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Tuesday, 29 October 2013 23:12

Prof Boris Plahteanu talks about creativity and invention

Professor Boris Plahteanu was born in Bessarabia, in Chişinău, on September 22st 1941. During the war, his family moved to Romania. He graduated from the Politechnical Institute, Iaşi as a valedictorian, and completed his PhD in mechanical engineering in 1973 more specifically in the area of industrial engineering. He was immediately recruited as a Member of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. Since 1990, Professor Plahteanu has been a Member of the National Inventics Institute of Iaşi, Editor in Chief of the Journal of Inventics, and Scientific Manager.

Since 2002 he has been General Manager of the National Inventics Institute and is Coordinator of the Regional Centre of the European Network PATLIB for the promotion of intellectual property. With about 87 patents submitted to the National Trademark Office, Boris Plahteanu is the winner of several national and international trophies with over 60 Golden Medals in the international fair of inventions, and he owns several Romanian and international distinctions.

Awards of the Creative Team of the Iaşi Institute of Inventics

He has cultivated 46 generations of students and is considered a role model for novice inventors and one of the most prominent leaders of a world-renowned School of Inventics that provides training in the basis of creation in science and technology. He also organised 26 editions of the International Inventics Symposium, 16 International Conferences, 16 International Inventics Salons and promoted the participation of Romanian inventors to the great World Salons held in Brussels, Geneva, Pittsburg, London, Barcelona, Casablanca, Moscow, Sofia, Varna, Novi-Sad, Bucharest, Budapest, Chişinău and Iaşi for example. He is currently the President of the Inventics Committee of the Romanian Academy.

In his autobiography, The Book of Reverence, Professor Boris Plahteanu, Romanian inventor, tries to describe the moments in his personal history that led him to the choice and evolution of his career as an inventor. He considers himself very fortunate to be part of the Iași School of Inventics, where he was mentored by great minds who taught him the joy of solving a problem and the reward of discovery. Fascination with his own work seems to be central to the inventor. Besides passion, he mentions the existence of favourable environmental conditions and the presence of personal models, such as his father, who was also an inventor but without any formal training. He also describes hard work, perseverance and strict self-discipline as key factors for leading a creative, fulfilling career. Some of these aspects are discussed in the following interview, in the context of explaining his personal view on creativity. The author considers creativity is science intertwined with art, as Leonardo da Vinci's work example has shown.

In the following interview, Boris Plahteanu speaks to Dr Ana Stoica Constantin and Ana Maria Hojbotă about the prerequisites and conditions conducive to creativity in his field of work.

Dear Mr Plahteanu, first let us address you some questions about creativity and the creative personality... Our first question is: What would be your personal definition of creativity? We would like you to define it generally, and then specifically, applying the definition to the field in which you are engaged, namely the technical one.

'As it has already been defined by the field of inventics, creativity is both a science and a form of art. We can define creativity as science, since the process of generating the new can be algorithmized, formalised and taught. It can also be defined as art, since it relies on many other abilities, besides logical thinking. For instance, intuition and other kinds of processes that pertain more to the right side of the brain are used.'

So, you speak about the same processes that are responsible for artistic creation... The same psychological processes seem to be involved. We find your observation very interesting!

'Yes, because this is how we developed the science of inventing, along these two parallel directions: the intuitive methods of creative generation, complemented by logical-mathematical ones. The latter complement the psychological methods that are so often mentioned and are employed in many domains. Of the many known methods, I mostly appreciate brainstorming, Synectics and the panel discussion.'

I suppose that in this context, the team you lead here elaborated the list of the physical effects in the generation of solutions, is that right?

'Yes, indeed. The logical methods of creation also include the morphological matrix, the ideas diagram and the generalised creation system. However, the elements that sustain the creative process are the physical, geometrical, biological effects.'

By knowing all these effects, one can use them?

