Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kick-Ass Creativity: A Book Review

Book Review written by Graduate Student Meagan Bender

Mary Beth Maziarz’s book titled “Kick Ass Creativity-An Energy Makeover for Artists, Explorers, and Creative Professionals” can be summed up by the title of her book. According to the most recent edition of The Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, “_kick ass_” is defined as: Having a strong effect on someone or something; forceful; powerful.

Maziarz’s work is inspirational and incorporates the basic belief that we as individuals are creative and have the potential to enhance our inner creativity. In the beginning of the book, Maziarz makes a direct correlation between energy and the creative process. I never considered before that energy could play such an integral part in our ability to create. Tapping into our physical, mental, and spiritual energy maximizes ones creative potential. In simpler terms, unless we are fulfilled physically, mentally and spiritually in our daily lives, we cannot reach our creative peak.

As an educator this concept really hit home. I often find myself wondering why my students creativity has diminished by the time they reach high school. It’s easy to conclude that as we age responsibilities and stress levels increase, therefore decreasing our creativity. However, Maziarz offers invaluable insight into combating this common issue. By working towards a specific goal or desire, regardless of how outrageous, we can increase our inner energy levels along with our creative flow. Maziarz, calls this the first step in an “energy makeover.”

As Maziarz expanded upon the concept of energy in relation to creativity, I found myself excitedly turning the page in anticipation. The more I read, the more I realized that my definition of creativity was definitely in need of modification. I started this book thinking creativity was this intangible concept of a new or novel idea, and by the end I realized that creativity is a hidden trait or potential within all of us. Maziarz’s book teaches you how to overcome creative roadblocks in your life, own your inner creativity and use it to your advantage. Her positive voice and excitement about creativity was apparent from start to finish in this book. One section in particular helped provide insight into a common problem that I face when trying to be creative. Chapter 12 titled “kinks” describes blocks and dry-spells that can get in the way of the creative process. Maziarz offered this:

Dry-spells and blocks often provide needed breaks from the journey- detours that take us to the exact information we need in order to move forward most effectively. If we embrace the notion of partnership with the universe, we can begin to see temporary lapses in creative flow as purposeful pauses meant to help us, not deter us. (p. 182)

Embracing our creative blocks and considering them part of the process, really changed my outlook on creativity as well as facilitating. Not only did Maziarz offer many valuable insights throughout her book, at the end of each chapter she offers an exercise to get the creative flow going. She refers to these exercises as a “Creative Soul Search- a series of questions to help you dissolve creative blocks and discover practical ways to free up more time and energy” (p.27). These exercises provide an excellent way to reflect on what you just read and put it to practice. I can definitely use these exercises during a facilitation to keep creative juices flowing.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed this book, one area of critique I would offer is its ability to appeal to a broader audience. For example, a significant portion of this book is geared towards artists, sculptors, and musicians rather than creative professionals. Some readers may get to these sections and decide to put the book down, however, I strongly encourage you to keep going! Once you get through those parts you discover that Maziarz’s overall message is relatable to individuals from all walks of life.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to my fellow peers studying creativity or anyone looking to tap into their creative energy and lead a more innovative life. Not only did this book change the meaning of creativity for me, it also helped me learn how to focus my energy to enhance my creative abilities.

Meagan Bender is a 2007 graduate from Buffalo State College with a Bachelor of Science in English Education. Currently she teaches literacy to children and is pursuing a Master of Science in Creativity, also at Buffalo State College. In the near future she hopes to become certified in Gifted and Talented Education.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Red Rubber Ball at Work

Written by Graduate Student Jenna Smith


Think back to when you were a kid, summer days were endless, made-up games consumed your time and eating lunch was not only an interruption but something that the adults did instead of playing. Back then, games of pick-up sticks, kick ball, marbles, tag and so on were just as critical as today’s latest news story. Kevin Carroll, former athletic trainer for the 76ers turned creativity and innovation guru makes the connection between childhood play, adult play and the workplace in his third book of the red rubber ball series titled “The red rubber ball at work”. Stories of play are told through the voices of some of today’s most successful thought leaders. Uniquely organized into sections about innovation, results, teamwork, leadership and curiosity, a reader’s inquisitive appetite is sure to be satisfied by imagining the likes of IDEO’s Tom Kelley, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, Food Network’s Duff Goldman and Google’s Irene Au as children at play.

