History of the Center for Conative Abilities: Entering a fourth decade of commitment
The Center for Conative Abilities, founded in 1977, was originally known as the Center for Critical and Creative Thinking (actually named Think Inc.). With purposes and values that have remained consistent over the years, its original work was to clarify the creative process and provide programs that fostered its use in individuals of all ages. Its Expert Advisor, Dr. Willard Abraham, then Dean of the Arizona State University School of Education, worked with founder Kathy Kolbe in delving deeply into the mind of the gifted child. Others from universities, government, and industry joined in the effort, providing funds and case studies.
Within two years of its inception, The Center was conducting programs for youngsters throughout Maricopa County, AZ, that furthered their use of critical and creative thinking. By then, the Center had determined that all children, not just the intellectually gifted, were capable of achievement at the highest levels of creative problem solving. Its seminal program for all kids, known as SPIES (Summer Program for Individualized Explorations), served over 2000 youngsters over five years, providing scholarships for 20% who attended. Each year The Center provided free training for community leaders and educators from several school districts throughout Arizona for six months prior to their becoming paid faculty in the program.
Throughout that era, parents and educators were invited to participate in programs that demonstrated how they could teach critical thinking and nurture the creative process. It became clear to the leadership of The Center that these two processes were separate, with critical thinking being a part of the creative
process – and there being a third (as yet unnamed) element, which was innate.
As The Center began serving an ever widening and diverse population, it provided programs for and had access to case studies from developmentally disadvantaged youngsters, gifted programs, regular K-12 classrooms, preschools, sports programs, university students with multiple majors and adults in an extensive array of work and personal situations.
By its second decade, the mid 1980’s, The Center had provided programs and materials for educators and parents from 31 states and several foreign countries. Those diverse contacts and the numerous qualitative studies that grew from activities involving them, convinced The Center that the historically
recognized third domain of the mind, conation, was the mysterious innate element in the creative process. Conation was proving to be as equally important to the creative process as the cognitive and affective domains. In 1987, The Center officially changed its name to the Center for Conative Research.
As the CEO of The Center worked with the Dean of Harvard’s School of Psychiatry, leaders at the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Brigham Young University, University of Pennsylvania, California State at Northridge and elsewhere, it became evident that university courses were not being offered nor
being developed in the field of conation, and that little or no research was being conducted in the United States that dealt with the conative domain or its contribution to creative problem solving. Only very small grants were available through public or private agencies for studies related to conation.
It was clear by the mid 1990’s that academic organizations and educational foundations had little interest in research regarding conation. Institutions in the modern world had lost sight of the driving force behind all human action, reaction, and interaction. The rare opportunities to explore collaborative efforts often failed. At a program The Center conducted for researchers at Education Testing Services (publisher of the SAT and numerous other mental measurements), a lead researcher admitted to putting in false information on a research version of the Kolbe Conative Index in order to come out with “a socially unacceptable result.” That statement indicated ETS had a misperception of conation, even though it purported to have been trying to develop an assessment of conation for two decades.
The Center had sufficient reason to believe that the wisdom of the ages regarding conation was accurate, yet needed to confirm its early findings. It determined to devote its resources to researching the impact of conation on decision making, productivity and self-management – in all ages, and it changed its name to emphasize this focus to: The Center for Conative Research.
Studies were conducted worldwide. Participants included such diverse populations as the International Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Chamber of Commerce at The Hague, Netherlands, the Arizona Supreme Court, handicapped kids in the United Kingdom, National Basketball Association athletes, police officers in Canada, airline pilots in Korea, the CIA, and teachers from the United Arab Emirates.
The Center provided materials and services for matching and other grants for research related to families, early childhood development, learning, health, self-management, and leadership. Dr. Elizabeth Berry conducted several such studies including with high risk student in California, Dr. Susan Franks, an MD in
Texas, identified the conative differences between diabetics who dropped out of treatment programs and those who stuck with them. Dr. Aaron Gellman, Dean of Northwestern University’s Transportation Institute studied the contative nature of individuals in that field. Dozens of others studies followed. However brain
researchers who had been contacted had either no awareness of conation, no interest in it, or had been rebuked by peers for attempting to study it.
The Center pursued international opportunities for collaborative research, finding interest in Canada and Australia, and occasional small studies in Europe and South America. During this time, several people trained by Kathy Kolbe began plagiarizing her work or were found to be violating her copyrighted writing
related to conation. The Center considered this testimony to an awakening of awareness of the importance of conation, especially within the business community. Dr. Ryan Thomas, an advisor to The Center, codified the research that was conducted during this period into a summary that was provided to
an ever growing group of interested parties.
Data collected during The Center’s research era became a call to action for its leadership. While conation was now being recognized as a key element to organizational success in the private sector, conative abilities were proven not only to be ignored, they were also found to be misidentified as the cause of
negative effects among school children. Labeling many youngsters’ positive conative traits as ADD/ADHD behaviors and trying to “control” them through behavioral modification, even drugs, soon extended to doing the same with adults with those conative traits. Instead of recognizing conative abilities as innate advantages, quantitative and qualitative studies sponsored by The Center discovered they were being thwarted.
Leadership of The Center decided to provide programs for parents and educators to both inform them of children’s diverse conative abilities and of the impact of neglecting or misidentifying them. The Perfectly Capable Kids program was launched through a grant from the Dean of Arizona State University’s College of Public Programs.
That program met with great success. However, meetings with university school of education deans and leaders of education reform groups made The Center aware of continuing ignorance in the academic teacher training world of the influence of conation in the learning process. Based upon the Mission of The
Center, its leadership decided to enter into its fourth decade with a focus on training selected community leaders to become conative coaches, to providing constructive self-management programs for kids whose conative abilities have been misidentified as disabilities, to offering help to parents who are seeking
positive ways of nurturing innate abilities, and to providing community awareness of conation’s essential role in reducing stress, improving health, and achieving goals.
Therefore, in 2006, The Center updated its name to the Center for Conative Abilities, officially noting its focus on providing programs that affirm conative abilities and inform people of all ages how to self-manage these natural attributes as a key element of their Creative Problem Solving Process.