Both Individual & Situational Factors play a Role in Influencing Creativity and as a result, both must be Considered in Efforts to Increase it

Alarge number of studies have demonstrated that creativity is enhanced when individuals are given flexibility in their work. Among the many approaches to giving people ‘task flexibility’, the most direct approach is through the provision of choice. Harvard’s Teresa Amabile has found that children who are given choice in terms of which materials to use in creating a collage produce collages that are assessed to be more creative than those produced by children who were given no choice. In another study, researchers found that subjects who had a choice in selecting which problems to work on in a task situation produced more creative outputs. The main psychological mechanism underlying these findings is that choice confers self-determination and intrinsic motivation – both of which are key ingredients for creative performance.

Past research has also illustrated that selection, evaluation and integration of information are affected by the number of options available. As the complexity of information processing increases, people tend to simplify their decision-making processes by relying on simple heuristics. For instance, in a study that examined the decision strategies of people encountering different number of alternatives, researchers found that as the number of alternatives increased, people were not only more likely to use an elimination strategy, they also made use of less information. Recent studies have found evidence that a person’s ability to contemplate multiple combinations of solutions may be limited as the number of options increases. These findings suggest that giving people a large number of options in a problem-solving task can lead to information overload.

The bulk of research to date has focused on either giving people choice or giving people no choice during problem selection, and as a result, it is unclear whether giving people more choice of resources during problem solving will necessarily lead to more creativity.

To find the answer to the question we set out with the following hypothesis: that only individuals with a high degree of prior experience in a given task domain that are given explicit instructions to be creative will produce more creative outcomes when given high choice (vs. low choice) in tasks involving combinatorial search. When individuals have low prior experience or are not given explicit instructions to be creative, they will not likely produce creative outcomes when given high (vs. low) choice. We conducted two experiments of our hypothesis. In the first, we used a gift-wrapping task – a task that most people can relate to and do not have to be specially trained before they can do. A total of 100 students from a large east coast university participated in this study. Students were recruited through flyers posted in the campus and compensated $8 for their time and effort. At the beginning of the task, participants were presented with a set of gift-wrapping materials consisting of various types of wrapping papers and ribbons. A set of five other materials typically unrelated to gift-wrapping – a newspaper, kitchen aluminum foil, metal wires, sponge and cotton twine – were also provided. The task was to wrap a square gift box, with tape and scissors provided. We manipulated choice by varying the number of types of wrapping papers and ribbons given to the participants. In the ‘high-choice condition’, we gave participants four types of wrapping paper (different colours) and six types of ribbon. In the ‘low- choice condition’, we provided two types of wrapping paper and two types of ribbon.

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Source : IIPM Editorial, 2011.

An Initiative of IIPM, Malay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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