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Ideas That Don’t Match: Austin Professor Kevin Dalby Explains How to Find New Problems and Solutions

Businesses, teachers, entrepreneurs, artists, and so many others look to enhance their productivity through the art of creativity. Though creativity might seem to some as a magical, foreign skill set that not all acquire, its concept can be broken down into a more simplified process thanks to great minds like on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The backbone of creativity is really just finding and combining ideas until something comes to light as a new creative insight. 

Kevin Dalby, Austin professor at the University of Texas, is currently researching and studying cancer drug discovery, and is very familiar with utilizing creativity in his line of work. When creativity seems far from near, Dalby looks to the theory of creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi for inspiration. The same basic five-step innovation process highlighted in Csikszentmihalyi’s approach has been behind brilliant creative minds from Albert Einstein to Steve Jobs. Dalby discusses this creativity with a focus on how combining opposing ideas often opens the door to the most innovative conclusions. 

Breaking Down Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Theory of Creativity

The word “creativity” is derived from the Latin word “creō,” which stands for the verb “making.” Albert Einstein saw creativity as “intelligence having fun,” and Steve Jobs’ perspective reflected creativity as “connecting things.” However, Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi viewed creativity capacity as a result of cognitive abilities, motivation, personalities, and environmental factors. The psychologist emphasized and argued that eureka moments do not just bloom from the blue but instead found from preparation and research and generate during a time of mental unfocus, or taking a break from fixating on the brainstorming. He broke the process of creativity down into five progressive steps:

  1. Preparation
  2. Incubation
  3. Insight
  4. Evaluation
  5. Elaboration

How to Integrate Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Theory of Creativity 

To find new problems and solutions from contradicting ideas, creative seekers should practice and integrate Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of creativity. While following Csikszentmihalyi’s process, innovators should keep in mind essential tools and strategies to utilize, such as team brainstorming. Brainstorming sessions can also beneficially fall in line with the three components of creativity, as defined by Teresa Amabile, Ph.D. in Psychology and Head of Entrepreneurial Management Unit at the Harvard Business School:

1. Knowledge or Expertise: Any pertinent understanding a person brings to the table in a creative effort. 

2. Creative Thinking Skills: The creative skill a person holds with how they approach the problems, depending on personality, flexibility, imagination, as well as thinking and working style. 

3. Motivation: Motivation is seen as a critical key to the production of creativity, and vital motivators are intrinsic, passionate, and genuinely interested in the work at hand. 

Creating a diverse team with multiple different perspectives and ideas all flowing together towards the same innovative goal can eventually lead to new creative implementations. Brainstorm sessions should try starting with defining what the problem is, and then integrating more than one idea in collaboration. For example, in efforts to address those who can not afford public transportation while taking on a greener and more environmentally friendly approach towards plastic production, littering, and pollution, Beijing subway services allow the rider to pay their way with plastic bottles. 

About Kevin Dalby

Dr. Kevin Dalby is a professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry, currently working on cancer drug discovery. At the College of Pharmacy at The University of Texas, he is examining the mechanisms of nature and cancer to develop new treatments, and teaching and motivating students to conduct research. Dalby is optimistic about the future of cancer treatments. When he is not working, Kevin Dalby enjoys photography and spending time in the Texas countryside with his dogs.

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