'There is always an exploration of the problem space in an attempt to widen it. Data can be algorithmized and computerised, and by this exploration, the programme can find a solution that satisfies all the performance parameters demanded by the researcher. One can also use the contradictions matrix which addresses the multiple requirements imposed by the desired products: for instance, the designer wants the device to be light, and at the same time, to be able to carry heavy loads; to achieve a good velocity and, at the same time, to have low power. Faced with these types of contradictions, one can find a solution.'

We haven't heard of this concept before, the 'contradiction matrix'.

'Yes, there are a lot of methods we already systematised and used in basic and applied research since the beginning of the School of Inventics around 45 years ago.'

When did the school start?

'The School for Invention was founded in 1966 in Iași, and was the result of a team of enthusiastic professors led by Professor Vitalie Belousov. It was first organised as part of the Technical University and was delivering postgraduate courses in several cities, in 15 editions in the beginning. The School instructed almost 2000 engineers, who studied the discipline named 'The Fundamentals of Creative Engineering'. It initially started as a school of thought, but in time, thanks to its popularity, it became a School and led to the production of at least 100 patent applications yearly filed by the students of the team of teachers led by Professor Belousov. This was our first attempt to attest to the fact that school can mould creators, even when the students seem to lack the predisposing factors needed to become an inventor. We are generally talking about students with average, not necessarily exceptional, IQs.'

Nevertheless, what if these students were self-selected? Is it true that the majority of the students that followed the school had ultimately come up with their own inventions?

'No, not all of them filed patents but, nonetheless, the percentage is impressive, overwhelmingly higher than in other Technical Universities that did not offer these type of courses. I estimate that it is a 100/2 ratio. In other words, while in other universities we could find about two students who could file patent applications, through our courses we could train our mentees to generate a much more consistent output.'

In my opinion, this preoccupation and this course simply capitalised on a pre-existing potential in these students that otherwise would remain dormant in those not following such a creativity course. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

'Yes, but in my opinion this potential exists in those students too, but it is not fructified, activated properly. You see, these students studied the same engineering disciplines but they didn't develop the fourth attribute of the engineer: the capacity to generate new technical products.'

Maybe this should be considered the first one.

'Of course, but we could not ignore the other three upon which the aforementioned relies. An engineer has to demonstrate four basic attributes:

  • possession of technical knowledge
  • applying technical knowledge
  • conducting technical work
  • the ability to create a technique.

Producing new technical products can become objects of study at the confluence of various disciplines: praxeology, value engineering, logics, semiotics, psychology and sociology. And, besides teaching these four components, there is also something that we always talk about in our circle: the fact that the teacher has to leave space for questioning and doubt in any subject he or she teaches.'

This is an aspect specific to the methodology of this pedagogical team from the Inventors School. In conclusion, technical creativity means...

'Technical creativity means science and art. To give you the exact formula, I will cite you from one of our books. As I already mentioned, the science that governs this complex domain was structured by the founders of the School for Technical Creativity formed in Iasi and was named Inventics, a name inspired by the great mathematician, logician and French combinatorist, Arnold Kaufman, who demonstrated in the ʹ70's the possibility of algorithmization of the heuristic methods. It was also based on the conclusions of the great Romanian thinker, Stefan Odobleja, who was the first to declare the possibility and necessity of the formalisation of creative processes, in his work, Consonantist Psychology, that appeared in 1932. Of all the forms of creativity, technical invention receives a special attention. The Romanian concept of inventing refers to the poli-valent science and art of optimal examination, the result of creative synthesis, logicization and algorithmization of heuristical endeavours, established as a specific type of praxeology, on the whole route from creative problem formulation (inventing the topic by identifying the flaws in the current level of knowledge in the specific technical domain and defining the required product performance) all the way to solution generation. Inventics is a science as long it uses convergent thinking, logicization, algorythmization, combinatorial morphology, optimisation and can also be seen as an art when divergent thinking, and collaboration between the conscious and the subconscious is concerned and heuristics is employed.'

You are a highly creative person. Which are the factors that, in your opinion, are responsible for this? Please, consider all the possible sources, starting with the internal, hereditary aspects and continuing with the external ones. Please, indicate which you think are the most important and to what degree. How and why do you believe you are creative?

