Introducing the “Invent in an Hour” Mini-Course!

At MindAntix, we’re passionate about igniting the spark of creativity in students. But let’s face it, coming up with truly novel ideas can feel daunting, and this is especially true for young students. That’s why we’re thrilled to announce a partnership with EvolveMe, an online platform from American Student Assistance, to launch the “Invent in an Hour” mini-course – a one-of-a-kind program designed to encourage students to become inventors in less than 60 minutes!

EvolveMe is a free online tool that helps students build different skills and explore various career options. Many students aren’t aware of the scope of education and career opportunities available after high school. ASA’s research indicates that students face a lack of awareness, access and confidence that can limit their growth and potential post high school. 

With our new mini-course, we aim to address these three areas. Students get a deeper understanding of what creative thinking is and how it applies to almost all fields. By breaking down the invention process into manageable, bite-sized steps, we equip students with the tools and confidence to embark on their own creative journeys.

Demystifying the Invention Process

With our approach, we flip the script on traditional creativity methods and remove the pressure of “solving” predefined problems. Instead of starting with a problem and seeking a solution, we guide students through the power of associative thinking, a technique that sparks innovation by combining seemingly unrelated ideas.

Here’s how it works: imagine combining the “stretchable” aspect of a bracelet with a pillow to make a revolutionary pillow whose thickness can be adjusted by stretching. Or picture a pair of headphones that can double as a mood detector. Associative thinking makes these seemingly absurd combinations possible, and more importantly, increases the likelihood of generating truly original ideas – all within a student’s comfort zone.

Bowerbird Inspiration: Nature’s Mastermind

Our guide through this creative adventure is Curio, a character inspired by the bowerbird, a fascinating avian species renowned for its remarkable creativity. Male bowerbirds meticulously collect an array of colorful objects – from bottle caps to berries – to construct elaborate displays, showcasing their ingenuity to attract mates.

Curio embodies the essence of the bowerbird, encouraging students to gather diverse ideas and assemble them into something uniquely their own. Just as bowerbirds use their nests to express themselves and interact with their environment, Curio helps students see how assembling various concepts can lead to surprising and effective solutions.

Transforming Ideas into Real Inventions

The “Invent in an Hour” mini-course goes beyond simply brainstorming. It equips students with the practical steps to turn their newfound concepts into reality. Here’s what they’ll learn:

  • Idea Generation: Students learn to generate ideas using associative thinking, encouraged by Curio’s playful guidance.
  • Originality Check: Participants use tools to check their ideas against patent databases, ensuring their inventions are not only useful but also original.
  • The Art of the Pitch: Students learn how to craft compelling pitches for their inventions, preparing them to present their ideas confidently.

By the end of this engaging mini-course, students won’t just have an understanding of the inventive process; they’ll have a tangible invention of their own, complete with a polished pitch ready to be shared with the world.

We believe that fostering creative confidence in students is not just about nurturing future inventors; it’s about empowering them to be problem-solvers, and lifelong learners. With the “Invent in an Hour” mini-course, we provide students with a stepping stone towards building their creative confidence.

3 Keys To Creativity And Computer Science

How can we combine creativity and computer science to create positive education outcomes? The demand for computer science and information technology graduates is expected to grow by 14.6% over the next decade, much faster than any other area. While the number of computer science graduates is increasing, it is still not enough to meet the growing demand for STEM related jobs. Technical jobs also pay significantly more than other careers, yet many students continue to shy away from STEM fields.  

So, how do we encourage more students to pursue computer science which leads to both a lucrative and a fulfilling career? Here are three strategies to address challenges that students face in technical areas. 

Change Mindset 

One of the barriers to learning computer science is the perception that not everyone can become good at it. Parents, educators and others can inadvertently reinforce this stereotype when they use phrases like “not a technical person”. Much like the mindset about math, which plays a key role in the poor performance among US students, limiting beliefs about computer science creates a hesitancy towards the subject. When the adults in a child’s life themselves feel traumatized with subjects like math or computer science, it’s not surprising that the child develops a fear of approaching that subject. 

