Becoming a Creative Genius (Again)

Carl Nordgren on the Rediscovery of True Genius

A life of working in business will teach you many things. Among the most precious of those lessons is the importance of gaining wisdom from your peers. I had the privilege of speaking with an entrepreneur whose career has spanned thirty years. His portfolio ranges from cell phones and software sales to public relations and marketing. Needless to say, our conversation was fruitful. I sat down with Carl Nordgren to discuss the business, the nature of creativity and other themes that arise in his book, How to Become a Creative Genius Again.

It goes without saying that you draw upon your wealth of experience for content in your new book. What specific highlights of your career helped you develop your message?

I have been a number of things. For about thirty years, I was an entrepreneur. I had a hand in starting roughly ten companies across a range of categories. In all of those instances, my primary job was recruiting and developing creative talent. Another focus was developing the story that most powerfully captured what we were trying to accomplish.

It’s those two experiences that I had as an entrepreneur that I’ve really been developing in the next phases of my life. Fourteen years ago, I was invited by Duke University to come teach courses to their undergrads.

Initially those courses were on entrepreneurship, but very quickly morphed into what they then primarily became. Now the focus is helping students grow creative capacities and develop entrepreneurial instincts. Finally, we help them become the most creative, entrepreneurial, generative, adaptive and productive versions of themselves that they could possibly be. It’s that content that I developed that informs this new book of mine, Becoming a Creative Genius Again.

What inspired you to focus on the idea of Creative Genius?

While at Duke, I explored hundreds of research projects focused on the creative process, on how we become creative. In one of those research projects I discovered a case study from the 1960s, when NASA was in its infancy and near incompetent.

NASA, incapable of sending a satellite into space, had not come anywhere near the reputation it holds today. Along comes John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who made the boldest of promises. This agency, skeletal in its formation and without clear direction, would send mankind to the moon by the end of the decade. Full stop.

To become the organization making creative and entrepreneurial leap, they came to one obvious conclusion. They needed to hire the most creative and entrepreneurial research scientists and engineers they could find. They hired a gentleman, Dr. George Land, to develop an assessment tool to measure various creative and entrepreneurial cognitive processes.

What were the results?

When they applied that assessment tool to their own employees, NASA was delighted as how effective it was. In fact, those employees of theirs––those select engineers and scientists who they knew were the most creative and the most innovative–––scored by far the highest on the test. Those scientists and engineers that were very good at just the basic work scored the lowest.

CreativityWhen the researchers found out that NASA was so excited about the accuracy of this test, they ran with it as-is. They used the exact same assessment tool––no changes to it––and recruited 1500 – five year old children. They gave them that exact same assessment tool.

Much to their delight and to their surprise, ninety-eight percent of these children scored on NASA’s grading scale as “creative genius.” Ninety-eight percent of them had as good a score on these creative tests as the very best, the most creative and innovative engineers and scientists at NASA.

Tell me what you learned from NASA.

Being creative and entrepreneurial is a facet of the human condition; it’s in us. We all have this extraordinary imagination. We all were born with this incredible curiosity. We were all born with the ability to take something that we learned in one part of our life and associate it with something that we learned in another part of our life. By bringing them together, and finding the relationship, you can create new knowledge or create new things.

The researchers followed those kids until they were thirty, at which point only four percent of them scored as creative genius. My book is about restoring that creative genius and establishing methods to awake that force within us.

I have had the great fortune of helping roughly four thousand Duke students accomplish that during my time as a professor. Now I am able to do so by publishing this book and by working with people like you to bring my messages to other audiences. I’m excited about helping the whole world reclaim their creative genius.

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