Developing Breakthrough Innovators

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Long-term success in the global economy depends on innovation that is both original and practical.  Few would argue with that statement. In fact, a recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the most crucial factor for future success. Success is not only about developing breakthrough innovators. It also hinges on cultivating creative, out-of-the-box thinkers in sales, manufacturing, and leadership to prevent the company from devolving into bureaucratic mediocrity.

Yet most companies smother the creative spark, says the Harvard Business Review, because their understanding of how innovation works is rooted in false beliefs.

Science has dispelled these false beliefs, but companies have not yet caught up with the neuroscience on how the brain generates creative intelligence (CQ). As a result, most companies are failing to facilitate the creative environment that taps and expands CQ.

Innovation is all about the brain.  It’s all about meeting the neurological conditions that (a) stimulate the right hemisphere of the brain to generate creative insight, (b) captures the insight quickly, and (c) transfers it to the brain’s left hemisphere where it can be forged into something revolutionary.

The False Beliefs about Innovation

The great American psychologist, William James, described the creative process as “a seething caldron of ideas,” and now, for the first time, science is beginning to see into the cauldron itself. We are beginning to see how creative insight is actually generated inside our brain. And what’s been made clear is that our old ideas about the creative process are all wrong.

False Belief #1: We used to believe that people were most creative when stressed, anxious, and pressured, but a number of studies strongly suggests that stress undermines the creative cognitive processing that contributes to creative output in organizations (Forbes, 2012, Amabile, Mueller, 2002).  Studies have found that creativity is positively associated with inner peace, joy, empathy, and optimism, and negatively associated with stress and fear (Subramaniam, Kounios, 2009). A positive mood broadens your scope and allows you to look at a problem in new ways and come up with better solutions (Fredrickson, Branigan, 2005).

False Belief #2: There is the belief that creativity takes an intense, sustained focus, and yet research has demonstrated that intense focus is not the best approach when you need a creative solution (White, Shah, 2006). People with ADHD actually score higher on creativity tests and win more awards in art and science contests.

PICASSO DRAWING WITH LIGHTCreativity emerges initially in a spontaneous, free-flowing, and non-linear manner. The essence of creativity is as playful as a child.  Picasso said “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.” The way we remain an artist, according to Dr. Paul Torrance, the scientist who designed the gold standard for measuring creative talent, is to provide ample room for exploring, questioning, experimenting, manipulating, re-arranging, and stepping back to allow creative ideas to incubate.

False Belief #3: We have also tended to believe that innovation means we have to put our noses to grindstone, but the experience of 3M Corporation and Google have proven that the polar opposite is true, which research has corroborated.

For decades employees at 3M have been encouraged to use up to 15 percent of their regular work hours to pursue ideas of their own making, even if these ideas are outside 3M’s strategic pursuits. It’s called the 15-Percent Rule, and it’s credited with many of 3M’s stellar innovations, including the Post-It.

Google upped the 15-Percent-Rule to 20 percent, and founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stated that Google’s 20% rule was instrumental to the company’s ability to innovate, leading to many of its most significant advances, including AdSense, which now accounts for a quarter of the company’s annual revenue.

the anterior superior temporal gyrus Ah-Hah copyFalse Belief #4: Perhaps the most limiting belief about creativity is the notion that
people are either genetically gifted with creative talent or not. The capacity for creativity is built into the very structure of everyone’s brain (Beeman, Bowden, 2004). It’s merely that people who become highly innovative as adults had teachers, mentors, and parents who helped them cultivate creative intelligence as children (Runco, Millar, 2010).  But if we missed the leg-up as a kid, we can get it as an adult.  Creativity is teachable. Research shows that those who diligently practice creative activities learn to recruit their brains’ creative networks quicker and better (Jung, Haier, 2008).

How Do Companies Develop Breakthrough Innovators?

The research on creativity indicates that raising creative intelligence begins with raising people’s emotional intelligence, and in particular their level of happiness and inner peace. In large part, this is because processes that increase positive emotional states stimulate the right hemisphere of the brain where creative insights are generated.

