas—and the link between introspection, imagination, and compassion, or living with greater empathy. With cutting-edge research and insights from his new book Wired to Create, Kaufman shows us how a renewed embrace of intellectual curiosity can prepare students for rewarding lives worth living.

Innovation & Creativity
The Science of Creativity Innovation through Imagination

Imagination is far more important than most of us realize. It is the foundation of so much that we look for in business, art, and life. It is the fuel for creativity, which is the driving force of innovation. Scott Barry Kaufman is a leading researcher in the field of imagination psychology. In this talk, he takes us deep inside the field to show us what we can do to tap into our—and our employees’—capacity for creative thinking. Each person needs to unlock their ingenuity individually, says Kaufman. Only then will the group—the team, the students, the company—become truly creative, and innovative, thinkers.

Corporate Culture
Bring Out the Best How to Create a Workplace Culture of Success and Passion
How can we get the best out of our employees? What do we need to change in the way we assess performance or evaluate potential talent? Cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman explores the workplace from his unique perspective. He brings concrete evidence and advice to HR professionals, managers, CEOs, and business owners and introduces his concept of a workplace culture of “harmonious passion,” which can only be achieved when we begin to match people’s skill sets, interests, and values to their work. Instead of relying on traditional assessment procedures, which are often non-predictive of success in a job, Kaufman speaks about evaluation and hiring practices that are more conducive to the way talent actually works. He also zeroes in on the importance of engaging employees with something that is personally meaningful to them, and encourages audiences to move away from a culture of competition to a place where employees can feel their own unique value and a sense of pride in their work. And, if you’re curious about how to encourage a “flow state” in your workers, Kaufman reveals the key principles to this ideal state of work that promotes the most divergent, flowing, and associative ideas. There is no five-step foolproof script to a perfect workplace, says Kaufman, but with the right environmental conditions, and a focus on supporting individual values, skills, and talents, you can bring out the best, most successful behavior from your employees.