Assessing the Creative Potential in Projects - From a Single Work to Multiple Scholarly Spin-Offs - Writing as Professional Development

Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016

Assessing the Creative Potential in Projects
From a Single Work to Multiple Scholarly Spin-Offs
Writing as Professional Development

In Academia, creative thinking is a key to job satisfaction because resourcefulness and originality in scholarly work are prized across departments and colleges. When doctoral students hear that they are expected to make an original contribution to the field through a dissertation, they sometimes think this means a revolutionary, paradigm-shifting, never before imagined giant stride forward. Yet most of the time, creativity consists of developing something new from available and stored information. Creative thinkers connect the seemingly unconnected, recombine ideas into something new, see things afresh, juxtapose concepts in surprising ways, and notice things that others tend to overlook. This type of thought is particularly prized in scholarly endeavors that shape the professions they represent. Therefore, when scholars do generate something original that is valued by fellow experts, it contributes to their sense not only of doing well but of being well. As you manage your life and work, overall well-being is an important consideration. The father of positive psychology movement, Martin Seligman (2012), posits that well-being is what enables us, not merely to survive but to thrive. He regards our capacity to flourish as being shaped by five forces: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment—all represented by the acronym PERMA. With this orientation in mind, we offer ten questions to guide you in choosing projects. Productive faculty members will tell you that they have too many projects going on and that they need to learn to say no more often. So, use Table 11.2 to do some thinking about how to be more selective about the projects you agree to undertake.

Table 11.2

Ten questions to ask about projects

1. Will I learn something new and valuable? If the activity does not stretch your thinking and prompt you to work at the edge of your competence, it may not meet the criteria for professional development. Originality and innovation are a defining characteristic of excellent work across the disciplines (Shiu, 2014)

2. What are my unique contributions? If others engaged in the task can accomplish everything without your input, it may not be the best investment of your time. Collaboration is the predominant way of generating innovative ideas (Bozeman & Boardman, 2014) and a boon to entrepreneurship (Bozeman, Fay, & Slade, 2013)

3. Is it a good match for my skills? If a task is easy, it becomes boring; if it is too difficult, it gets frustrating (Csikzentmihalyi, 2008). You need not be the leading expert in the field in order to launch a project. You should, however, be highly motivated to acquire the skills that you need and collaborate with capable others to shore up any deficiencies

4. Does the activity consistently rise to the top of my list? If a project is compelling, you will treat it as a priority; if you avoid it or make excuses for not completing the related tasks, your level of engagement is low and this may not be a good match for your strengths and interests (Shernoff, 2013)

5. Is the project full of potential? If an activity has truly captivated you then you should find it easy to imagine many different directions and possibilities. Fluency of this type is part of the creative process (Csikzentmihalyi, 2013)

6. Am I impelled to pursue the endeavor? If a project is enthralling, you would do the work, even in the absence of tangible rewards. Intrinsic motivation is a key characteristic of creative endeavors (Runco, 2014)

7. Is your level of commitment strong? Initial enthusiasm may launch a project but you need to consider if your commitment is sufficient to propel the project forward and sustain the effort through to completion. The best projects absorb thoughts, feelings, and actions

8. Are you self-directed in monitoring progress and attaining goals? According to attribution theory, those who credit their success to hard work and determination are more likely to have leadership qualities (Martinko, Harvey, & Douglas, 2007). They are not overly dependent upon others for praise nor for hand-holding. As you evaluate the potential of projects, move toward greater self-direction

9. Is the project a favorite conversational topic? The most promising projects consume us, in a good way. They dominate our thinking even beyond academic circles and we are eager to talk about the activity. This interest also extends to patience with educating others about what we are doing—and why

10. Are you so absorbed that you lose track of time? If a project is captivating, you won’t resent the time it takes; in fact, you may find that the time flies by when working on it because it is an “optimal experience” (Csikzentmihalyi, 2008)

In the field of cognitive therapy, there is a phenomenon referred to as “cognitive distortions”—exaggerated, illogical thinking that people often resort to in times of stress (Beck, 2011). Cognitive distortions can run rampant where scholarly productivity is concerned because people may feel that: others are brilliant, their skills are inadequate, the pressure to achieve is oppressive, the chances of success are slim, and—even if they are successful—it was attributable to fate. Thus, it is useful to examine how they might erode confidence, motivation, resilience, and persistence in academic writing tasks (Table 11.3).

Table 11.3

Cognitive distortions: counteracting negative thinking

Cognitive distortion




All-or-nothing thinking and overgeneralizations

Neglecting to see the gray areas and drawing sweeping conclusions

“Even though the decision was ’revise and resubmit’, I think that the reviews were terrible. I may as well give up; it’s never going to get published”

“If I address each and every one of these recommend-dations, I have a good shot at publication”


Identifying a culprit

“That editor just does not appreciate the problems of authors writing in English as a second language”

“It is my responsibility to use all available resources to make my writing error-free and readable. I’m going to ask some native speakers to review the manuscript before I submit”

Discounting the positive

Attributing success to external forces rather than good thinking and diligence

“I’m just lucky, I guess, to get a place on the national conference program”

“I worked really hard on my conference proposal and it earned acceptance as a result of that effort”

Mental filter

Being overly optimistic (or pessimistic)

“If I give this dissertation chapter to my committee even though it is a very rough draft, they can save me time by telling me how to fix it”

“I’m going to wait until this chapter is as polished and professional as I can make it before sharing it with the committee. That is the surest way for them to continue to have confidence in me”

Jumping to conclusions making (negative) predictions

Thinking that it is possible to foresee the outcomes

“We probably won’t get the grant because the competition is so keen. Then I will have wasted all of that time without anything to add to my CV”

“If we don’t get funded by this group, we’ll try another source. I can use material from the grant to teach a class, in a conference presentation, or a practical article”

Should statements

Setting oneself up for disappointment

“At this stage in my career, I should be able to get a book contract, no problem”

“I’m going to turn the process of learning to write a book proposal into a professional development project. There are trusted colleagues I can ask, funded proposals to use as examples, books I can read, and conference sessions I can attend to improve my chances of success”


Overstating the negative consequences

“If I don’t get this university-wide award, everyone will be talking about my failure. I will be humiliated and disgraced”

“There is honor in the nomination. If I don’t get the award, I’m sure that someone else deserving will. At least it was a vote of confidence from my colleagues”

Taking it personally

Feeling attacked and wounded on a personal level

“When I wasn’t awarded the book contract on the first try, I was so hurt. I probably won’t try with that publishing house again; I don’t think that the editor likes me”

“Now I have revised my book proposal in response to the reviewers’ critiques. They thought of things that I did not and made some good suggestions. Now it is a much stronger prospectus”

Negative comparisons

Assuming that others have it much easier

“So much of what is published is garbage. Why was I singled out for rejection? Can’t they just accept it?”

“It’s undeniably tough to get published in a top-tier journal. I may need to try a less competitive outlet first and build up to the more impressive outlets”

Activity 11.2: Tackling Cognitive Distortions

Did you recognize any of the cognitive distortions in Table 11.3 in yourself and others? What can you do as a professional, as a colleague and/or as a mentor to minimize these negative influences?