Creative Thinking with 8 year olds

This time a workshop for a group of 8 year olds in Amsterdam North, on color and lateral connections. I’m fascinated by synesthesia (hearing colors, seeing sounds etc) and I was wondering a few things:

a) are children are more likely (than adults) to experience synesthesia?
b) would stimulating synesthesia promote creative thinking?

With creative thinking I mean the ‘Torrance Framework of Creative Thinking’, which gives us these characteristics:

  • Fluency. The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.
  • Flexibility. The number of different categories of relevant responses.
  • Originality. The statistical rarity of the responses among the test subjects.
  • Elaboration. The ability to give detail to the ideas generated.

When working with groups I always strive for the optimum balance of structure and freedom. The workshop program for the group of 15 children, ages 7 and 8 years, was about one and half hours long and looked like this:

– Short presentation on color scheme’s, rainbows and how your eye perceives color.
– A movement exercise: ‘Move like a color’
– Choose a color and work with the color wheel see below.
 Share your findings.



Each child using the sheet chose a (favorite) color, filled in with text or drawing, what the feeling, sound, taste, shape, and smell were for that color.

So what did I discover?
I guess my test workshop was not really designed to answer my questions, I would need to do a series of lab test with various groups and read the literature.

What I did learn was:
About a third of the group were high on flexibility, fluency, and elaboration. It was easy for them to understand the idea of imagining a color and what it might sound like, what it tastes like, what it moves like etc.
About a third of the group struggled, it seemed a strange request to them, and their imaginations were not serving them with much response.
Possibly the most interesting is the last third. This group initially responded with surprise and some confusion, but with a fe small suggestions and questions got right down to it and enjoyed exploring this way of looking at their chosen color. In my design research style (as opposed to scientific research), this is the group who have the most to benefit from being exposed to creative thinking programs in schools or other channels. I suspect they have a creative tendency but that is nit (yet) encoraged in their home environment.


It would be interesting next to interview the children, their parents and teachers on their attitudes to creativity and see if there is a correlation between attitudes to creativity and scores in creative thinking exercises.

I loved that this girl, whose favorite color is black, said that black for her sounds like the wind,  has a shape like a jump, and tastes like an apple. She also gave black a new name: Klink.


Benjamin & Rosamund Zander @ THNK forum, ‘The Tour of Possibility’

This evening’s forum at has a mystery speaker. People have been trying to guess all week who it might be. Speculations from royalty, to rock stars to famous philosophers. Earlier forum guests at THNK have included Queen Maxima, Steve Howard, CSO of IKEA, Jose Maria Figueres of the Carbon War Room and ex-President Costa Rica, Esther Wojcicki, chair of the Creative Commons board of directors and Michael Johnson director of PIXAR. So who could it be tonite?

At 7pm in walks …  the fabulous Benjamin Zander, conductor, TED speaker and author, together with his ex-partner in life Rossamund Stone Zander, together they are the authors of one of my favorite books: the Art of Possibility.

Benjamin is famous for his ability to convince people that they can love classical music, from busy CEO’s to young children in conflict zones, he reconnect us with the magic of music. and Rosamund Stone Zander I know less about, but as we know behind every famous man there is a powerful woman, Hopefully tonite we will get to know her better.

Here we go!


Benjamin introduces Ross, as his exwife, and says that she is the real source of the book the Art of Posssibility. Ross jumps up and quips that Benjamin is her Wusband, (has been husband), wonderful example of collaboration with your ex-life partner.

Benjamin wants us to meet another person in the audience,  Mark Churchill, his  friend of 42 years, with whom he collaborated all through that time, and then when they were both, recently fired, Benjamin syas that he himself fell into some despondency while Mark was undeterred. Since then, together they have set up a new orchestra with which they played in the Concert Gebouw in Amsterdam this weekend and Benjamin syas – someone who has conducted thousands of concerts that this was possibly the best concert ever! The new orchestra is called the Boston Philharmonic Youth


Thnk folks listening up.

Possibility is not the same as positive thinking, Possibility is making it happen!
Ross jumps in. Possibility is always only one sentence away!
She also says something which was seriously beautiful because of its normalness, she says, ”I love you” and gives Benjamin a hug, good to note, they just re-met at the door of THNK this evening.