'During a person's lifetime, there are a few crucial moments. For instance, childhood was very important. Back then, while all my peers were playing ball on the field, I was going with my father to the train depot where he was working. Since I was eight, until 12-13 years, I saw what was made in these depots: craft, running repairs, all kinds of construction works, and the workers in the machinists' workshop. Moreover, I was sometimes asked to do all sorts of things by myself, therefore, when I came to university I already knew what I wanted to do. I believe there is also a genetic component involved, because my father was an inventor, too. In my third year of bachelor studies, I wrote for him one invention that he didn't know how to write. I spent a lot of time near Professor Belousov, I learned about Inventics and the steps needed to file a patent, so I helped my father to file one of the inventions that were very dear to him. I can also pinpoint a third very important moment in my personal history - my activity after graduation. I had the luck to work in a department where creativity was rated highly; the whole climate of the department was, in my opinion, conducive to innovation. There was a unique, effervescent atmosphere, dominated by active search and interest in writing and publishing volumes, journals, handbooks, finding and meeting other researchers in the domain of creativity, an effervescence that finally led to the creation of the National Institute of Inventics, in 1990/1991. It was initially called the Research Center for the Promotion and Protection of Inventions.'

'The Journal of Inventics dates from 1990, February. Later, we also started to organise the Conferences and the Iasi International Salon and Conference of Inventics in 1992. In 1995 we had the first Salon supported by UNESCO.'

You already answered one of our next questions: Were there any events in your personal life that influenced your creativity positively?

'These were the external events that I find important. They are also linked to the environment, to some circumscribed events that were generated by other people, or events that I had the luck to meet and events that I had the chance to be a part of.'

But heredity is probably important too, a testimony is the invention to which your father gave birth.

'Yes, this is a crucial aspect, too. Also of great importance is the way you regard the profession you prepared for - it is very important. If you do things passionately, you cannot fail to achieve something. The second important aspect is the environment. If you are surrounded by under-performers, unprepared individuals, you will tend to follow them and probably get stuck into that level. The environment counts a lot. For instance, if you work in a department where excellence and high performance are promoted daily and you cannot keep pace, you eliminate yourself. If you only come to work to do a job, you will probably achieve very little. This also happened in our department. Individuals without vocation for mechanical engineering ultimately left the team. If you only come to do a job... it will happen eventually. So, in my vision, creativity is linked to the pleasure of doing things.'

What do you think is vital for being creative in any activity domain?

'Firstly, judging what happens at the micro-climate level, it is important to develop a culture of innovation. Inside this innovation culture, everyone should know the importance of things well done and, simultaneously to ensure the progress of knowledge. This is important in any domain. Innovation is usually designed to bring extra profit and enhance performance, even in cultural areas, such as art. For instance, we have initiated relations with the University of Arts George Enescu Iasi. Our collaboration is focused on translating the principles of creativity from the more technically-oriented field of Inventics to be applied in their work - the matrix of contradictions, for instance. They have recently participated in two of our invention fairs. For instance, this year's theme for the Arts exhibition in the International Invention Fair is 'The thinker from Hamangia '.'

What about other factors that sustain creativity?

'We have already talked about the innovation climate, interdisciplinary collaboration - even between very different domains, because, as you well know, it was initially intended to create in this Institute a complex team comprised of psychologists, philosophers, engineers, logicians...'

Is your relation with the Faculty of Arts bounded to the artistic domain?

'Yes, indeed, it refers to design and painting. We have a very good relationship with an association created by the Professor of Painting, Liviu Suhar, which is concerned with arts and education.'

Please describe some of the personal experience that you think had a negative effect on your creativity. In your personal opinion, what are the internal and external factors that inhibit or, sometimes, even block your productivity?

