Are these other facets of
intelligence things that can be
If you want to improve things like grit
and determination, you really have to
engage people from within, not from
without. There are curricula to teach
people to be more self-controlled, more
gritty, as a form of duty: If you sit your
butt in the seat and learn this boring
task, you’re going to get some external
reward, such as getting into a good
college or making your parents proud.
But that’s not ultimately where I think
the most long-lasting change for grit
and determination will be. I think these
things are more likely to be increased
when you set up the conditions to draw
them out from within. So firstly, you
make people interested in the things
they’re learning. You connect the material
to someone’s personal goals. “
Meaning-making” is an essential aspect to bringing
out grit organically. And that’s not
something we do in a passive classroom
where it’s almost entirely about focusing
on the outside world.
How do you think the educational
system can better cultivate these
qualities in students?
There needs to be a better opportunity
for students in all grades — including
elementary school — to have more choice
about which classes they’d like to take, and
a selection of how they can demonstrate
their brilliance. I’m not talking about
learning styles in terms of auditory
learners, visual learners and so on. That’s
largely been debunked. But some people
might be good at project-based learning.
Some might be better able to show you
their knowledge of the material through a
take-home project, where you give them
time to reflect. Some people prefer group
work. Some students might be good at
traditional passive learning, and that’s fine.
Give them that option.
There is no one-size-fits-all category,
and I think that’s what needs to change
about the educational system. There
needs to be a greater appreciation of
these fundamental differences.
Traits like grit and resilience have
gotten a lot of attention from
researchers lately. Do you think
educators are starting to get the
I do. I see lots of innovative schools
and innovative approaches. High-Tech
High [a network of charter schools in
San Diego] is doing a great job, turning
the school into a design studio. The
Future Project [a national nonprofit
organization that installs full-time
“dream directors” into high schools to
help young people realize their goals]
shows the importance of every student
having a coach, an advocate to help
them. Montessori education is great in
the sense that it gives kids a chance to let
their natural curiosity flourish. I see a
lot of great independent schools that are
really leading the charge. Unfortunately,
they’re still in the minority, but there are
a lot of good hints for the future.
What else can be done to
bring more of these innovative
approaches to public schools?
Everyone needs to talk to others more.
There’s such fragmentation. Public poli-
cymakers aren’t aware of the latest psy-
chological research. Educators are work-
ing within a system given to them by
public policymakers, even though they
want it to change. Some psychologists
don’t even see the point of applied re-
search. There needs to be more multidis-
ciplinary science. With the Imagination
Institute, I’m organizing an event next
March bringing together leaders in edu-
cation to produce a report on how to in-
novate education. Little by little, I think
there needs to be greater cross-talk.
It sounds like you’ve been busy
with the Imagination Institute...
The goal is to advance the science of
measurement and development of
imagination across all sectors of society,
and we’re able to do that with generous
funding from the John Templeton
Foundation. We just completed our
first grant competition and awarded
16 grants [to scholars studying the
science of imagination]. We are also
doing a series of weekend retreats across
various fields — physics, music, novels,
screenwriters, the military, all sorts of
things. Basically, we want to find the
most imaginative people on this earth,
study them, scan their brains, give them
cognitive tests and have a discussion
with them about what innovation and
imagination looks like in their field.
What else are you working on?
I have a book on creativity coming out
at the end of this year, “Wired to Create:
Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative
Mind” with co-author Carolyn Gregoire.
I’m also collaborating on an internship
program with a team from the lab of
Dr. Angela Duckworth, who studies
grit and self-control at the University of
Pennsylvania. We have a student working
on creating curricula for teachers that
incorporate grit and imagination.
I’m also excited by a collaboration
with Susan Cain, the author of the
book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts
in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”
We’re working with some students
at Penn researching introversion and
appreciating the benefit of solitude.
We know quiet and solitude are so