In Carroll’s words, “play is serious business” (p. 4). His book takes a biographical look at how some of today’s most creative and innovative thought leaders began their journey with play as a child and blend it with their careers today. Focusing on the ideal that “entertaining is also instructive” Carroll believes that “you can want to work just as you once wanted to play” (p.3). The merits of play are addressed by featuring current research from the founder of The National Institute for Play, Stuart L. Brown and other childhood play experts. These experts have found that “spontaneous play and fantasy play help children learn about the world, cope with life’s pressures, lead a group and think abstractly” (p.3). The red rubber ball at work” aims to take the merits of play into the workplace resulting in “jobs feeling more like fun than like drudgery, workplace satisfaction, increased employee retention, and, ultimately, more innovative, successful companies” (p.3).

While play is no amateur to the field of creativity, it is often considered the black sheep of big business. Questions such as, what is play? And how will it fit within the workplace? often arise when the topic is broached. A flavorful look at the “two kinds of play, playful play doing an activity for pure joy and productive play with specific goals or outcomes other than pure pleasure” are discussed (p. 4). Looking at productive play as one of the main vehicles to innovation, teamwork, leadership, curiosity and results, playful play is just the starting point for beginning productive play in the workplace.


Each profile in the book projects its own ingenuity as childhood stories are artfully blended with career opportunity. You can almost smell the homemade library Irene Au organized as a child, taste the caramel creations that Marribel Liberman distributed to her classmates during recess and see the masterful graffiti art that covers the New York City subway created by “Mare139.” While play is no small feat, it is the lifetime of memories that forever remain imprinted in these great minds. It was an easy read and visually attractive too, with a piece of a red rubber ball gracing the cover. However, sometimes the design of the book took away from the imagery created by the author’s stories. I found Carroll’s own stories that interconnected with the 31 profiles featured in the book to be thought-provoking and on the cusp of breakthrough thinking in the field. Not only are the stories a fascinating approach to a child at play, but they also present the raw creativity that exists at all ages which is something I believe the United States educational system and business industry should take note of. While this was a quick read, Carroll did present various sources which can assist a reader in delving more into the science behind play.


This book took me back to a time in my life when I didn’t give play a second thought. Reminiscing about a time in my childhood where I built a fort in a swamp behind my house, I realized that I was executing the main functions of play such as resourcefulness, planning, strategy, design, decision making, creativity, and risk-taking as Carroll notes “is a powerful force in human development”. As a child those functions were natural, I didn’t care that building a fort in a swamp behind my house was probably not the best idea for longevity of the fort. I just slapped on some boots, reinforced my base and did my best. Even though my fort never quite made it out of the prototype stage, it was one of the most valuable experiences in learning how to be resourceful. That skill has become critical in my current job in nonprofit fundraising. This deep thinking about me as a child is the intention behind the book. Carroll’s “hope is that, upon seeing the play-work connections in others, you will reflect back on your own childhood, take a fresh look at your working life, and recognize how opportunities to incorporate play already exist in your job or can come to exist” (p.5).


All in all, I recommend “The red rubber ball at work” for those who are looking to rediscover the wonder they experienced as a child. Page after page of inserting yourself into the lives of those featured in the book you can honestly see the wonder in that little boy’s eyes or hear the curiosity in that little girl’s voice. It is light hearted with a melody of sweet justice for all those children at heart.