'In the first place, I want to mention bureaucracy, ubiquitously present in the higher education administrative system, and the culture of mediocrity in some collectives. The latter factor, for instance, led to the undesired situation such as that in which an individual, whom I knew to be very valuable, became the victim of complacency and was eventually eliminated because he performed much lower than was expected of him. Another factor is complacency in a 'dolce far niente'. This is also responsible for inconsistencies in youngsters' level of knowledge, besides the perpetually invoked lack of perspective.'

In your opinion, what do you think is causing this situation?

'I personally believe that the relationship between educators and the children is responsible for this complacency. Educators are guilty, especially when they commit what I call the 'first lie', which is referring to deceptive praise in education. More specifically, I refer to the situation in which the pupil is not performing adequately and the teacher mistakenly praises him, thinking he is motivating the child, or even gives him a great grade, also for encouragement. This little lie addressed to a four year old child has severe and long-term effects on their motivation.'

So, you refer to undeserved rewards...

'Yes, undeserved rewards or bribing children through gifts is conducive to this situation. This is amplified by the tendency to spare the students by reducing the number of study hours or activities when children lack even basic knowledge. I always made a comparison between the school I attended and today's educational system, starting with the baccalaureate exam and continuing with bachelor studies. For instance, the amount of study time: 44 hours a week versus 28 today. 55 sustained exams versus 32, five versus four years of study. 800 hours of practice in the best performing plants in our country versus 160. This last mentioned element is the most important aspect – the practice in very diverse establishments, where the master engineer responsible for student practice had the time and patience to show them how they work and what they actually do. We had a practice book; we had to make a project.'

You are certainly right, but why do you believe that since then things have changed in this way?

'I believe this is the case because the universities, even the State ones, became enterprises dominated by the goal of spending the least amount of money and, if possible, of gaining as much profit as possible. In other countries, the situation is different because they didn't employ the Bologna system the way we did.'

What about age? Do you think there is any relation?

'I don't know.'

But what do you see on the occasion of the fair of inventions?

'Mainly elderly people; this doesn't mean that the younger engineers are not valuable. From many aspects, they are even above many eighty year olds, but this is a small 2-3% percent that usually choose to emigrate. As the French complained in the 70s, when they were confronted with the phenomenon of brain drain, only the good ones remain here, not the excellent ones. They leave not only for financial reasons, but also for other kind of reasons, such as to easily obtain logistical support for research. Another [Romanian] factor is the cumbersome bureaucracy and the impressive paperwork you have to fill in to justify your logistical requests that often give you the impression that you are treated as a potential transgressor. Once again, the discussion returns to the contextual factors.'

What do you think is the difference between a highly creative inventor and a less gifted person, in terms of personality traits?

'I would start with the effects of work, more specifically, the joy of the person who does something versus the frustration of someone who can't accomplish anything.'

So, you are searching for positive emotions, for joy. This is referring to the importance of positive reinforcement, this time intrinsically generated.

'Yes, I am searching for that kind of satisfaction; I often ask my students, 'Did you ever have the satisfaction of finishing something that you were then proud of?' You do not hear them saying very often, 'Look, I wrote ten marvellous pages' or 'I finished a certain project...'. I believe the system is responsible for this situation, since it doesn't offer the occasion for achieving this kind of satisfaction anymore. Fifty years ago, the students were required to complete three projects a year, for instance create a design of a building and put it on paper. During the third year, the student already felt like an engineer, since he was already the author of three projects that were realised individually - not like today when the majority of school projects are carried out in groups.'

This means that the less creative individual doesn't experience this joy or satisfaction of the finished task or work?

'Yes, this is what I believe, that the students lack this type of motivation. Maybe they find satisfaction in other places, maybe they go to pubs or dancing (laughs).'

So, to put it in other words, what you are seeking is pleasure, derived from the satisfaction of carrying on a task and finishing it and not by other means, such as alcohol, drugs or other leisure activities?

'Yes, sure, this is what I mean. Maybe a less creative individual didn't even try to seek a sense of pleasure in this kind of activity. He or she looks for it in very different places.'

So this is, in your opinion, a crucial characteristic. Do you have any other ideas? What would define you, in terms of personality, as a great inventor? We should not forget that you are the owner of the impressive number of OVER 80 inventions!