The reality is that there really is no “math brain” or a “computer science brain”. Most people can learn these subjects once they get over their mental block and put in the effort to learn. Neuroscience research shows that the human brain is quite malleable and it grows when you are learning a new skill. MRI scans of students doing math show that when students make a mistake a synapse fires even when students are not aware they made a mistake. As a result the brain grows when students are struggling with a concept.  

The good news, however, is that mindsets can be changed. Growth mindset, a concept pioneered by Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, is one approach to help students shift their mindset towards a subject that they find difficult. Helping students recognize that the process of learning any skill is going to feel uncomfortable as your brain starts to grow and reconfigure itself in order to become good at the new skill.  

Beyond building growth mindsets, educators need to combat the harmful stereotype that computer science is not “cool” or that it’s for “nerds”. This is where framing computer science as a way to exercise creativity is useful. Mitchel Resnick, Professor at MIT and creator of Scratch, believes we need to view computers more as finger paint instead of as some esoteric technology. He explains, “…until we start to think of computers more like finger paint and less like television, computers will not live up to their full potential.” Just like finger paints and unlike televisions, computers can be used for designing and creating things. Encouraging students to use computers in different ways to solve problems, or create new things can shape their attitudes in a more positive direction. 

Build Thinking Skills Early

STEM fields face a high attrition rate (~50%) as many students switch their major part way through. When students’ first exposure to a programming language is in college, they find the coursework more challenging and are more likely to drop out of the course. One way to combat this problem is to start building computational thinking skills early on. Computational thinking is an approach to formulating problems in a way that computers could be used to solve them. 

Building computational thinking skills is not hard and doesn’t necessarily need expensive resources like computers and software for all students. As an example, the Computer Science Unplugged project uses games and activities to expose children to thinking styles expected of a computer scientist, all done without using any computers. Not only do students learn concepts but the group games also build social connection and make the whole experience more enjoyable. In another example, students create an interactive play while learning programming fundamentals (like sequential logic, conditionals or flowcharts) along with creative thinking (associational and analogical thinking) and storytelling. The advantage of using an unplugged approach is that students can be introduced to useful computer science concepts at a younger age without making it overwhelming for them. 

Add Project Based Learning

Projects are another way to make learning more engaging and combat the negative stereotypes students might hold at the same time. When researchers at a university in Ohio redesigned their computer science classes to encourage more creative and hands-on learning, they found that in addition to an improvement in the quality of student work, the three year retention rate increased by 34%!  This is especially important for women, who typically view computer science courses  “to be overly technical, with little room for individual creativity.” 

By encouraging students to apply the concepts they are learning towards a project of their own choosing, educators can create an environment that students personally find meaningful. It also helps students view computer science as another tool that they can use to solve problems that they encounter. 

Technology has become an integral part of our lives and most work now requires some level of technical competence. The demand for STEM, and especially CS, is only going to accelerate as we move further into the 21st century. To encourage more students to pursue computer science, parents and educators need to pay attention to limiting mindsets, provide creative opportunities to learn core thinking skills and projects to apply their knowledge in real-world scenarios.  

This article first appeared on edCircuit

Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Mindset: Lessons from Visionary Leaders

With the rapidly evolving business landscape in the age of AI, the ability to innovate and adapt is paramount. For CEOs and business leaders, cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset within their organizations is more than a strategy—it’s a necessity. This mindset, characterized by agility, creativity, and resilience, can be the difference between thriving and merely surviving. Drawing on the examples of visionary leaders like Yvon Chouinard, Tony Hsieh, and Satya Nadella, we can see how adopting an entrepreneurial mindset can drive success.

What Is An Entrepreneurial Mindset?

Most people have an intuitive understanding of entrepreneurial mindset. A more formal definition, following an exhaustive review of published work, defines entrepreneurial mindset as “a cognitive perspective that enables an individual to create value by recognizing and acting on opportunities, making decisions with limited information, and remaining adaptable and resilient in conditions that are often uncertain and complex.

In hypercompetitive markets, becoming more entrepreneurial is crucial for adapting to emerging threats and staying ahead of competitors. Such strategic entrepreneurship requires a special kind of leadership—entrepreneurial leadership

Individuals exhibiting such leadership behaviors are pivotal in steering their organizations towards innovation as a company’s culture and leader’s entrepreneurial mindset are interconnected. This relationship between culture and mindset is recursive, and modeled as an entrepreneurial spiral. The bottom-up process of the spiral represents the influence that a company’s entrepreneurial culture has on the leader’s mindset. Simultaneously, the leader’s entrepreneurial mindset can have a top-down effect on the culture, fostering an environment that is more entrepreneurial. Both the top-down and bottom-up processes can result in a positive feedback loop that grows a company into a more innovative state. 

