The Innovation Engine

Jun 5, 2018 / Day Job & the Practical / how to be creative / creativity

I’m always curious about creativity. I want to understand the conditions that foster creativityäóînot just in my artwork, but also at work.

Yesterday, I was surfing YouTube and came across Tina Seelig who created a creativity framework for the workplace.

I love things that attempt to explain everythingäóîa universal theory of some sort. And that’s what she created, a universal theory of creativity. According to Seelig, it has six components.

She calls the whole framework the Innovation Engine, and they are grouped into inner vs outer components. The inner components are knowledge, imagination, and attitude. They refer to what goes on inside an individual. The outer components are resources, habitat, and culture. These factors refer to the environment surounding the individual. All of these components are interrelated. To improve creativity, you can start anywhere in this mí_bius strip diagram.

The focus of her framework is the business environment, but I was curious how her framework jived with what I’ve read on creativity from an artist perspective.


When people think of creativity, they usually refer to imagination–how “out of the box” a person is. How many different ideas can a person generate given a prompt? Seelig mentions well known techniques for generating ideas:

  • reframing the question
  • Combining unrelated ideas
  • challenging assumptions.

It’s refreshing to hear someone summarize this in one place. I’ve written about combining unrelated ideas before and I totally agree with that technique. At work, I frequently draw upon my art background to improve spreadsheets and dashboardsäóîsee my series on Improving Spreadsheets Using Art Principles. I know there is something about this area that could be explored more, that is, applying the artist mindset at work.

I didn’t know about techniques of reframing and challenging assumptions though. I want to explore that more in future articles.


While imagination is the catalyst for creativity, you will not go far if you don’t have foundational knowledge. For instance, an artist studies the history of her medium so she knows what has come before. As she gains more knowledge, she becomes more capable in reframing, combining unrelated ideas, and challenging assumptions. Without a foundation, she will flounder. What’s worse is she may think she is creative and original, but in fact what she came up, someone already came up with in the past. This is where the saying äóìartists break the rulesäóù comes from. In order to break the rules, you must first know the rules. So yes, knowledge is required if you want to be creative.


Attitude refers to how a person reacts to failure and setbacks. I love this one. This component refers to the artist mindset that I’ve been writing about in this blog. One attitude that is key is how a person reacts to failure. In a recent article Errors and Art, I wrote about how failure or errors are good. It might lead to one’s signature style. So I agree with Tina Seelig on this. Attitude is an important component in creativity.

From the three internal components of imagination, knowledge, and attitude, we go to the external components, which in Seelig’s view is the external manifestation of the internal components. That is why each external component runs parallel to the associated internal component in her mí_bius strip diagram.


The artist studio is an external manifestation of the artist’s imagination. This is an interesting observation. I’ve never thought of this before. I always want to keep my studio pristine. I get overwhelmed if there too many things all over the place. Today, my studio looks like this.

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And I don’t like it already. I really want it to look like this.

[koken_photo label=”va0317-0007.jpg” id=”153” media_type=”image” caption=”both” link=”none”]

It’s the same thing at work. People often remark that my office is so zen. At the end of each day, I tidy things up so everything is clean.

Which one is better? I prefer cleaning up at the end of each day, but I acknowledge that having a messy studio may be better so I don’t waste time setting up again the following day. I will experiment with that. Would I end up more creative? I want to find out!


If a person is not given the time and budget at work to increase her knowledge, then creativity will be stifled. Seelig cautions though that it can’t be unlimited resources (in terms of time or budget). Setting limits in the form of deadline and money is crucial to creativity. This is something I’ve learned from my artist mentors as well. By setting limits, you are forced to come up with creative workarounds that you would not think of otherwise.


This aspect of the innovation engine refers to the attitude of the company itself. Are mistakes and errors punished? If yes, then people will learn not to innovate and will not try something new. Why risk it? Conversely, if the company does not reward innovation, then what is the point of coming up with new ideas? I think of the three external factors for creativity, this is the hardest to achieve.

How Can This Be Applied

Using Seelig’s framework, I see why artists could be greatly valued at a company. Artists practice their imagination, enhance their knowledge, and have a healthy attitude towards failure. It’s just what they do. If an artist works for a company that provides the ideal habitat, resources, and culture then great things could happen.

We need more artists at work. But that’s not going to happen any time soon as artists are driven by their own compass and will want to do their own projects. The next best thing is for people at work to learn the artist mindset. You don’t have to be an artist to think like one. I really believe in that, and that’s why I write this blog. I’m curious how the artist mindset can be learned. I’ll continue to explore that in this blog.

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