'Let me think. I also believe that a personal model is important...'

Please tell us more about your own model, starting with your father.

'Father, yes; also my mother, but concerning other characteristics - she was fair, hardworking, she never got fatigued. My father was interested more in the activity, creation, responding to daily demands and problems. For him, work was something almost sacred. If he was called, if any kind of problem or incident occurred at 2.00 a.m., he was always available, without any complaints. He used to take his coat and shoes and go in a hurry to solve the problems. I believe this attitude is also shaped by the specific way in which the institution takes care of its employees, so they can do their jobs properly. This is probably linked to the work demands and military discipline, specific to his workplace: the National Railway Company.'

Would you like to talk more about other models, besides your mother and father?

'My math teacher from the gymnasium, who was also a violinist and the school director. Over these years, the most important, in University, my main model was Professor Dumitru Mangeron and other great leaders of the Polytechnic School, that were my professors, mainly two of them; the first one was responsible for the cognitive side, the other was concerned with attitudes and the pragmatic dimension. This is why I tend to emphasise the idea that it is very important to have the luck to work in a beneficial place.'

And I believe you managed to 'steal' from both of them as much as you could.

'Yes, indeed, because after the death of Professor Cașler, I was appointed to lead a department that was previously led by a Titan. I always said that if the role of the Head or the Chair is not taken seriously, because he or she is the person who establishes the pace of the whole collective, the whole department will suffer. Our Chair had only excellent leaders and our department was always considered to be state of the art in its domain. Everyone followed us and tried to copy our model, even with regards to psychological aspects. Professor Cașler used to invite us into his office 15 minutes before the official meetings of the Faculty. After the team arrived at the Chair's office, he started to tell us jokes. After that, we went to the amphitheater, where everyone entered one by one, because they were usually coming from home, with the exception of our department who were always entering as a group. Someone from the first row suddenly realised this and exclaimed: 'Look, the rugby team has arrived!' So, Cașler wanted to give a special identity to his creative team of students, by any means (including, the strange requirement that the 'candidates' to his group of inventors were a minimum height of 1.80m!).'

How come? And what if he was a good professional but he was not tall enough? Why did they have to be tall?

'The professor imposed this rule because he thought that the lecturing desk had to be occupied by a person who needed to inspire and be respectable through his bearing.'

What advices would you offer to a young professional who wants to excel in technical creativity?

'I would recommend him to overcome the stage when he is merely well-informed and try to understand, meaning to know how to do, to apply. And choose the right place for them. Interpersonal relationships are very important, the group in which you will work and bring the plans you have to fruition.'

One last question: could anyone manage to try to be creative? Could anyone find and use recipes?

'Certainly, as far I can say, based on my own experience. What I already mentioned, this is concerned with the science part of Inventics. There are a lot of methods for stimulating creativity, but students should become familiar with all of the logical methods of creation and choose among these, the ones that are most suitable for them. The other methods are collective and concern teams: brainstorming, Synectics and so on. Also important is to know your character typology and how you interact in teams. This complementarity in teams is very important. For instance, some individuals are catalysts, they do not emit ideas but their mere presence is a tonic or reassuring.'

Would you like to add anything else?

'I believe that our model, in the Iași School of Inventics should be disseminated in more centres. But, of course, there should exist the right motivation for doing it - you cannot force something like this. But I believe this kind of functioning for a collective could be highly beneficial, especially for a research team. For instance, since Belousov's era, we managed to keep the creativity courses in our Faculty, following the same syllabus. The courses are also introduced and held at Master's Level. This course ends with an exam or with a written patent application. Since they have to choose between learning a lot of theoretical courses, and the project, the majority of the students prefer to do the project. Of course, the student is guided by his tutor, who always helps the students improve their ideas. However, we accidentally found out that this was a good strategy to motivate students, to stimulate them to create new products. Returning to the role of the Institute of Inventics, I believe that Professor Belousov was very inspired when he created the School, the journal and the annual fairs of inventions that gather 80 foreign specialists and around 200-230 Romanians. The affiliation to this kind of environment, the emulation between professionals is very important. We gathered around 17 teaching personnel that are also inventors who can start a project, in partnerships between the Faculty and The Institute. I believe the partnerships between our centre and the university and other companies in the region is one of the best ways to ensure progress and promote high standards, both inside academia and in industry.'