There are four proven approaches to facilitating the mental and emotional states that predict creative insight.  Each is quite simple, and they are easily learned and applied.

1. Decrease emotional negativity by teaching people how to alleviate stress, anxiety, and pessimism. This is achieved through a practice that (a) actively interrupts patterns of stress provoking thoughts and perceptions that stressed and anxious people habitually think (Robinson, Alloy, 2003), and (b) strengthens a dynamically peaceful mindset (Davidson, Kabat-Zinn,2003).

2. Elevate the capacity for positive emotional states through an active practice of gratitude, and by teaching people to visualize their “best possible self” (Sheldon, Lyubomirsky, 2006).

  • Gratitude is develop through a simple practice of counting blessing in a specific manner.
  • Invoking one’s “best possible self” is achieved (a) by identifying qualities we experience when we perform at the top of our game at work, and when are at our best in our personal life, (b) forming these qualities into a clear mental image of who we are capable of being, and (c) making our “best possible self” the primary goal we aspire to actualize every day.”

3. Integrate 20-minute breaks into the work-day, at least one mid-morning and another mid-afternoon. Breaks improve memory consolidation, which is essential to envisioning something novel or learning something new (Tambini, 2013), and breaks increase unconscious associative processing that facilitates creative problem solving (Baird, Smallword, 2012).

4. Encourage people to take a 90-minute walk periodically through a natural environment. A 90-minute walk in nature has been shown to reduce the mental rumination associated with anxiety and depression. (Bratman, Daily 2015).

The Bridge from Creative Insights to Innovative Solutions to Actions

Last but not least, implementing the most promising creative ideas that emerge from the new creative environment involves a methodical process, such as Treffinger’s Creative Problem-Solving method (CPS).  CPS helps teams move from creative insight to tangible innovation through a process that clarifies the creative problem, researches it, generates and processes ideas, turns good ideas into best solutions, and then creates a plan to bridge solutions to actions.

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The Creative Intelligence of American Children is Declining

E. Paul Torrance, shown here in the mid-'80s, spent most of his career studying and encouraging students' creativity.

E. Paul Torrance, shown here in the mid-’80s, spent most of his career studying and encouraging students’ creativity.

Fifty years ago, psychologist Paul Torrance invented the test that has become the gold standard for assessing the creative intelligence (CQ) in children. Millions of children all over the world have taken the test, which is conducted over 90-minutes and consists of a series of discrete creative tasks.  The longitudinal studies conducted on the half century of data from the testing found that children who tested high in CQ grew up to become the ground breaking entrepreneurs, computer developers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, researchers, and statesmen. High CQ as a child is three times stronger than high IQ in determining who goes on to make a significant lifetime achievement.

Up until 1990, the IQ and CQ scores of American children had steadily risen, the results of good schools and good families making kids smarter. But since 1990 the creativity scores of American children have dropped, and dropped seriously in the formative years between kindergarten and the sixth grade. In assessing blame for the problem, most fingers point to the amount of time kids spend in front of screens, watching TV, playing computer games, or texting ceaselessly on their smart phones.

Certainly, the pointless preoccupation with electronic toys is diverting kids from creative-cubes-1509571engaging in more meaningful creative activities, but the decline in creativity appears to run deeper than electronic distractions.  The research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, father of positive psychology, found that children who grow up to make significant creative contributions developed in the stability and order of cohesive families and supportive schools that channeled, accepted, and broadened the child’s innate talent.

Sadly, most schools are not doing that any more. Our public schools have gutted the school curriculum of any kind of creative development. Ironically, the ability to think creatively is not on the list of core competencies, despite it being the strongest predictor of a child’s success in adult life.  Our education policy is missing the point research has established, which is that creative problem solving is the core competency in every subject.

