Dr. Kobus Neethling, President of the South African Creativity Foundation, the Creator of the Neethling Brain Instruments (NBI) and Author

#021: Creativity, Learning & Flow: Unleashing the Power of Your Team’s Whole Mind with Dr. Kobus Nettling

Join Dr. Krister Lowe and leading figure in the area of creative thinking, Dr. Kobus Neethling, for this week’s episode of The Team Coaching Zone Podcast.  Dr. Neethling is the President of the South African Creativity Foundation and the Creator of the Neethling Brain Instruments (NBI).  He is a world-renowned scholar and practitioner in the area of creativity thinking and learning.  Additionally, he holds six degrees including two master’s degrees, a doctoral degree and a post-doctoral degree.  Dr. Neethling is the author of many books and articles as well as award-winning television shows and is also the recipient of numerous accolades and awards for his pioneering work in field of creativity studies.  Dr. Neethling is a frequent key note speaker and actively consults to corporations, national sporting teams and education groups around the world.  Dr. Neethling was asked by the South African transitional government to provide creativity training to the police in order to build better relationships and later was engaged by Nelson Mandela’s chief of staff to provide similar training to Mandela’s staff.  Dr. Neethling has hosted an annual international creativity conference in South Africa every year for the last 21 years.  In this episode of the podcast, Dr. Neethling shares his early history and journey into the field of creativity studies, to his post-doctoral work with the late Dr. Paul Torrance at the University of Georgia, to inventing the Neethling Brain Instruments, to the establishment of the South African Creativity Foundation and to becoming a leading figure in the field of creative thinking.  He also shares insights into how teams, leaders and whole organizations can become more creative, adaptable and high-performing.  Dr. Neethling shares numerous stories from his work consulting to teams in a range of sectors including banking, mining, sales, education, sports, government and more.  Any team, executive or organizational coach interested in fostering creativity in their own practices will surely not want to miss this episode!


Learn more about Dr. Neethling at: 




  1. Dr. Neethling on the NBI 8 Dimensions: https://youtu.be/Hm0PHUNssxc
  2. Training:  http://www.beyondertraining.com
  3. Certification in the NBI: http://nbicertification.com
  4. 21st Annual International Creativity Conference: http://www.wowfactors.net/upcoming-events/acre-21/




Part 1 – Getting to Know the Guest: Dr. Kobus Nettling

  • World reknowned leader in creative behavior and thinking.
  • Pretoria, South Africa (Bela-Bela is where their training resort is)
  • Founder and President of South Africa Creativity Foundation
  • Has six degrees including a post doctorate in creative behavior
  • Has written more than 80 books and 9 television series
  • Has received a number of accolades and awards: 10 Who’s Who Awards, Outstanding Scholar of the 20th Century (Cambridge), Asian Innovation Award, International Creative Genius Award (USA), Silver Screen Award (US International Film and Video Festival)
  • Developed largest battery of whole brain instruments in the world, including the acclaimed 8 dimensional brain model Neethling Brain Instrument (NBI).
  • Works with international corporations, international sporting teams, education groups from all over the world
  • Quote from Dr. Neethling: “Innovation of the mind without innovation of the heart is no innovation at all.”
  • Family person: two sons both involved in the organization. Both NBI trainers and train all over the world.
  • Application of the NBI went way beyond what initially believed.
  • Interests and passion go beyond education and creativity, into business, entrepreneurship, sports.
  • Likes to travel all over the world
  • Free thinker

Journey into Creativity Science

  • Influenced from a young age. Mother represented the left brain (organized, neat and orderly), father was a brilliant sportsman and unorthodox (funny, different).
  • On one side, anchoring person (mother) and on the other a person who pushed to the edge (father).
  • Wanted to understand human potential – studied at Capetown University and also at University of Potche
  • When finished with doctorate, still many gaps. Had sabbatical, traveling all over the world to find a place or person who could guide in understanding creativity.
  • Ended up at University of Georgia – Dr. Paul Torrence (Mr. Creativity of the 20th) – became Dr. Neethling’s mentor.
  • Did a Masters and then started PhD research. Paul Torrence remained mentor till he died.
  • Adding creativity to anything you do helps you become special.
  • Started South Africa Creativity Foundation – World Creativity Conference every year.
  • Realized a few years ago that a creativity conference just for educators was needed. Now in 10th year of the creativity conference for educators. 80% of those teachers come from poorest areas in South Africa.
  • Work took him all over the world. Started writing books.
  • Developed the NBI after working with Paul Torrence. Had Sydney Ponds as a mentor too (Creative Problem Solving, Brainstorming).
  • Style of Learning and Thinking (SOLAT) was an initial instrument developed by Paul Torrence.
  • Neethling expanded to a 4 quadrant instrument for adults measuring thinking preferences.
  • Developed instruments for children: first one was for senior students – popular in high schools and universities. Later developed one for elementary school – so they can understand from what quadrant they prefer to learn. Then one for kindergarten or pre-school – instrument based on pictures for children to get an idea of their mode of thinking
  • Developed instruments for sports (rugby, cricket, golf, etc.)
    • Teams play cricket for five days and may not even have a result at the end of it. Most best five-day cricket players are left brained.
    • More recently, 20-20 (short game) cricket came into being which was better for R1 (innovative) thinkers who had to discover new ways of doing things.
    • Rugby – need people with different thinking preferences to form a good team – need L1 players (focused) and also R1 players (spatial brain, people who can see gaps).
  • Some of us have a preference that gives us an edge.
  • In about 80% people there’s not really a shift in thinking preferences profile over years.
  • Ultimate aim is to identify with a profile and move in and out of dominances.
  • A well-known t.v. figure in South Africa was trained in NBI. Would ask people who called into the show a couple of questions to determine what kind of thinker they were, then would talk with them according to their preference (with facts or relationally, etc.). Three months later he was voted the number one talk show host in South Africa.
  • Go into an audience, pick up the clues from your audience and adapt as necessary. Flexibility is important. You don’t change your own preferences, but learn to adapt.