The difference between between driving on the open road and behaving and then they start behaving well, when they get into the tunnel, because they share a vision of what has to happen, Benjamin compares this to the Youth Orchestra he is travelling with from Mastricht to Haarlem to Rotterdam to Amsterdam. They are all in clear consistency of vision, this orchestra, they know what their visions is.
Their t-shirts say: ‘Shaping future leaders through music’

You can’t say Vision Accomplished.

So what’s the method at work here?
It’s largely based on El Systemo, in Venezuela, 

Assignments that Rossmund devices for the group on their tours are for example:
– Notice your contribution this week.
– Walk with spirit and love.
– Compete and give up wanting to win

Rossamund tell us that while these assignments may sound unusual, in the context of a group who has commited to moving together in the realm of possibility, these assignments make complete sense and bring out the most amazing qualities in people.

There are two systems in the world:
1. The downward spiral and the realm of possibility. In the downward spiral, hierarchy is the name of the game, winners and losers, success and failure, ok there are moments of love.

2. The system of possibility where there is no hierarchy, there is vision, there is rules and possibility.
Rule number 6: Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Shining eyes.
Looking around the room Benjamin spots a number of people whose eyes are shining, and says that the way it should be, people with shining eyes, otherwise you are directing folk in the wrong way.
Rossamund says: You are the source of the story of your life. If you don’t like the story rewrite it.
All hierarchy is evil, says Rossamund.


Mark Churchill sharing some of his experience of working with Benjamin.

Possibility Leaders
A new type of leader. Either they enroll you or you enroll them.

Rosamund answering questions from Thnkr’s

I love Rosamunds answer to Peter’s question about scale, in the sense of how do you take this to scale, beyond the 9 million TED video views and the thousands who have read the book. She says I think it’s easy to underestimate the effect of your presence. Every moment is a new possibility  to create.

Unexpect, the young creative thinker as social good.


Unexpect : Creative Thinking for Social Good.

Unexpect is on a mission to unleash young people’s creative potential so they can apply it to social challenges. At the core of Unexpect is a number of tools to help young people develop their creative thinking ability.

The young creative thinker as social innovator!

Join me to shape the Unexpect program and help thousands of young people unleash their creative potential, for the betterment of society.
Get in touch if you or your organisation is interested.

Read more here >>

10 Principles of Creativity

10 Principles of Creativity
Davis (1992)

1. Creativity is not just for artists, inventors, scientists.

2. Creativity is a way of thinking and living.

3. Creative people are “creatively conscious.”

4. Creative people see things from different viewpoints.

5. Creative people do not grab the first idea that comes along.

6. Creative people are willing to take some risks and fail.

7. Creative people are aware of conformity pressure and are not afraid to be different.

8. Creative people play with ideas and act like a child and think up “wild” possibilities.

9. Creativity is not mysterious; it is the modification of an old idea or new combo of old.

10. Creative people use special techniques and talents to find new idea combinations.

Teaching is a Creative Profession. Interview w @JelmerEvers

I interviewed Jelmer Evers, to find out more of his ideas on education reform in the Netherlands and wider. This is part of my THNK Challenge on the Future of Education.
Jelmer is an avid blogger, tweeter, teacher and education reformer. He teaches at UniC in Utrecht, NL and has, together with his students experiemented with a number of new forms of teaching such as flipping the classroom. He says ‘ Students must become the owner of their own learning process’


Skype interview. January 8th 2013.

Let’s kick off with the role of the teacher in the class, how do you see it?

Jelmer: That depends a bit, on the level of the students, mainly I believe it’s about helping the students to find their own voice. It’s been a big introspection on my own learning experiences and this has shaped the way I teach. Sometimes you deviate from your plans, and sometimes students prefer more formal methods, it’s good to note that children between 12 and 18 also need structure. Too much structure doesn’t work and too much freedom doesn’t either. What I can say is that across the board, all students like practical assignments. Theoretically minded and practically minded students alike they like working on real assignments.

Let’s talk about the role of the teacher in the designing of curricula

Jelmer: Ownership of your topic and autonomy in how you teach it, is essential to good teaching, you should really enjoy teaching your subject, you have to own it and shape it. In my vision, a teacher should help students to become makers, so you need that quality of making and designing yourself in order to pass it on. If you want good teacher’s they should also be instructional designers too. Instructional design was only a small part of the teacher training in the Netherlands, that should have been more. Teaching is a really creative profession.

