Saturday, May 9, 2015

Q&A with Scott Barry Kaufman

Scott Barry Kaufman, photo by Jonas Ahlstroem
Scott Barry Kaufman is the author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. His other books include The Philosophy of Creativity and The Complexity of Greatness. He is scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology Center. He cofounded The Creativity Post, and writes the Beautiful Minds blog for Scientific American. He lives in Philadelphia.

Q: You write that the issues you address in this book have fascinated you for many years. How did your own experiences spark that interest, and how did you decide what was the right amount of personal information to include in the book? 

A: As a child in special education I would look around me and see so much more potential in my peers than the teachers realized. I knew very early that I wanted to challenge the education system.

When I was working on Ungifted, I wanted to strike a good balance of personal anecdotes and scientific findings. I decided I would start every chapter with a personal anecdote, and then dive into the science. I hope it worked and my readers like the balance.

Q: The anecdotes you include about your own experiences show that as a teenager and young adult you displayed a lot of determination to reach your goals and redefine your parameters. How important is that quality of persistence as one of the "paths to greatness"? 

A: Persistence is absolutely central to achieving publicly recognized success. There are so many inevitable obstacles on the way to accomplishing any worthy goal. There are lots of naysayers, as well as inner thoughts that hold us back. Also, sometimes we fail. Well, we didn’t really fail, but it may seem as though we failed.

Those who ultimately achieve are those with the right growth mindset. They treat everything as feedback, and keep actively formulating strategies to get where they want to go, despite -- and in some cases, in spite of -- the obstacles.

Q: Throughout the book, you look at the use of I.Q. tests and labels such as "gifted" and "learning disabled." How do you feel those tests and labels have been used, or misused, and what do you see as a better approach? 

A: Labels can serve a useful purpose if they get people the resources they need to flourish. They become limiting when these labels creative impressions that cause people to be treated with low expectations, or cause the person labeled to not put in as much effort.

These labels should not define the totality of any person, and we must recognize that these labels are dynamic. At one point in time the label may accurately describe a person’s needs, but at another point in time it may be more accurate to remove the label if it is no longer serving the person in a positive way. 

Q: How did you come up with the book's title, and how would you define intelligence? 

A: My colleague and friend Josh Aronson jokingly told me once that I should call my book Ungifted, and I thought it was a seriously great book suggestion. It adequately describes how I felt growing up, and how a lot of kids feel in our current education system.

I also wanted to play with the opposite of the gifted label and really confront head on what an “ungifted” person looks like. What does that even mean? To me, the label is absurd, especially when used to define the totality of a person.

Q: What are you working on now? 

A: A new book on the science of creativity with journalist Carolyn Gregoire, due out the end of this year. 

Q: Anything else we should know? 

A: Check out my new podcast.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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