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Scott Barry Kaufman

To reach our full potential, we need to rethink passion, motivation, achievement, and imagination.

Professor of Psychology at Columbia University | Author of Wired to Create

Scott Barry Kaufman | Professor of Psychology at Columbia University | Author of Wired to Create
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Scott Barry Kaufman is a groundbreaking psychologist expanding our definitions of creativity, self-actualization, wellness, and intelligence: “a force of nature,” says Angela Duckworth (Grit). “He’s the epitome of perseverance and the realization of potential.” A Professor of Psychology at Columbia University’s Barnard College and the author of 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

Scott Barry Kaufman is a psychologist, professor, writer, and podcaster. Now teaching a class at Columbia called “The Science of Living Well,” Kaufman ranks as one of the top 20 psychologists under 40 by The Best Schools, and The Psychology Podcast has been downloaded over 7 million times. Before joining the Columbia faculty, Kaufman was a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was invited by Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, to serve as the Scientific Director of the Imagination Institute. There, Kaufman investigated how we measure human potential, perseverance, achievement, and creativity. In his book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, he counters traditional metrics for assessing potential and intelligence with his “Theory of Personal Intelligence”: a radical argument for a more holistic, individual way to assess cognitive strengths—and appreciate all kinds of minds. In Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (a book based on a Huffington Post article that went viral), he shows how creativity can be cultivated, and offers a practical, science-backed manifesto for living a more imaginative life.


“Genius involves figuring out who you are, and owning yourself … In this very important sense, greatness is completely, utterly, made.”

— Scott Barry Kaufman

But these hard-earned achievements emerged from Kaufman’s own struggles to be seen. Diagnosed with Central Auditory Processing Disorder, he spent the first three years of his life almost deaf and was assumed to have a learning disability. After a teacher recognized him as misdiagnosed, he began his incredible journey of self-actualization. And in a few years, he went from special-ed to straight As—then 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.


Today, Kaufman is a whirlwind of creative output. While Angela Duckworth was working on her book Grit, she asked him to teach her popular U Penn course Introduction to Positive Psychology. He’s the editor of numerous books, including Twice Exceptional: Supporting and Educating Bright and Creative Students with Learning Difficulties. His writing is regularly featured in places like The Atlantic, Scientific American (where his column “Beautiful Minds” is consistently their most popular online article), Psychology Today, and Harvard Business Review—and insights from his work are 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, Susan Cain, and Robert Wright (and Lavin speakers Angela Duckworth, Mitch Prinstein, Daniel Lerner, Emily Esfahani Smith, and Ryan Holiday). And he also appears on radio, television, and the web for places like Big Think, MSNBC, CBS Sunday Morning, and beyond.


As a keynote speaker, Kaufman brings sensitivity, openness, and infectious optimism to the stage, weaving his own story of determination 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 Columbia and U Penn 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 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

Happiness & Wellness
The Science of Working Well Balancing Wellness and Productivity

At work, we often feel a need to prioritize either productivity or wellbeing. But as Scott Barry Kaufman knows, these two priorities aren’t an “either or” scenario—in fact, they actually need each other. Drawn from Scott Barry Kaufman’s popular Columbia course on the Science of Living Well, this talk provides a theoretical and practical approach to well-being and self-actualization in a workplace setting.  Productivity, effective teamwork, strong leadership, and innovation are essential to the work we do. But when we prioritize basic human needs—like health, security, growth, mindfulness, self-esteem, connection, and more—our productivity, leadership, and teamwork improve in leaps and bounds. As Kaufman shows audiences, there are ways that we can cultivate a sense of well-being at work in ways that are growth-fostering and bring out the best in everyone: drawn from his groundbreaking new research on the science of self-actualization, he’ll leave you with a new, actionable framework for enhancing productivity and wellbeing, all at once. 

Maslow 2.0 The Hierarchy of Needs, Redefined
In his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Abraham Maslow introduced the idea that human beings had a hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. In this talk, Scott Barry Kaufman picks up where Maslow left off, expanding upon the unfinished theory and integrating new scientific findings, including Kaufman’s own research on creativity, love, personality, and well-being. Through his unique work on the subject, Kaufman reinvigorates the profound insights of humanistic psychology with the latest scientific findings from a wide range of fields, introducing them to a generation that consistently feels unsatisfied in their work, creative pursuits, and educational path. We can be high achievers, and yet still yearn for self-realization. The philosopher Erich Fromm said that there is “an art of being.” But as Kaufman persuasively shows, there is also a science of being, and this talk will help set you and your audience on the path to a life of optimal health, growth, wholeness, and real fulfilment.


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 Perseverance A New Theory of Personal Intelligence

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 self-actualization 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. 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.


Presenting cutting-edge research, Kaufman shows how perseverance 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.