And how does Holland compare to Finland, the walhalla of Education

In Finland they teach maybe 500 hours or less to a class, while Holland has one of the highest rates with nearly 700 hours of teaching. Check out the OECD comparison here. This difference is key, those are the hours that teachers can spend on lesson development and building their own capacities, keeping up with new developments. People designing education don’t seem to have a clue what it really takes time wise to teach. You have to allow people time to be the best teachers, it’s a key component in the mix.

In UniC, where Jelmer teaches, they work as a team, in developing a path through the curriculum, curating the contents from available sources. He is just about to spend three days with his co-teachers of  History, Geography, social sciences and economics to make a shared curriculum. If you design your own path through the curriculum, it can also save you time down the road, as you own the process.

Jelmer on education Reform in Holland.

The system really needs to change, many of the things we do in schools now are a complete waste of time for students. The system needs to change both from the top down and from bottom up. That’s where Jelmer and his ilk come in. There is a history in Holland of top down change which hasn’t worked. What’s needed for bottom up change is to allow teachers to innovate and to keep the innovative teachers in the profession. The Ministry of Education can benefit by having more people working there who are active teachers, as opposed to only listening to educators or policy makers. It’s just too easy to underestimate the tenacity of the system.
Teacher’s are needed to co-create education reform.

And which education visionaries inspire Jelmer?

Here are some of his favorites:

Andy Hargreaves, The Fourth Way.

Will Richardson, blogger and former teacher.

Pasi Salberg, Finnish researcher.

And the classics such as John Dewi, Maria Montessori and JeanPiaget combined with technical disruption.

Steven Downes, who invented Moocs, toegther with George Siemens.
He preaches a new version of social constructivism, called connectivism.

Steve Wheeler, with a focus on new technologies.

Dylan William, professional education.

Daniel Wilingham, educational pyschologist, gives teaching and learning. Gives teaching more fundaments. and combines teacher practice and research.

Aside: Are there no ladies in this field?

And finally, too many people leave teaching, Jelmer is trying to combine, his passion for teaching with his other passions such as teacher trainer and blogger. He really enjoys teaching. Let’s hope he stays, students need great teachers like him.

Steve Howard, CSO, IKEA, Forum session @THNK

Today, January 14th, at THNK Forum session, we get to meet Steve Howard. Steve is the Chief Sustainability Officer at IKEA since January 2011. He believes that Sustainability will be one of the mega trends that will shape society and  the business landscape in the next 10 years. He has worked broadly with ngo’s and businesses for climate change in the past such as World Wildlife Fund and UK Forest Stewardship.

We kick off with Karim interviewing Steve on his early career and how he got into working for the environment in the first place.

Steve founded The Climate Group in 2004 starting out as a two person start up in a small room, their Theory of Change was to reach 7 billion people through reaching the top world leaders. He tells that sometimes it took three years of networking to finally get a meeting. A lot of relentless work involved! Steve feels that the Climate Group managed to get the conversation about the climate between business and governments to become mainstream. Quite an achievement. Although of course the mission against climate change has not been achieved yet.

About his current position at IKEA, Steve says: ‘The purpose of leadership is to remind people of purpose’ and Steve is quite obsessive he says himself about getting the maximum potential of sustainable actions within the company.


THNK’rs question round kicks off:

Sofana asks, what do you see as the role of young people and children, in the fight against climate change?

Steve: To remind us of our responsibility!

Rachel asks about organisations and people in for example the UN she has worked with who have sometimes dissappointed her in their lack of action orientation. Rachel wants to know how Steve remains positive in the face of that.

Steve: My motto is Mission first, Organisations second, People third! When people fall into the gap of allowing either an organisation’s or a person’s needs to take priority the mission suffers. Usually you can recognise through a persons approach where their priorities lie.

Ellen J. wants to know do you stay so optimistic in the face of such huge challenges?

Steve Perhaps I am a Possibilist more than a optimist. At least that is what my son told me. Steve also hires people around him that are solution based. He feels really encouraged by the huge leaps humanity has made in bringing huge numbers of people out of dire poverty and truely believes that if we pull together, collective action, we can do this, we can establish lifestyles that are sustainable on the planet and imporving quality of life.

Jezus wants to know about the lifecycle of products, is IKEA designing furniture that will last?

Steve: Yes and no. Some products should be cheaper for the first time buyer. They don’t want them to last forever. We do want the products to be recyclable at the end of use. Other products should last very long, such as mattresses, or more heirloom potential objects.