Key Traits Of Entrepreneurial Leaders

The essence of an entrepreneurial leader can be distilled into three core entrepreneurial mindsets: people-orientedpurpose-oriented, and learning-oriented. Visionary leaders such as Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, Tony Hsieh of Zappos, and Satya Nadella of Microsoft exemplify these traits, having guided their companies to remarkable achievements.

People-Oriented Mindset: Tony Hsieh

A people-oriented mindset has two factors: staying inclusive and open; and being positive and appreciative of employees. This mindset fosters a positive and supportive work environment, where employees feel valued and empowered. Leaders with a people-oriented mindset are more likely to win the support and trust of their employees and team members.

Tony Hsieh, the late CEO of Zappos, was an example of a leader with a people-oriented mindset. He made employee happiness a cornerstone of Zappos’s culture. Hsieh implemented a flat organizational structure at Zappos, which minimized hierarchy and encouraged autonomy among employees. This empowerment allowed team members to make decisions that they felt were in the best interest of customers, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility. Hsieh’s emphasis on employee satisfaction also led to the implementation of groundbreaking policies at Zappos, such as offering new hires a “quitting bonus” if they didn’t feel aligned with the company’s culture. This bold move ensured that the team remained highly motivated and committed, fostering an environment where innovation and exceptional customer service could flourish.

Purpose-Oriented Mindset: Yvon Chouinard

A purpose-oriented mindset has two main aspects: keeping the end goal in mind and having the endurance to see it through. Leaders with this mindset have a unique ability to balance their focus on the objective with the patience necessary to achieve it. This equilibrium is rooted in their deep commitment to their purpose.

Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, is an excellent example of a purpose-driven leader. He has instilled in his company a strong dedication to environmental preservation. Patagonia’s initiatives, which range from using recycled materials in their products to supporting environmental causes, reflect Chouinard’s unwavering belief in sustainability. Under his leadership, Patagonia has not only talked the talk but also walked the walk, setting an example for the industry and consumers alike. Patagonia’s efforts, such as the “1% for the Planet” pledge, which commits the company to donating 1% of its sales to environmental groups, have inspired other businesses to follow suit. Patagonia’s dedication to environmental and social issues has also resonated with consumers, resulting in a loyal customer base that has contributed to the company’s financial success.

Learning-Oriented Mindset: Satya Nadella

A learning-oriented mindset is characterized by two key attributes: an ability to pick signals from all around and an inclination to take risks. A learning-oriented mindset allows leaders to seize opportunities. Moreover, the calculated risks taken by these leaders inspire their employees to follow suit.

Satya Nadella’s success at Microsoft is a testament to the power of a learning-oriented mindset. He was quick to recognize the potential of cloud computing, and steered Microsoft’s efforts in that direction making Azure a major competitor to Amazon Web Services. More recently, Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI, and his push to integrate advanced AI technologies into its various offerings, demonstrated Nadella’s ability to act decisively on emerging technological trends. This strategic move positioned Microsoft at the forefront of AI development. Nadella’s initiative to foster a growth mindset at Microsoft, encouraging employees to embrace a “learn-it-all” as opposed to a “know-it-all” approach, highlights his commitment to creating a culture of continuous learning, experimentation, and adaptation. By fostering an environment that values learning and growth, Nadella has revitalized Microsoft’s innovation engine. 

Blueprint For Creating Innovative Companies

The journey to fostering an entrepreneurial mindset within an organization is multifaceted. It requires leaders to be purpose-driven, people-oriented, and committed to continuous learning. Leaders who embrace these principles can transform their organizations, creating a culture that not only survives but thrives in the face of change. To cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset, leaders should focus on embedding these traits within their organizational culture. Here are  three ways leaders can adopt to build a more entrepreneurial culture. 