An even greater irony is that although American scientists have pioneered the programs that teach children to think creatively, it is China and Europe that are implementing them.  China and Europe are dumping the old model of  “drill and kill”, which is the excessive repetition of simple, isolated skills, in favor of the new model rooted in the problem-based learning that America pioneered. The policy makers in Europe and China understand that a generation devoid of breakthrough creative thinkers are not likely to create a prosperous future.

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We Get What We Expect to Get ~ Part 1

Belief Creates the Actual Fact in Nearly Everything

Why it works

Why it works

Wishing on a star, rubbing a rabbit’s foot, crossing your fingers, or knocking on wood, all have one thing in common—the power of suggestion. The magic you imagine in the bones and fur of the rabbit’s foot makes you feel lucky and hopeful, which invites into your mind the anticipation that an outcome you desire could actually happen. The scientific evidence suggests that your anticipation mobilizes vast inner resources and directs those resources toward fulfilling your desire. Irving Kirsch of Harvard Medical School and Maryanne Garry of Victoria University of Wellington teamed up to review the most recent and intriguing effects of the power of suggestion on cognition and behavior.[1] The evidence shows that once you anticipate that a desired outcome could happen, you set in motion a chain of thoughts and actions that work together to actually make it happen. “The effects of suggestion,” Dr. Garry states, “are wider and often more surprising than many people might otherwise think. If we can harness the power of suggestion,” Garry concludes, “we can improve people’s lives.”[2] Learning to tap this power moves into the higher stages of human potential, and the good news is that tapping this potential couldn’t be simpler (I’ll show you one approach at the end of the article).

The power of suggestion appears to be at the center of why some people succeed at school, business, or athletics while others fail, and why some people’s illness or pain resolves and others’ gets worse. Believing you are limited or blocked in some way drives the limitation. The great martial artist Bruce Lee said, “There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must go beyond them.[3] Our very thoughts are capable of extending mental and physical limits we tend to accept. It appears that the limits we perceive are not necessarily set by nature, but by our own mental attitude.

Most of what we know about the power of suggestions comes from the placebo effect, which describes real psychological and physiological changes that occur when the mind has been convinced to expect a therapeutic effect from a substance that is inert. In itself, the placebo does nothing; it’s the mind that generates the beneficial effect. While much of the research on the placebo effect has focused on alleviating pain, there is growing evidence that the placebo effect is multi-dimensional.  One such study relates to prospective memory. Prospective memory is how the brain remembers details or events that are to occur in the future. It gets us to appointments on time, helps us pay our bills when they are due, enables us to follow instructions, anticipates the next steps in a plan, and reminds us to take medication on time. Chronic stress debilitates prospective memory and researchers wanted to see if it was possible to enhance memory with a placebo.[4] They convinced subjects that a placebo they’d been given was a powerful “smart drug” that improved cognitive function and memory. In truth, the so-called smart drug was nothing more than a vitamin C drink. One group received the placebo and one group was given nothing at all. Then the researchers put both groups through a high-effort prospective memory task. Prospective memory improved in the group that had ingested the placebo, while the group that didn’t receive the placebo showed no improvement.

Perhaps nothing has turned our limited view of human potential on its head more than the research of Ellen Langer of Harvard University. Her research validates what William James, the father of American psychology, concluded about the power of belief more than a hundred years ago. James concluded that we can change anything if we believe we can; that belief creates the actual fact.[5] Langer’s most famous study showed this holds true even with the aging process. Our mental attitude can turn back the hands of Time, reversing the effects of aging. In 1979, Langer conducted an experiment with men in their late seventies, early eighties, who were languishing in nursing homes.[6] She took the men out of the nursing homes and to a retreat center where the men were asked to mentally put themselves back in time twenty years, to 1959. They wore clothes that were fashionable in 1959, ate the food they ate then, carried photo IDs of how they looked, read newspapers and magazines, and watched films, television programs, and discussed sporting events, all from that year. Their assignment was not merely to reminisce about bygone days,” Langer said, “but to make a psychological attempt to be the person they were 22 years before.”