Jenna M. Smith is a master of science in creativity candidate at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College. Currently, Jenna is employed by the Niagara County Community College Foundation working in the field of alumni relations and fundraising. Prior to her current position, she worked as the logistics coordinator for the 2008 Distance Learning and Change Leadership Program for the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College. Recently, Jenna launched a creativity consulting business called Jennaration Creative where she hopes to combine philanthropic values with creativity and innovation concepts for problem-solving purposes. Jenna also focuses much of her work on integrating creative teaching and learning into the current educational system. Jenna holds a bachelor’s degree in public communication with a minor in creative studies as well as a certification in the FourSight thinking preference assessment tool.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Profound Power of Play: Why you should do it each and every day

Written by Graduate Student Erica Swiatek
In the book Play, Dr. Brown examines play and the various aspects of life it impacts. His career has been spent studying play, communicating the science of play to the public, using play therapy and consulting for Fortunate 500 companies on how to incorporate play into business.

I have seen the difference play makes in so many aspects of people’s lives and have always been fascinated by the importance of play. I have worked at organizations that encouraged play and others that did not, and for me there is a huge feeling of fulfillment when work and play is combined. Play takes us away from the normalness of work and ignites our imaginations, enhances our learning and makes us feel more alive. Play talks about this and so much more.

The authors talks about how play is even linked to survival. The thought that survival could be linked to play might seem like a radical thought to some, but as the authors explains it is a very viable conclusion. They discuss an example where polar bears that had not eaten for months came upon a camp with some sled dogs. One of the dogs saw the bears and got into a play stance, bowing his head and wagging his tail, and that’s when something amazing happened. The polar bears began to play with the dogs. They enjoyed it so much that they came back at the same time every day for a week for their playtime. Playing saved these dogs lives.

Play begins very early, the author suggests as early as in the womb, when we are kicking and moving around. Play builds neurological connections and involves our whole brain. This was proven in a study done by Marian Diamond. Her study involved the monitoring of a rats brain activity during two activities. One activity was having rats go through a maze to get a reward of some sort, the other involved rats in an enriched environment (which mostly involved playing with toys). When the rats were in the maze only one part of their brain was active, but when they played with toys their whole brain was activated and grew.

We learn to play from our parents, grandparents and friends. Play gets us ready for challenges and ambiguities we will face in the future. It teaches us about fairness and boundaries. We can learn important information like the alphabet, numbers, and other languages quicker when the content is combined with play. For example, Sesame Street has been using play to help children learn for many decades.

I work in the training field and have had to defend the usefulness of play in a training environment. This book provides evidence that play not only has a place in the training but that learning is far more effective when play is included. When I taught new hire Customer Service classes one of the most effective exercises we did was when the class was broke into two or three groups and each group created a review game. After the games were created we played and reviewed together as a group.

The one concern I did have with the book is that I was hoping for more proof, studies or evidence to back up some of the topics Dr. Brown covered. For example, I found the story of Charles Whitman very impactful. Charles was never allowed to play or do anything unstructured and eventually this led him to tragedy. I would have liked to see that more than one horrible act could be linked to lack of play. Dr. Brown also showed that new Engineers were not as good at problem solving because they did not play with their hands. I would have liked more evidence of the need for play in various industries for those hard to convince traditional executives.

Despite these concerns, I really enjoyed this book. I found myself discussing it with someone new each day when I was reading it. I believe that if you are an employer looking for ways to hire creative people, a person who wants to improve their marriage or if you have been feeling depressed and are looking to restore your joy, this is the book for you.

Erica Swiatek is a Learning and Development Consultant at Independent Health. Her background includes over ten years of experience creating and delivering both online and traditional classes. Erica has always been intrigued with how play and learning fit together to improve the learner's experience while achieving managements expectations.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Passion pays! Connect to your creative capital in “The Element”

Book Review written by Marta Davidovich Ockuly

This is a review of The Element: How finding your passion changes everything written by Sir Ken Robinson, PhD. In this reviewer’s opinion, Robinson’s ‘ode to expressing your passions’ is an affirmation of the power of creative potential latent in every human being. The writing style is anecdotal and informed, rather than strictly academic. Known for his wildly successful TED talk, Robinson’s name is synonymous with promoting the importance of creativity in education worldwide. I believe this little book reached best-seller status for two reasons: #1. Passion, creativity and finding one’s work in today’s world are hugely important. #2. Sir Ken Robinson’s personal passion for the topic and engaging talent for storytelling combine to make this book as readable as it is pivotal.