Thank you very much and I wish you all the luck in all your team's endeavors!



Ana Maria Hojbota smallAna Maria Hojbotă is an educational psychologist, with an MA in Work and Organizational Psychology from the "Alexandru Ioan Cuza" University, Iași, Romania. She is currently enrolled in PhD studies at the same institution under the guidance of Professor Ana Constantin PhD. Ana Maria has worked in various research and intervention projects concerned with the evaluation and stimulation of academic motivation, persistence and self-regulation, with application to mainstream and special education. For her PhD thesis, she is studying naive theories of creativity and their correlates with the creative level and motivations for engaging in creative behaviour as individuals and in teams. Other areas of interest are epistemic emotions, the psychology of science and technology, intragroup conflict and group cognitive synergy.

Ana Maria is currently a member of the East-West European Research Group (EWER Group), a team of researchers established in Iași, interested in conducting cross-cultural research projects with partners from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the Far East. She is also member of the Editorial Staff of The Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity as Psychology Officer.

Ana Maria Hojbotă is an educational psychologist, with an MA in Work and Organizational Psychology from the “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University, Iași, Romania. She is currently enrolled in PhD studies at the same institution under the guidance of Professor Ana Constantin PhD. Ana Maria has worked in various research and intervention projects concerned with the evaluation and stimulation of academic motivation, persistence and self-regulation, with application to mainstream and special education. For her PhD thesis, she is studying naive theories of creativity and their correlates with the creative level and motivations for engaging in creative behaviour as individuals and in teams. Other areas of interest are epistemic emotions, the psychology of science and technology, intragroup conflict and group cognitive synergy.

Ana Maria is currently a member of the East-West European Research Group (EWER Group), a team of researchers established in Iași, interested in conducting cross-cultural research projects with partners from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the Far East. She is also member of the Editorial Staff of The Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity as Psychology Officer.

Dr Ana Constantin

After graduating in 1968, Ana investigated the psychological and educational aspects of creativity in a research institute, the Romanian Academy. Three decades later she became a professor at the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iasi, Romania. Working in the Department of Psychology, she taught creativity and conflict resolution. Although Professor Constantin officially retired recently, she does not yet feel retired.

As a researcher, Ana investigated the creative personality with regards to Romanian people, including cognitive factors and blocks to inventors' creativity. She found relationships between creativity and intelligence, and creativity and school achievement which were consistent with existing literature. She identified the same jumps and stages in the evolution of creative potential, but found that these took place at ages which were specific to the Romanian educational context. Methodologically, she co-authored two batteries of creative thinking tests (in line with Torrance and Guilford's work), one assessing general creative potential, and the other technical creativity.

Of her 135 publications, including nine authored or co-authored books (written under her professional name, Ana Stoica Constantin), her favourite books are Creativity in Pupils (1983), Creativity Assessment: A Practical Guide (2005), Creativity for Students and Teachers (2004), and Interpersonal Conflict (2004). Additionally, Ana has been involved in 22 projects, presented many training programmes in creativity to companies and educational organisations and translated books and studies from English or French into Romanian.

Ana feels that the amazing professional and personal experience at The Center for Studies in Creativity, Buffalo in 1992 and her 1983 ICN accreditation to provide lectures, training and consultancy in creative problem solving, as well as her recognition as a certified user of the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI) complement the gold medal she was awarded by a National Romanian Institute for her research in technical creativity.

During the last 12 years Ana has experienced the joy of becoming a grandmother. And she has reasons to believe that the happiest time in people's lives is between 65 and 74 years.

More in this category: « Creativity and Skill in Science
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