science | August 12, 2015

Feeling Creative? Scott Barry Kaufman on the Messy Emotions That Fuel Creativity

In “The Emotions That Make Us More Creative,” cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman shakes up the conventional idea that positive emotions alone encourage creativity. Instead, we need to “move beyond simplistic black and white notions of the role of emotions in innovation, and instead embrace the inherent messiness of the creative process.”

Drawing upon a range of recent studies, Kaufman identifies a number of surprising environmental and motivational factors. These findings have important takeaways for leaders and managers—especially those who want to encourage creative thinking in their employees or colleagues. Among other insights, Kaufman shows us how:

  • Motivational intensity—i.e., “how strongly you feel compelled to approach or avoid something”—is more critical than “emotional valence (positive vs. negative emotions)” in influencing our scope of attention. Having a broad field of focus is important for creative thought because it allows us to become receptive to diverse, non-linear ideas. Therefore, to “keep an open mind and see the big picture, it’s probably best if you’re just in a pleasant (or even sad) mood. If you are too passionate about the activity, you may miss the forest for the trees.”

  • Emotional intensity—or “affective engagement”—“was a better predictor of artistic creativity than IQ or intellectual engagement.” That means that a life filled with “passion and intensity” is one more conducive to creativity than one lived more moderately.  

  • Emotional ambivalence—or the “simultaneous experience of positive and negative emotions”—indicates we’re in an unusual, unpredictable environment, and people in such moments “can show increased creative thinking.” During instances of high emotional ambivalence, “employees are ripe for creativity.” 

With these findings, Kaufman shows how a more nuanced understanding of how the mind operates can help us cultivate creative spaces like never before—and how this may lead to more innovative organizations, achievements, and philosophies in any industry.

In his keynotes, Kaufman brings a fresh approach to fostering creativity and harnessing potential. He speaks about intelligence, creativity, and fostering new methods to help people reach their fullest potential. To hire Scott Barry Kaufman as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau.

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