Born in Liverpool, one of seven children in a working class household with a father who became a quadriplegic after an industrial accident, Robinson faced the added challenge of contracting polio when he was four years old. None of this is mentioned in the book, but I mention it as an aside which sheds light on the boy who grew up to achieve knighthood in 2003 for his creative peacekeeping initiatives in Ireland and achievements in creativity, education, and the arts. After two decades as a university professor, Robinson continues to be an outspoken champion of totally revamping curriculums to make creative engagement a priority.

“The Element is the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion”
Sir Ken Robinson

From the first page, this non-fiction book draws readers in with inspiring stories of children and adults overcoming extraordinary odds after connecting with their ‘element.’ Readers learn Robinson and Paul McCartney attended the same school. McCartney shares his story of unrecognized talent which is shocking in retrospect. Insights into creative struggles faced by Elvis, Meg Ryan, and Simpson’s creator Matt Greonig drive home the message “we can’t always count on our talents being visible (or appreciated) by those closest to us.” People who push past failure or disapproval and follow their passions with single-minded focus, point themselves toward the most valuable form of success – a meaningful life. Robinson does not guarantee all of us superstardom, but he does encourage people of all ages to move toward their dreams. Keep in mind - this is not a self-help book. It is a book about the importance of connecting people to their ‘element.’ Robinson has gathered an inspiring collection of personal stories which illustrate the powerful nature pursuing our passions. He also offers quite a few suggestions for educators interested in facilitating exploration of ‘the element’ inside and outside the classroom.

We all have something which lights us up. Our purpose in life is to find it. In Chapter 3, titled Beyond Imagining, Sir Ken tackles the topics of life’s purpose, putting the planets in perspective, and a concrete definition of creativity. That lesson, in itself, is worth the price of the book. Chapters which follow address getting in the zone, finding your tribe, overcoming the challenge of what other people think, the importance of a mentor, why it’s never too late to pursue a passion, the truth behind being paid to do what you love, and getting over the idea that if you did not do well in school you are doomed to failure. The final chapter looks at choosing between conformity and creativity and outline’s Sir Ken’s vision of a totally transformed school system featuring personalized curriculums where teachers are mentor/coaches facilitating dynamic creative learning.

Creative thinking and learning are hot topics. Sir Ken Robinson frames them as critical survival issues for a world in crisis. I appreciated Robinson’s rigor in providing chapter by chapter notes, references, and links. My personal creativity library contains 200+ books. This is the one I consider required reading for every parent and teacher on the planet. I’ve purchased extra copies to share with colleagues and friends. If you are passionate about creativity, I believe you’ll be inspired to do the same.

Robinson, K. (2009). The element: How finding your passion changes everything. NY: Viking.
Quote source:

“We dance round the ring and suppose, but the Secret sits in the middle and knows.”
Robert Frost
If this review has motivated you to explore The Element – that’s great. If you feel inspired to explore your own passions – you’re invited to participate in a priceless (free) ten-week journey of self-discovery titled: 10 Keys to Unlocking Creative Potential: The Expressive Path to Personal Growth. You can jump in at any time by visiting: Sign up for ‘creative play prompts’ for automatic notices of new blog postings and join the fun! I promise a joyful journey peppered with honest insights, lots of aha’s, reflections on what works and what doesn’t, along with quotes, videos, and links which inspire me along the way. My goal is to launch a chain-reaction of creative action around the world. Will you join us?
Robinson, K. (2009). The element: How finding your passion changes everything. NY: Viking.
Quote source:

Marta Davidovich Ockuly is a Master of Science in Creativity degree candidate at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College in Buffalo, New York. She is an award-winning creativity professional who consults with businesses and individuals seeking increased creativity and positive change. Marta’s other passion is activating creative potential with joy as a certified professional coach. Her website: is a popular source of positively encouraging quotes and coaching tips. She earned her undergraduate degree in Human Development and Counseling (Eckerd College, 2005) with High Honors while undergoing treatment for AML (leukemia). Contact Marta through, join or

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Buy Now! (A Book Review)

Book Review written by Aaron M. Lepsch

Do you ever have the urge to go out shopping? Do you ever watch a commercial, infomercial or advertisement that sticks in your memory? Do you ever feel the NEED to go out and have the latest product? Buy Now: Creative marketing that gets customers to respond to you and your product by Rick Cesari and Ron Lynch may be a book for you to read.

This nonfictional book educates the reader about the marketing methods that Rick Cesari and Ron Lynch use every day in their company, Cesari Direct. In Buy Now, Rick talks about the story of how Cesari Direct and he became successful through old marketing techniques, but use them in creative ways to differentiate themselves from the competition. One example to tease your thoughts further will be the famous infomercials and the famous product: OxiClean. With the iconic pitchman Billy Mays, Cesari Direct made OxiClean a must have for households throughout the United States.


Buy Now is about creating your own blue ocean. What do I mean by blue ocean? A blue ocean is a new area that has never been explored and that the competition has not currently tried or touched. Rick Cesari goes through how Cesari Direct became famous through creating its own ocean in direct response marketing.

One important aspect discussed in Buy Now talks about achieving the Triple Crown in advertising. The Triple Crown is described as, “It (1) offers an excellent product, (2) develops highly successful direct advertising for that product, and (3) has smart businesspeople at the helm to manage fast growth correctly.” Several examples that Rick cited as having obtained the Triple Crown were Juiceman, Orange Glo and Sonicare. Each of these companies achieved the Triple Crown through the use of a unique selling proposition (USP).


Buy Now is a very easy to read book that offers great information and stories that the reader would have never thought to be connected. When reading the book, it was amazing to see how one particular marketing / advertising strategy could be so successful if your product and business had the right pieces to move forward. Most of these products used simple ideas, but each product was novel. Additionally, each product solved a problem that made consumer’s life easier, healthier and less complicated.

One of the most compelling stories in the book was the story about how Rick Cesari and Cesari Direct had the direct influence of revamping George Foreman’s career through the sponsorship of the Lean Mean Grilling Machine. Another compelling story was the fact that Cesari Direct also had the direct influence of beginning Billy May’s famous career as a pitchman with the product, OxiClean. These two stories, along with detailed explanation of how each marketing campaign was successful offers a great opportunity for any entrepreneur looking for inspiration that they too can be successful.

Buy Now has changed my thinking about infomercials. The book has allowed me to create a deeper understanding regarding the benefits of marketing. Marketing doesn’t just benefit the business that sells a product, but it benefits the consumer and the economy on a local, national and global level.


You might be asking yourself, how might a marketing book assist me in my life or any of my endeavors? That may be a valid statement for some critics, but one may benefit if you take the stories, examples and knowledge that Cesari and Lynch have placed in the book for your own personal knowledge on how advertising, products and creativity may have an impact on our lives without us even knowing it sometimes.

The stories of Orange Glo, Sonicare, George Foreman Grill, Billy Mays and Juiceman may be a powerful motivator and inspiration for any reader. These companies went from small businesses that sold products at state fairs to massive multi-million dollar companies in several years with the help of Rick and Cesari Direct. Individuals reading this review, I urge you to purchase this book. Please enjoy the book for the stories and strategies presented by Cesari and Lynch. Buy Now exemplifies the fact that simple ideas and products have the chance to hit the consumer market at a highly successful level to compete with big business.

Aaron Lepsch is a Operations Analyst at Citigroup and a part-time graduate student at the International Center for Studies in Creativity. Aaron enjoys anything that deals with learning, creativity, self-fulfillment and assisting others.