How to use the NBI for coaching

  • Need to be able to identify dimensions of others in your organization. Leaders must understand colleagues and team members.
  • Leader/colleague – the executioner. See that actions happen.
  • Banks and corporations have created jobs called “Relationship managers” Shifting from L1 (data driven) to R2 (relational).
  • With job profiling – can profile job as it is, then ask leaders how they’d like it to be (and then run NBIs to help select the right people).
  • If we look at banker’s job descriptions – all left brained, but then when identify the skills that people need, these are right brained. So need to understand the whole brain approach, a need to integrate.
  • Often get called in for talent identification. First step – profile the job (or the brain). Look at the brain profile of the person to see how they fit.
  • VUCA environments we live in today – volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. Our old models of heroic leadership are falling away. Now new demands for group thinking and group problem solving.
  • If you are going to shift all the time as modern society requires, and not be overwhelmed, need to be really comfortable with your own creativity (can’t be stuck with one or two ideas). Develop your creativity – do I have more ideas than people around me? Am I flexible? Are my ideas different?
  • Creativity skills can be taught and can be learned – they are essential in this world.
  • E.g., most math teachers only teach from their own quadrant – they are missing out on teaching many of the students effectively. Flexibility is essential.
  • The times that we shift from conscious to unconscious whole brain movement, then we truly attract people.
  • The more you do it, the more it’s just there – flow.
  • “From Flow to Co-Flow” – when a team is in co-flow, it’s incredible.
  • You start believing things and act accordingly. What you put into the brain, you get out.

Part 2 – Case Examples

  • CASE EXAMPLE: Worked with BMW sales team to help them serve their consumers better. Team supported each other. Reached new highs on sales.  Initially only sold 7 cars per month.  After applying whole brain techniques they went up to 11.  Adapted to the different types of customers.
  • CASE EXAMPLE: Coal mine. Illiterate people worked on mines, close to 1000 people. Developed picture instrument for miners, so that the supervisor could explain safety to them in ways they could best grasp. The miners wore bands that had the animal that represented them and their respective NBI quadrant, and also included the other animals on the bottom of the band (representing team and all the NBI quadrants) signifying they always worked together.
  • Nature v. nurture – Neethling and team have trained people over age 80, and amazing things can still happen at older age. 70/72% is the learning part. 30% is nature (brilliance).
  • Surround self with mentors, sounding boards – really important
  • Combining natural thinking preferences and combine with skills
  • If I’m a chemist, and I have L1 preference, then I can develop more skills for that and be amazing, but we are interacting with people every day who have different thinking preferences, so we still need to develop skills in all areas.
    • We can all learn to become generalists as well as experts.

Part 3 – Parting Advice & Closing Thoughts

Where has the creativity field moved in the last 30 years and where are we headed?

  • Too much emphasis on creative problem solving. What happens over time is that you get into a problem mode of thinking all the time (everything is a problem to be solved).
  • Prefer that we change our approach to thinking as an opportunity-finding kind of thinking. If you put problem into the brain, you’ll get back problem, but if you put in opportunity you see that instead.
  • Attitude of creativity. The attitude of being OK with change. If it happens around you, you can still deal with it, not be overwhelmed.
  • We still have too much resistence to things, or depedence on traditions.
  • We’ve been ok at getting solutions for smaller challenges (i.e., technology). But in the bigger sense of the word “creativity,” we haven’t done as well – i.e., poverty, clean water, conflict in Middle East. We don’t seem to have creativity to solve major issues. This is the big challenge of the next couple of decades.
  • Chief of Staff of Nelson Mandela asked Neethling team to train their staff, later was asked to write a t.v. series, “Creating a Miracle” about why South Africa did not have a revolution, from a creativity perspective. Creative thinking makes a difference in transforming problems.


  • NBI training – nbicertification.com
  • beyondertraining.com – curriculum guide with courses and books.
  • International Creativity Conference in October would also be a great resource. http://www.wowfactors.net/upcoming-events/acre-21/ 

Parting Advice

  • Regardless of how educated you are, if you live your life below the line (when you choose negativity before choosing happiness, you look at the world and see problems rather than opportunities), you’re not living the best life. i.e., when the car in front of you cuts you off, you have a choice about how to react. Becoming angry is just a bad choice. When you start using the other option, it’s hard at first, but eventually it’ll become a habit (before 29 days).
  • Personal story: Dr. Torrence had a severe stroke. Dr. Neethling went to visit him when he was better. Dr. Torrence led him to his study and said “the last few months while I was a stroke patient, I had to do so many things differently and I realized how many people in the world live with these challenges.” What he did with his time was write a recipe book for stroke patients. He found the opportunity!

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