Photo Credit: Rifka Schonfeld

I have no name
Until you name me.
I have no form
Until you shape me.
I don’t exist
Until you make me,
I am creativity.

I am waiting deep inside you
Touch my spark
And let me light you,
Give me life
And I’ll revive you
I am creativity.


I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and reading about creativity. Recently, I read The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain by neuroscientists John Kounios and Mark Beeman. In it the researchers talk about the steps necessary to enhance creativity. Then I came across another interesting approach to creativity by Roberta Ness in her book Genius Unmasked. Ness outlines the “genius’s toolbox” – or those tools that “geniuses” utilize to have breakthroughs and scientific discoveries.


Though Ness discusses innovation and is highly educated, her book is surprisingly easy for those “regular” people among us to read. As reviewer David Walton points out:

Ness is the dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health and the vice president for innovation at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. She is a highly honored physician and researcher and especially gifted in making her material plain and easy to grasp, and in drawing connections across fields.

One of the first geniuses Ness explores is Albert Einstein. Einstein revolutionized the world of science and mathematics through careful observation and conjecture. Among the other people Ness talks about are Charles Darwin, Marie Montessori, and Stanley Milgram. With all of them, she says, there were characteristics of their thinking process that were the basis for their groundbreaking inventions and discoveries.

So, what is inside the scientific genius’s toolbox? Ness identifies thought processes that are essential to creative thinking and innovation.

Finding the right question: You need to ask the right question to get to the right answer. The genius comes in both recognizing the right question and in understanding when the question is the wrong one and it is time to begin again.

Observation: Observation is the crux of what we see as research. We take notes and collect data. We make mistakes when we only look for what we expect to see or become so used to our surroundings that we don’t notice when something unusual is unfolding.

Analogy: Creative thinkers are able to apply lessons from one situation to another. Like an analogy in language, they can make connections between two seemingly unrelated events (such as blood vessels to roadways or waterways).

Juggling induction and deduction: Induction is when we make generalizations based on individual instances; deduction is when we make predictions about individual instances based on a generalization. A creative thinker knows how to switch between induction and deduction when the appropriate situations arrive.

Changing point of view: This tool in the genius toolbox connects back to finding the right question. In order to think innovatively, sometimes it is necessary to return to the question and start on a new question.

Broadening perspective: Often when looking for solutions, we talk to people who are like-minded. In reality, when we speak to people who have a different perspective, our own thinking is refined and improved.

Dissecting the problem: Who wants to spend time on the problem? Isn’t it more fun (and doesn’t it feel more productive) to spend time on the solution? The reality is that when we dissect the problem, we have better access to the solution.

Recombination and rearrangement: After dissecting the problem, we need to put it back together in a different order. This recombination and rearrangement helps us see the problem (and therefore the solution) through different eyes.

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at [email protected].