  • Embrace a clear and compelling purpose. Leaders should articulate a clear and compelling purpose for their organization that employees can rally behind. This purpose should be something that employees are passionate about and believe in, and it should provide a sense of direction and purpose for their work. An inspiring purpose goes beyond profits or mission statements and addresses the “why” of a company’s existence. For Patagonia, environmental sustainability is a purpose that goes beyond individual or company interests which makes it inspiring for employees to adopt. 
  • Encourage open communication and collaboration. Leaders should encourage open communication and collaboration within their organizations. This open communication needs to be bidirectional allowing employees to also express their concerns, challenge assumptions and share their own ideas. The bottom-up part of communication helps leaders get better signals about new technologies and use cases that eventually aid their strategic thinking. In contrast to Nadella, Steve Ballmer mocked the iPhone when it first came out, and completely underestimated its market success. Allowing open collaboration to test out experimental ideas helps identify new areas of innovation — signals that leaders can use in strategic planning.
  • Create a positive and supportive work environment. Leaders should create a positive and supportive work environment where employees feel valued and respected. What made Zappos a great place to work was the autonomy that Hsieh provided to all employees, empowering them to go beyond scripted responses and make on-the-spot decisions that were in the best interests of the customer. As a result, employee turnover at Zappos was significantly lower compared to industry average.

By following these strategies, business leaders can create a high-performing and innovative workplace.

Why Humility Is The Most Important Trait for Creative Leadership

Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo., took over the reins of the company in 2006. During the twelve years of her tenure, Pepsi’s revenue grew over 80%, cementing her reputation as a highly successful CEO. Nooyi led with a “Performance with a Purpose” strategy and drove a shift towards healthier food options to reduce obesity rates. But it was not just her strategic insights that made her a great leader, her humility played an equally big role.  

Among the more unconventional things she did as a leader was writing personal letters to the parents of her senior executives, thanking them for the “gift” of their children to the company. She got the idea when she became a CEO and saw people complimenting her mother on “doing a good job with her daughter”. It made her realize that parents often don’t get acknowledged for the success of their children. The letters, which ran into several hundred a year, honored the parents and cemented a stronger bond between employees and the company. 

What is Humility?

Humility is defined as a “relatively stable trait that is grounded in a self-view that something greater than the self exists.” It’s easy to see Nooyi’s humility in this context. She didn’t pat herself on the back, but deeply appreciated the contributions of her employees and their families, for the company’s success. 

In practice, this view that something greater than self exists, translates to three factors that define the conceptual core of humility:

  • Accurate Self Awareness:  Humble leaders have a realistic view of themselves and are more willing to accept their limitations. As a result, they do not have a strong need to dominate over others. 
  • Appreciation of Others: Humble leaders acknowledge and appreciate other people’s strengths and views. 
  • Openness to Feedback: Humble leaders are more open-minded and willing to learn from others. They can take critical feedback and use that to improve their leadership style.

Role of Humility in Creative Leadership

While humility is a healthy trait in itself, it is key in leadership roles where innovation is important. Research shows that “as individuals get promoted into leadership positions, they gain power and this power has some debilitating effects on the idea-generating process.” In particular, when people gain power they listen less carefully, are less open to others perspectives, and have less ability to handle complexity. 

In other words, when leaders lack humility, they are more likely to brush off someone’s idea quickly without exploring its full potential. Creative ideas emerge from integrating multiple perspectives, which requires a humble mindset (willingness to listen) and a cognitive aspect (to create new internal mental models). Without humility, it is hard to build on each others’ ideas that lead to groundbreaking innovation. 

Strategies to Build More Humility and Creativity

Humility is a prerequisite to being a more creative leader. Without humility it is hard to synthesize new ideas from multiple different perspectives. Here are three strategies that can help you build more humility and lead to more innovation from your team or organization. 

