Book: “Innovating Minds”



Our book Innovating Minds: Rethinking Creativity to Inspire Change, published by Oxford University Press, is now available from, Barnes & Noble, Oxford University Press, and other booksellers.


A strong review of Innovating Minds —in the American Psychological Association’s journal PsycCRITIQUES (February 2016). Written by Professor Liane Gabora, an expert in creativity research, here are a few of her review comments that really popped out for us:

  • “. . . an exciting new framework for thinking about creativity and fueling innovative change in the world.”
  • “Although the basic concept of adaptively moving in abstraction space is not new, the authors do an unprecedented job of exploring its implications for fostering creative thinking and bringing about innovative change.”
  • “. . . the authors do an excellent job of coming up with interesting and potentially effective exercises for altering and playing with the way in which you think about creative problems and tasks.”
  • “. . . because of its readability, I would also recommend it highly for anyone with an interest in how the creative process works or for someone who wants to kickstart his or her own creative juices.”


In the February 2016 issue of Choice, published by the American Library Association, Professor Bernard Beins of Ithaca College recommends our book and begins his review: “In judging whether creative problem solving is inborn or learned, Koutstaal (Univ. of Minnesota) and Binks (a specialist in organizational innovation) come down firmly on the side of learned.” And he concludes: “Ultimately, this book is useful for identifying a mosaic of creative approaches rather than suggesting that there is a single simplistic, but unrealistic, formula.”


“Eminent psychologist Koutstaal and organization consultant Binks team up to present a program to enhance creativity based on neurobiology and psychological experimentation. The result is a five-part ‘thinking framework’: change the level of detail; attend to competing thoughts; allow room for both spontaneity and deliberateness in thinking; use sensing and feeling as well as cognition; and capture thoughts in some physical form.”— Library Journal



Here’s some advance praise for the book:

“I love this book. It is intellectually satisfying, eminently practical, and beautifully presented. I cannot think of another book that appreciates how much of creativity is due to individual and institutional choice. That choice is to engage in specific, well-founded strategies that increase the chances of success. Instead of succumbing to the belief that creativity is the province of exceptional individuals, the authors deliver scientifically tested strategies we can all use. Even better, they explain why the strategies work. Readers will be able to generate their own creative ways to increase their creativity. It is hard to do better than that.”
DANIEL SCHWARTZ, Nomellini and Olivier Professor of Educational Technology, Stanford University

“Innovation is central to implementing corporate responsibility, sustainability, and change leadership. Societies and organizations direly need new theories and action to make real progress on persistent wicked problems. The new integrative framework in this stimulating book, incorporating the latest insights and research from fields ranging from neuroscience to empathic design, will be as useful to start-up and multinational businesses as it will be to non-profits and governments searching for creative solutions to ongoing challenges. I could have used it in my own prior leadership activities, and certainly will use it in my current activities and teaching.”
CHIP PITTS, Former Chief Legal Officer of Nokia, Inc. and Former Chair of Amnesty International, USA


An overview of the book, courtesy of Oxford University Press:

“From entrepreneurs to teachers, engineers to artists, almost everyone stands to benefit from becoming more creative. New ways of thinking, making, and imagining have the potential to bring about revolutionary changes to both our personal lives and society as a whole. And yet, the science behind creativity has largely remained a mystery, with few people aware of the ways we can optimize our own creative and innovative ideas.

Innovating Minds: Rethinking Creativity To Inspire Change offers a perspective, grounded in science, that allows us to achieve both individual and collective creative goals. Wilma Koutstaal and Jonathan Binks draw upon extensive research from brain, behavioral, and organizational sciences to present a unique five-part “thinking framework” in which ideas are continually refined and developed. Beyond scientific research, Innovating Minds also describes the everyday creative challenges of people from all walks of life, offering insights from dancers, scientists, designers, and architects.

The book shows that creativity is far from a static process; it is steeped with emotion and motivation, involving the dynamic interactions of our minds, brains, and environments. Accordingly, it challenges readers to put its material into use through thinking prompts, creativity cross- checks, and other activities.

Vibrant and engaging, Innovating Minds reveals a unique approach to harnessing creative ideas and putting them into action. It offers a fascinating exploration of the science of creativity along with new and valuable resources for becoming more innovative thinkers and doers.”


And here’s a summary of the book:

What is creative and innovative thinking really all about? How do we discover promising new ways of making, imagining, and adeptly moving toward our creative goals, whether working on our own or together with others?

Innovating Minds offers us a science-grounded perspective for realizing our individual and collective creative goals. In this book, we learn a unique 5-part “thinking framework” in which ideas continually form and re-form within the dynamic interplay of our minds, brains, and environments.

Drawing on research findings ranging from brain networks to individuals in interacting groups, to organizations that span continents, Innovating Minds illuminates the real-world creative challenges of people in all walks of life, from dancers to designers, from artists to architects, from scientists to software developers, and more. We discover that creativity and innovation are profoundly iterative. Ideas are in our minds, but are deeply inter-steeped with emotion and motivation, with perception and with action, with continual support from our environments, in all their social, physical, and symbolic complexities.

The thinking framework asks us five questions: 1. What ideas are competing for your attention and awareness—and how are you helping to form and re-form them? 2. Are you aptly zooming in and zooming out? 3. Do you allow room for both spontaneity and deliberateness in your thinking? 4. Are you thinking using the full power of concepts, together with sensing, feeling, and well-chosen action goals? 5. How do you ask your environments and your “thinking tools” to creatively partner with you?

Throughout, Innovating Minds invites us to actively explore and put to use what we are learning through thinking prompts, creativity cross-checks and queries, and thought boxes. The broadly integrative brain, behavioral, and organizational sciences based thinking framework gives us all new and enduring resources for becoming more innovative thinkers and doers.


The “thinking framework” approach we take is unique in four interrelated ways.  First, it emphasizes the dynamic interplay of mind, brain, and environment in forming and re-forming our creative ideas, in a continual cycle of making and finding. Innovating Minds reveals how individual and collective creativity and change emerge from an ongoing process of “making and finding” in which we repeatedly cycle between what we intend to “make” and what our intended actions help us “find.” Second, we insist throughout that optimizing our creatively adaptive thinking requires jointly taking into account the need for contextually modulated variation in both detail stepping (levels of abstraction) and control dialing (degrees of mental control). Third, the book underscores the pervasive, under-appreciated, and poorly understood multi-faceted contribution of goals — including our open goals — to individual and collective creativity.  Fourth, the framework encourages long-term retention and use of new concepts and principles through asking the reader to actively think throughout the book by using numerous and varied thinking prompts, creativity cross-checks and queries, and thought boxes. We know of no other book that has taken this empirically grounded, broadly integrative brain, behavioral, and organizational sciences based approach to innovation and constructive change.