Creativity, learning expert Sawyer next up for Assembly Series

WUSTL researcher on science of creativity to deliver Phi Beta Kappa lecture

Keith Sawyer, PhD, associate professor of education in Arts & Sciences, will deliver the annual Phi Beta Kappa Lecture for the Washington University in St. Louis Assembly Series at 4 p.m. Monday, March 26, in College Hall on the university’s Danforth Campus.


His talk, “Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration,” is free and open to the public.

With a background that includes playing piano in a jazz quartet, working in improvisation and designing video games for Atari, it seems natural that Sawyer saw a connection between creativity and collaboration. He decided to combine his research skills, intellectual curiosity and interdisciplinary subject interest to study what makes a person creative or innovative.

Today, with a dozen books and more than 80 scholarly articles to his credit, Sawyer is a leading researcher on the science of creativity, group dynamics and the learning sciences.

In his 2007 groundbreaking book, Creative Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration, Sawyer tries to set the record straight about many of our society’s firmest — but wrong — beliefs about the nature of the creative process, and to lay bare the myths that have been built around some of our most beloved “geniuses” such as Isaac Newton or Thomas Edison.

These include:

  • Myth: Creativity springs from the unconscious. Fact: “It is mostly conscious, hard work.”
  • Myth: Children are more creative than adults. Fact: “Children aren’t as creative as we think they are … because creativity is a ‘long and difficult path.’ ”
  • Myth: Creativity is the same as originality. Fact: “All creativity includes elements of imitation and tradition. There is no such thing as a completely novel work.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sawyer designed video games for Atari, and followed that with a stint at Kenan Systems.

He entered the doctoral program in psychology at the University of Chicago and graduated in 1994. After a stint as a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, he joined the WUSTL faculty in 1996 as an assistant professor of education.

He is an associate professor in that department, with faculty appointments in psychology and philosophy-neuroscience-psychology, both in Arts & Sciences. In addition, he teaches in the Olin Business School’s executive education programs.

Directions and parking information for College Hall are
on the Assembly Series website at

For more information on this and future Assembly Series events, visit the website or call (314) 935-4620.

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