The elders did just that. “They put their mind in an earlier time,” Langer said, “and their bodies went along for the ride.”[7]  The results were astonishing. Langer’s time travelers showed greater improvements in blood pressure, joint flexibility and manual dexterity, and incredibly, their arthritis began to retreat. These were men who previously couldn’t bend over far enough to tie their own shoes, but their prowess improved so much that at one point they engaged in a touch-football game. Their IQs even improved and when they returned to real time, their families were astounded at how much younger they looked. The results defied belief. “It sounded like Lourdes,” Langer said.[8]  The mind can become Lourdes, or it can become a bed on a geriatric ward. Langer’s study shows that even aging is nothing but a mindset.

… Continue on to Part 2 of this article


[1] R. B. Michael, M. Garry, and I. Kirsch, Suggestion, Cognition, and Behavior, Current Directions in Psychological Science 21, no. 3 (2012): 151–56.
[2] The Power of Suggestion: What We Expect Influences Our Behavior, for Better or Worse, News, Association for Psychological Science, June 6, 2012
[3] Robert Pagliarini, Meet Bruce Lee, Personal Growth Guru, CBS/MoneyWatch, August 27, 2012,
[4] Sophie Parker et al., A Sham Drug Improves a Demanding Prospective Memory Task, Memory, 19, no. 6 (August 2011): 606–12.
[5] William James, The Principles of Psychology, Volume 2, Macmillan, 1891, pgs. 288-297
[6] Ellen J. Langer, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility (New York: Random House, 2009), 5–12. [
[8] Ibid

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We Get What We Expect to Get ~ Part 2

Belief Creates the Actual Fact in Nearly Everything

Langer also conducted a study with maids who clean hotel rooms.[9] These workers wereRoberto Weigand with attribute copy typically assigned fifteen rooms a day and spent half an hour cleaning each room. The task expends a physical effort that exceeds the level of daily exercise the Surgeon General prescribes. But the workers thought their job didn’t qualify as exercise, and since they were too tired at the end of their shift to go to the gym, they believed they weren’t getting the kind of exercise that burned calories or made them fit. Dr. Langer divided the hotel workers into two groups. In one group, she reinforced the mind-set that the physical exertion in their job achieved the recommended level for physical fitness. The second group was not given this information. After four weeks, without any change in diet or activity, people in the first group lost weight. Their body fat dropped, and even their blood pressure improved by 10 points. The only thing that had changed was the group’s mind-set. There was no improvement in the second group.

It may be hard to believe that a change in mind-set could actually improve eyesight as bad as 20/70 or even 20/160, yet in one study it did.[10]  It makes one wonder if we’re all wearing mental blinders. In his memoir, Thomas Merton gets to the heart of the problem, when he wrote: “Perhaps I am stronger than I think. Perhaps I am even afraid of my strength and turn it against myself, thus making myself weak.”[11]

The strength Merton is referring to is as near to you as your own thoughts. Years ago, I knew a young man who, in his mid- twenties, was diagnosed with stage-2 adult Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His oncologist told him that he had 10 percent chance of surviving, which is virtually a death sentence. Yet my friend had misheard the doctor and he left the clinic thinking he’d been told him he had 10 percent chance of dying. During the course of his treatment, his mind-set was built on the anticipation that every step of his medical care was achieving the highly favorable result of complete remission, which is exactly what happened. It wasn’t until his case was presented during hospital grand rounds by his oncologist that he learned he’d misunderstood. He said that if he’d heard his oncologist’s prediction correctly, he would have died. He was absolutely certain that the mindset his misperception produced saved his life.

