Scott Barry Kaufman believes having a dream you’re passionate about is fundamental to future success — and childhood daydreaming might just be the key. The scientific director of the Imagination Institute and researcher and lecturer in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania is working to expand our definitions and understanding of intelligence and creativity. Deeply informed by positive psychology and passionate about maximizing kids’ untapped potential, Kaufman, the author of “Wired to Create” and “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined,” wants to help “students to learn what it means to live a happy, fulfilling life.
Don’t Let Others Limit Your Dreams
Labeled a “slow learner” and asked to repeat third grade, Kaufman spent years in special education feeling capable of more. It wasn’t until ninth grade that someone questioned the labels applied to him. A teacher in the school resource center noticed Kaufman’s interest in the gifted biology class across the hall and asked why he was still in special ed. Her simple inquiry let him know it was okay to push back against his assigned fate.
“A flashbulb went off and I immediately set up a meeting,” he says. “It was the first time someone had ever tried to break out of special ed.” The school let him out on a trial basis and he registered for everything he could. He went on to earn a B.S. in psychology from Carnegie Mellon, a Master of Philosophy from King’s College, Cambridge, and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Yale University.
IQ and SAT Scores Don’t Tell the Whole Story
Standardized tests correlate highly with IQ tests and all are tied to the executive control network, which includes working memory, reasoning, problem solving, planning and inhibition. “The scores alone tell us nothing,” says Kaufman. “They need to be coupled with our passions, hopes, dreams and desires.”
He references the Torrance Study, an ongoing longitudinal study begun in the 1950s of the characteristics predictive of long-term creativity. The study defined a group it calls “Beyonders,” who don’t overlap with scholastic superstars; the skills Beyonders possess are love of work, persistence, purpose in life, deep thinking, divergent thinking, risk taking, openness to change and tolerance of mistakes — all important to future success.
“But one variable more than any others was the best predictor of creative achievement: the extent to which kids fell in love with a future image of themselves,” says Kaufman. “It out-predicted any measure of scholastic success.” Having a clear dream and being passionate about it is integral to our children’s search for identity.
Daydreaming is Not Spacing Out
“You’ve got your head in the clouds” is a comment most often used to imply you’re not paying attention or your ideas are irrational or preposterous. But what if it was instead an acknowledgement that you’re simply exercising a different function of your brain? Kaufman refers to time spent daydreaming, imagining different perspectives and scenarios, retrieval of deeply personal memories and personal meaning-making as utilizing the “imagination network.”
The imagination network is particularly important for encouraging creativity and developing compassion. “Creating a personal connection to what you’re working on and linking it back to life and the everyday requires dipping into the imagination network,” says Kaufman. Whereas spacing out is the inability to control attention, Kaufman says “daydreaming is positive and constructive, voluntary and pleasurable.”
Research has shown that a decline in imagination begins between kindergarten and third grade. Intrinsic motivation — doing something just for the joy and love of it — also drops dramatically. Kaufman theorizes that this is because test preparation comes into play around this time. When it comes to imagination and creativity, it really is a “use it or lose it” premise and practice is important to keep those connections strong. Try turning off the screens and radio and let your kids be “bored” looking out the window on your next car ride; call it exercise.
Can We Measure Imagination?
What gets measured gets noticed. Kaufman and his fellow leader at The Imagination Institute, Martin Seligman, want to create an Imagination IQ test, a new metric for understanding imagination. They’ve also discussed developing a DQ — daydreaming quotient — and other school-wide creativity measures.
Their goal is to place a Dream Director in every school to encourage students to share their dreams and help them develop substantial projects connected to their future visions. Kaufman advocates a system where no one falls between the cracks and each student is recognized for his or her own individual potential. He asserts, “Every student deserves a challenge, not only those we label as gifted.”
- Have 10 minutes? Watch Kaufman’s TEDX Manhattan Beach talk.
- Have a few hours? Read one of Kaufman’s books, like his latest, “Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind.”
- Visit Kaufman’s website for access to articles, blog posts, research, podcasts and videotaped talks.
- Read Kaufman’s Beautiful Minds blog at Scientific American for insights into intelligence, creativity and the mind.
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