Sharon tells that in her experience from discussions between business and social innovation, she sees 3 layers of conversation, one happening at the R&D level, one happening at the marketing level and one happening at the CSR level, she suspects that until directors give the intention to the product designers to design for sustainability. She would like to know Steve’s thoughts on this and how that works at IKEA, what is the balance of power there.

Steve has a question for us: How can IKEA effectively engage people through open-innovation, being such a big operation?


Karim is going to collect our ideas on this and collate them for Steve.

Jason: If you were to design a school around sustainability, what are the 5 things you would include in the curriculum?

Steve: Thanks for the easy last question 😉 Thinking intuitively, I’d include something about leadership, we need leaders, I’d include something in about history and cycles of change, how have things changed in the past. I’d include contents about how the world and nature works, so that you understand it better. Then perhaps, some more specialised modules on ngo leadership and innovation.

Jose Maria Figueres,Carbon War Room, ex-President Costa Rica @ THNK

At the Forum session on January 10th at THNK we interviewed Jose Maria Figueres in groups. He is the past president of Costa Rica, and the current president of the Carbon War Room. The theme was Break-through results & Orchestrating creative teams. Read more about Jose Maria here.
We have our 5 questions prepared in advance, Our first question, is a challenging one:

Q: What do you deal with leaders who are corrupt?

A: That is indeed a tough question, the answer is zero tolerance, weed them out, you cannot have corruption in your cabinet. Its a tremendously disruptive force, corruption, and gives all the wrong messages to those under you, if ministers or leaders are doing any corruption.
He had to take some heart-wrenching decisions on this because it can be a slip on the part of someone you care about and have worked with for a few years, but the decision has to be taken.
A related issue is to work on succession planning, also see both yourself and your peers as replaceable even though it is uncomfortable. Every leader knows when they are still adding value. 

Q: How did you make your cabinet a high performing team after taking office as President?

A: It was very difficult, you have to walk into a large company with no leader and take over, you have to appoint the equivalent of the CFO, the CTO, the COO and more in one go, they have to work together not necessarily  knowing the company or even each other and they have to quickly assume responsibility and work together. It took one year to get the team operating as a whole. He organised the team into thematic groups, with ministers and ngo’s, and businesses as members for each main theme (eg education, health.) He also forced them to rotate, to get out of their comfort zone.


Sharing a glass of wine after the questioning. Jose Maria on the most right.
LtoR: Isabel, Lynn, Emer, Jillian, Elly, Jose Maria, Menno.

Q: What was your biggest failure?

A: I had so many!

Q: Ok so maybe what was your favorite failure?

A: In the the whole issue of communicating, he says he failed abysimally, so many times he thought it was clear because it was clear in his head and even thought they shared his ideas, however the other could understand the idea in a very different way. As a leader you can never over communicate. That was a key lesson: Over-communicate.

Another big failure, was not taking some hard decisions with respect to people he had appointed with whom it quickly was apparent that they were not suited to the job. Very good people, but they lacked some skills that were required for the appointed position, and he took too long to move and change that, he spend another year trying to work with them. If he would do it again he would remove them quicker.

Q: How did you get people on board specifically in relation to investing in education?

A. I didn’t always have people on board, sometimes just sheer pushing with strength. To get the change, we put forward a constitutional amendment, that there would be 6% of GDP always invested in education, every year, even in years of shortage. In this way the education investment remains steady. That was a fight but a good fight.

Another fight which was a bad fight, was around the teachers pension reform. There was a system of paying teachers a low salary when they worked and then compensating them with a high pension upon retirement. He wanted to bring this into line with the salaries in the rest of the country. It became the longest strike in Costa Rica, after 5 weeks of the teachers striking the country was in enormous turmoil and it was very difficult,

Q: Globally, what is the biggest challenge to education?

A: The education model is based in the industrial revolution. Repetitive, memorization, it kills creativity by high school graduation. Today education needs to be relaxed around not knowing anything but knowing where to find it.

Q: Many leaders have failed to get through sustainability changes, yet you succeeded in Costa Rica, how?

A: A lot of work! and  more importantly only having one term in office. We passed a carbon tax in 1995, we could never have passed that if we had bene up for re-election, it was very unpopular. In Costa Rica accoording to the constitution, you can only spend one term in office and then you cannot come back. You spend 4 years in office, 5 years would be better, 6 is too long, Now the constitution is changed and you can get re-elected after two terms of not being in office. This rule makes it a lot easier to lead for the good of the country and not be influenced about concerns of getting re-elected.