The Reshaping Reality Tool

The evidence is there and the proof is mounting that your mind can reshape your reality to align with your wishes. Harness this power and you become the master of your fate. There is a simple tool called Reshaping Reality that can generate the anticipation of the wealth, health, and love we all seek. Use this tool on a daily basis to amplify your expectancy for achieving your goals, and see what happens. You can play the recording of Don Joseph Goewey guiding you through this process by pressing the button below:


  • Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
  • Select a current goal and state to yourself the outcome you wish to achieve. Imagine this outcome as you want it to happen. Pretend that it has already come to pass, and see your life as it would exist at that moment. Let go of all restraints on your thinking. Tell yourself it’s all right to imagine anything, regardless of whether you think it’s probable or even possible.
  • Involve the sensory parts of your brain. Hear the sounds that are present when the outcome is realized. Smell the air and feel the temperature in the environment. Picture what you will see. Now see into the periphery of the picture. What elements of life are around you? Who is with you? Make the colors and elements of your imagined outcome vivid. If people are present, what are they saying to you? What are you saying to them?
  • As you continue to experience the picture you have created, feel the feelings you imagine will overcome you when this outcome is realized. Do you feel joy? Do you feel satisfaction? Do you feel relief from pain or fear? And as you imagine the feelings you will have, bring them close and actually feel them as if they are your experience, right here, right now. Make these desired feelings as strong as you can. If you are happy, allow them to place a smile on your face or make you laugh out loud. If you are relieved, let the relief lift your spirits. Let the emotions become real. Sustain these desired emotions for as long as you can, up to no more than a minute.
  • Then let everything go. Let go of the emotions and let go of the picture.
  • You have now primed your thinking and emotional centers to lock your internal guidance system on your desired outcome. Believe it.


[9] Alia J. Crum and Ellen J. Langer, “Mind-Set Matters: Exercise and the Placebo Effect,” Psychological Science 18, no. 2 (2007): 165–71.

[10] Believing Is Seeing: How Mindset Can Improve Vision, Association for Psychological Science, April 9, 2010,

[11] Thomas Merton, The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals, ed. Patrick Hart and Jonathan Montaldo (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 161.

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My Perfect Storm of Stress

Perfect Storm of StressTruthfully, I never would have had the insight and understanding that led to me to write my new book, The End of Stress, if thirty years ago I hadn’t experienced a perfect storm of stress. That storm should have taken me down, either by killing me, or leaving me seriously disabled and unable to support my family.

Ironically, it did the opposite. It propelled my life forward.

The catalyst for my perfect storm of stress was being fired from a job I’d spent years climbing the ladder to reach and then nine days later being diagnosed with a brain tumor. I was married with four small children and the doctors told me to prepare for the worst. I had to wait six weeks for the surgery and I spent the first two weeks terrified, pacing the floor every night, afraid I’d never work again and that my family would end up homeless.

Then one fateful night I reached a point where I questioned which was worse: the dire problems that could happen to me in the future, or the abject fear that was happening to me every day. It was obvious that fear was the worst part of what I was going through as I awaited the fateful surgery. I had enough sense to realize the simple truth that peace was a far better experience than a constant state of mental terror.

I made the decision, right then and there, to approach the surgery with a peacefulbest-day-with=book-cover-canstockphoto19191645 copy attitude. But how? The only way I could think to be more peaceful was to challenge my fear, simply by refusing to believe any of my fearful thoughts that predicted a horrible outcome.  When I became frightened, I would ask myself, what does my experience become when I don’t believe this fearful thought? I learned this approach from Carl Rogers, the great American psychologist, and I’d used it with other people but never on myself.

To my great relief, it worked. The more I practiced challenging my fears in this way, the more it worked and the easier it became. Eventually, I could shift a fearful thought or perception at will. The way the shift happened was at first I would feel relief to be out of fear, which relaxed into the clarity of being calm, which eventually opened to an expanded state of peace. It was like crossing troubled waters and reaching safety on the opposite shore, all in a matter of moments.

The surgery was a complete success, sparing me a life of disability and I even got a better job. It was clear to me that my change in attitude from fear to peace produced the good outcome. There is now a mountain of research that has established that our mental state is everything. Make no mistake, a positive, peaceful state of mind is the key to the health, success, and love we all desire.  My perfect storm of stress taught me to make peace the first thing I attend to, as I face each new day.

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