Brains, Cheetos, and a Theory of Creativity

(The final installment of my blog posts about the B.Phl Innovation Festival. Here’s the first post.  Here’s the second.)

On Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, 31 of the 54 students enrolled in NOVA Lab attended the third day of the first annual B.Phl Innovation Festival.

While our trip was somewhat shortened (traffic on the abominable Schukyll Expressway kept us from making our first session), we were greeted at the Independence Blue Cross building with great hospitality by their innovation team and helpers for the festival.  After receiving our badges and swag bags, we were escorted up to the Innovation Center where we waited for our next session.

Working with our district’s chair of art and design, Mr. Tom Komp, we split the students for our 1st session.  Some of the students came with me for a session called “Know your Brain, Know your Business” with Julie Skolnik of Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute Science Museum.  The other students traveled with Mr. Komp to a session called “How a Frito-Lay Janitor became a Flamin’ Hot Success Story.”  This session featured Richard Montañez, Pepsi Company’s head Multicultural Sales and Community Promotions for North America.  Skolnik’s session dealt with myths about brain function and how to use knowledge of how the brain learns to maximize learning and workflow.  Montañez’s session focused on his story and rise within the ranks of the company.  It also featured Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (see images below)

We were privileged to get seats for two sessions with Disney’s former Head of Innovation and Creativity, Duncan Wardle.  Duncan’s first session focused on his “Theory of Creativity” and belief that we can all be creative.  An interactive sesssion, Duncan introduced the audience to activities like “The Expert Interview” .  In traditional creativity presentation fashion, Duncan sought to reveal the functional fixedness our “rivers of expertise” lock us into.  And he did this with humor anecdotes and a good deal of the insights he garnered from 30 years at Disney.  (See the mindmap below.)  Having attended countless such sessions in my 25+ years studying creativity and innovation, I can say that Duncan’s session was one of the most insightful and honest sessions I’ve experienced.

Mindmap of Duncan’s “Theory of Creativity Session”

After Duncan’s first session, we wolfed down our lunches and were treated to a private tour of the Independence Blue Cross Innovation Center by Innovation Director, Patrick Dudley.

The afternoon found a few of our students heading to a session with QuestLove of the Philly band, “The Roots” (also the house band for Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show), and Todd Carmichael, co-founder and CEO of Philadelphia’s own “La Colombe coffee.”

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The majority of us returned for another session with Duncan Wardle called, “Innovation Excavation:  From Toybox tot Toolbox.”  Here Duncan led almost 100 attendees through several hours of exercises in which we used divergent (“expansionist” was Duncan’s term) thinking and convergent thinking (“reductionist”) to design innovative solutions the challenge, “How might we get more 21-25 year olds to come to our theater and spend more money?”  From “No, because” to “Yes, and,” from “What ifs…” to “Love-o-Meters” Duncan led the group through his Innovation Toolkit, “the Imagination Emporium” with the same humor and sagacity he exhibited in his first session.

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We came to the B.Phl Innovation Festival to get first-hand experience with innovation, to see what it looks like in action, and to understand its importance in all areas of our economic, artistic, and educational systems.  We left as participants in a world that many never get to see until they’ve spent years in the workforce.  As well, they’re taking with them the knowledge that their ideas and hard work can bring value not only to themselves but to the world at large.


Published by Garreth Heidt

Designerly Minded High School Humanities and Liberal Studies Teacher Faculty Mentor FIRST Robotics Team #7414--PV Retrobotics. Constantly learning, trying to be more a maker and less a consumer of culture. I believe in the infinite value of a liberal education and the power of design thinking to help make the world a better place.

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