  • Pause before rejecting an idea: Imagine one of your reports comes to you with an idea. As soon as you hear the idea, you spot the flaws in the idea and your first impulse is to quickly dismiss it. Instead of rejecting the idea right away, pause and start digging deeper with a genuine goal to understand the intent behind the idea. Explore ways in which the flaws can be removed while retaining the positive elements. If this exploration leads to something meaningful, make a mental note about it. Over time, you might notice several instances that led to better ideas which will help build more appreciation for others’ ideas. 
  • Let others lead in group meetings: When someone raises a problem in a group meeting, it can be tempting as a leader to quickly jump into providing a solution. Instead, make a norm where you open up the problem and invite solutions from others before sharing your own. Only when you see you have a perspective or an idea that is different from what’s been suggested before, share it with the group. Every time you see “your” idea proposed by someone else or an even better idea from the group, make a mental note about it. This can help build self-awareness of your abilities and limitations. 
  • Steer conversations towards co-creation: Very often, in group meetings, people focus more on picking one idea vs. another. However, the most innovative ideas come from the merging of different concepts and perspectives. As a leader, focus on ideas that have merit and guide your team to synthesizing a more innovative idea by combining multiple good ones. This exercise can help build complex problem solving skills.

Beyond Extroversion: The Inner Playfulness Of Genius

When people talk about creativity, outgoing personalities invariably come into the picture. It seems to be commonly accepted that extraverted, playful people tend to be more creative. But is that really true?

Mozart and Newton personify the boundary-pushing, Big-C Creativity in very different disciplines of music and science. They both made immeasurable contributions to their fields and inspired many others over generations to follow their footsteps. But not only were their domains vastly different, their personalities were too. 

Mozart was an extrovert with a bawdy sense of humor, who loved to party, drink and play pranks. He often got into trouble due to his eccentric behavior. Newton, on the other hand, was a socially awkward introvert. He had few friends and preferred to spend time alone. 

Of these two – Mozart and Newton – who do you think was more creative?

The question is obviously ridiculous. Both of them were creative giants who radically transformed their own fields. While externally they couldn’t be more different, internally they were likely much more alike. 

Most people mistake extroverted, playful people as being more creative but that is not necessarily true. It’s not the external playfulness that matters but the internal playfulness with ideas – something that both extroverts and introverts are capable of doing. Creativity emerges when you take ideas and perform mental transformations on them like changing boundaries or combining with other ideas, or in other words, when you playfully manipulate them. Someone could be a playful person on the surface, but without doing the internal playful work with ideas, they are not going to come up with groundbreaking ideas. 

This playfulness with ideas is what makes Mozart and Newton similar. With Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Mozart pushed the boundaries on what an opera was expected to be at the time. He wrote it in German instead of Italian, he used an unexpected and controversial setting of a Turkish harem, and the opera incorporated elements of Turkish music. Those were controversial ideas at the time but eventually the opera became a huge success. Similarly, in his cannonball thought experiment, Newton pushed the limit of projectile motion which allowed him to make the connection between planetary motion and objects falling on Earth. He had to simplify objects, reducing them to mathematical points to prove that the same universal law of gravitation worked for all objects. According to an anecdote, when an admirer asked Newton how he made his discoveries, he replied “By always thinking unto them.”

So, if extraversion doesn’t predict creative output, is there any other personality trait that does? 

The trait of “Openness/Intellect” – one of the Big 5 personality traits – is the only trait that shows a consistent relation to creativity. A study by Kaufmann and others found that “artistic creativity draws more heavily on experiential Type 1 processes associated with Openness (e.g., perceptual, aesthetic, and implicit learning processes), whereas scientific creativity relies more heavily on Type 2 processes associated with Intellect and divergent thinking.” Incidentally, their study did find an unexpected correlation between extraversion and artistic creativity but not scientific creativity. 

When companies strive to make a more creative and innovative culture, they often fall into the same trap. They focus on external things – like foosball tables or bean bags – to create a fun, playful vibe in the hope that it will lead people to think more creatively. Their interviewing and hiring processes tend to favor extroversion. But without creating an environment where offbeat ideas are encouraged, debated and experimented, groundbreaking innovation is not likely to happen. Companies might think that they encourage play but what they create is a playpen and not a playground. 

Mitch Resnick, Professor and Director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT, uses the metaphor of playpen vs playground to differentiate the different kinds of play they support. A playpen might have interesting toys to play with but it is a restrictive environment with limited autonomy and freedom of exploration, whereas a playground promotes open exploration, problem solving and creativity. Needless to say, a playpen stifles creativity while a playground nurtures it. 

To build more innovative cultures, companies need to hire people who are curious and open to new ideas, which isn’t related to extroversion or introversion. And then they need to create intellectually stimulating environments where people can freely play with ideas, debate them with others and explore their potential.