Co-Creation Workshop

On December 12th, 2012, 12 bright minds and 3 equally bright facilitators gathered to co-create on my start up concept, which has working title ‘Creative Mobs’
Where Design Thinking meets Flash Mobs


The Concept

Imagine. You’re a large non-profit working on sanitation issues in urban Kenya or you’re a new phone brand wanting to move into the Bangladeshi market. You want to get a new perspective or perhaps you need the local inside story. Then you can Call the Creative Mob, there’s sure to be one in your city.  What’s Creative Mob you ask, well it’s where Design thinking meets a Flash Mob. It’s groups of local young people who have been trained in design research, creative methods and prototyping.

A Creative Mob

A creative mob is made up of young people who were previously unemployed yet motivated and living in an urban environment. Through the Creative Mob Learning Circles App, the help of local facilitators and online mentors they have developed their skills and portfolios as design thinkers, gaining badges for, for example, design research. They work both live, doing local design research and online via the Creative Mob crowd platforms creating ideas and prototypes for whatever question your organization may have.

Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 6.59.27 PM
The Open Creative Mob System has three main tiers:

1. Learning, How to be a design thinker for Creative Mob, Resources, Mentors,
2. Mob Jobs. Linking Mobs and assignments. And to inspiration from the crowd.
3. While some local Creative Mobs are also able to develop full-scale apps or campaigns, many are not (yet). Social Design questions can be uploaded to the platform, for people and companies who want to deliver the full solution.

The overall aim of The Creative Mob: to Create Work and Value, Creatively, for the users, the design thinkers, and the clients, globally.

The Co-Creation Workshop

The aim of the workshop was to, get a feel for the potential of the concept and to gain insights into its methods. The workshop program was 5 hours long, moving from Ice breakers with found objects, then me presenting what I knew, such as my Manifesto, the basic concept so far, and my vision on creative thinking. Then we got to Envisaging the Potential in Combinations, to Drawing the Clients and Mobbers Journeys, all followed by a group think and interspersed with food breaks. Here are the Persona’s we worked with to envisage scenarios. Here is a flickr set of photos.


So what came out?

First off, very encouragingly the feedback on the concept was very positive, ok these folks are people in my network, some of them good friends, so they would say that, yes, yet this positive feedback transpired more in the number of and variations in scenarios they came up with on how a Creative Mob could add value, to communities, non-profits, companies and in schools. For example:
‘One group came up with several possibilities where clients could use the help of creative mobs,
including market research, helping scale up small companies, marketing of new product and facilitate or host new creative spaces. Problems such as waste management or traffic could use a new creative approach, like the use of collaborative space or creating new products out of waste. Also important to note is that they imagined creative mobsters as connecters, connecting local and global and making unexpected links between existing markets.’


Second. In three groups, the co-creators worked on: the happy flow of a based on one of the characters in the education model; how to enroll participants in Dhaka; and the ecosystem of actors in a school system who could engage with creative thinking there.


A viable social concept and with some business potential, sounds like a good start to me!

What’s Next?

I have noticed that before you know it, it’s down to operations, work work work, making it happen. That was a warning sign to me, that I need to first concentrate on the essence of this concept. To explore and describe the space, the space where new ways of thinking come from, the unknown potential, the moment before you choose, when you look sideways and wonder.  This difficult to describe essence is the core of the concept. I am calling this essence: Unexpect.

To Unexpect: To actively create opportunity for the unexpected. 

Thanks so much to Mercedes, Bjorn, Valentina, Eveline, Klaas, Marieke, Marije, Merel, Gerd, Kim, Kevin, Robbert, Sara, Coen and Klaas. Excellent people. More about them Here

Why we should all start ‘Unexpecting’

To Unexpect: A Verb
Definition: To actively create opportunity for the unexpected.
Unexpected thoughts, views, feelings and experiences.

Why should we Unexpect?
1: Because to unexpect is the step before new and creative insights form
2. Because we need new ways of looking at ourselves, our lives and the world in order to tackle intractable global problems
3: Because it’s fun
4: and because what we think and believe is something we can change, it’s within our sphere of influence.

‘There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all.
Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever be repeating the same patterns.’
— Edward de Bono

‘Creativity is inherently joyful, challenging, and absorbing.’
— Caine and Caine, Making Connections

How to Unexpect? Next Post