The first featured 94 business school undergraduates, half of whom “were asked to freely look through nine prints of artworks painted by Vincent van Gogh for three minutes.” (They were told the experimenter wanted their opinion of the pieces.) The others spent that time examining “nine photographs depicting objects and landscapes analogous to those featured in the van Gogh paintings.”
Vagueness is the enemy of creativity. Beethoven didn’t just come up with the idea that a symphony could express heroism; he also wrote the precise notes that conveyed that concept in sound. For ideas to be both novel and useful—a standard definition of creativity—they need to be expressed in highly specific terms.
The second experiment, also featuring 24 participants, was similarly structured, except it replaced one of the alternate tests of creativity with another that focused on words and phrases.
Afterward, they interviewed some of the employees, and found many agreed with the conclusion. In the words of one worker: “A certain degree of abusive supervision will give me a sense of crisis, and the negative mood from abusive supervision will make me uncomfortable. … In that situation, I am better at finding new solutions to problems.”
New research finds it can, at least for one variety of innovative thinking.
So if you’re looking for creative ideas, set your memory to a microscopic level and re-create, as best you can, an event from your recent past. While it’s not clear why, that sort of precise, episodic recollection sets the stage for similarly detailed imaginative leaps.
The study finds that using mental imagery to recall specific elements of a recent experience can put one into a detail-oriented state of mind. This subsequently leads to higher scores on a standard test of creative thinking.
Analyzing the two sets of data, the researchers found that “very low or very high abusive contexts hinder and discourage employee creativity, whereas individual employees are most creative when exposed to a moderate level of abusive supervision.”
The researchers note that Koreans, and other East Asians, are more likely than Westerners to accept the fact that institutional power is distributed unequally. This mindset creates “greater tolerance for unfair treatment from their supervisor or organization,” they write, adding that these findings “need to be addressed in other cultural contexts to test their generalizability.”
Reflecting on a painting or poem can inspire innovative solutions to business-related problems.
In the Journal of Business Research, the Seoul-based scholars describe a series of studies. Two of them replicated previous research, finding that people who are open to aesthetic experiences “felt more inspired in their daily lives, and in turn performed better on creativity tasks.” The final two applied this equation to a business context.
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When you’re trying to be creative, the last thing you need is some sharp-tongued supervisor demeaning your efforts, right?
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New research finds recollecting specific aspects of a recent event can inspire creativity, as measured by a key test.
They all then took part in the aforementioned pasta-naming task. In addition, they were asked to come up with innovative ways to recycle 250 cases of unneeded bubble wrap. In both studies, they were scored on how many ideas they came up with, and their level of originality.
Such an exercise “affects a process tapped by both memory and imagining,” a research team led by Harvard University psychologist Kevin Madore writes in the journal Psychological Science. The researchers report the technique does not boost all indicators of creativity, but does enhance one that is often used as a marker: the ability to come up with non-obvious uses for common objects.
The result: Those who gazed at the van Goghs, and those who read and contemplated the Dylan lyrics, came up with more creative ideas than their counterparts on the subsequent tests.
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Lee and colleagues focused on “a large government-affiliated institute” that “provides various social security and labor welfare services and programs.” They matched surveys filled out by both employees and supervisors.
Findings is a daily column by Pacific Standard staff writer Tom Jacobs, who scours the psychological-research journals to discover new insights into human behavior, ranging from the origins of our political beliefs to the cultivation of creativity.
It concluded that a certain amount of tension boosts creative performance, while too much hinders it. Assuming an abusive boss raises employees’ stress levels, these results fit neatly into that pattern.
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The second study, featuring 79 business school students, was similarly structured. In this case, half of the participants read the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind, and spent three minutes describing the thoughts and feelings the lyrics evoked. The others spent that time writing about “their typical daily lives.”
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This research provides further evidence of just how wrong they are.
Respondents were scored by noting the number of “categories of appropriate uses” they came up with for each of the objects. When looking at a brick, for example, answers such as “use as a paperweight” and “use as a doorstop” would belong to the same category, while “to hit someone on the head” would be in a separate one. A truly creative answer like “to use as a mock coffin in a doll’s funeral” would be in still another category.
All were then asked to come up with creative solutions for business-related problems. Specifically, they “were asked to brainstorm ideas for a new computer keyboard,” and then asked to come up with “as many creative brand names for a new kind of pasta product within three minutes.”
The researchers describe two experiments, each featuring 24 young adults. The first began with all participants watching one of two versions of a short video of a man and a woman performing various activities in a house.
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Afterwards, half of the participants were asked general questions about the video, including their “impressions and reactions” to the work, and “what adjectives they would use to describe the setting, people, and actions.”
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The results: While the detailed-memory exercise did not affect results on any of the other creativity tests, it produced higher scores on the Alternative Uses Task. “In both experiments,” the researchers write, “the most stringent measure of performance on the divergent-thinking task—categories of appropriate uses—showed a significant increase following the specificity induction.”
New research finds a particular type of brain stimulation can increase creativity.
The researchers found that “very low or very high abusive contexts hinder and discourage employee creativity, whereas individual employees are most creative when exposed to a moderate level of abusive supervision.”
So, artists and writers: If you’re not making progress on a creative project, you might ask a friend to evaluate your work—and not hold back on the sarcasm. Or you can simply focus on the fact that, if the piece does eventually go before the public, it’ll be evaluated by a group of people who can make abusive bosses seem benign: Critics.
Recently published research from South Korea finds a link between on-the-job creativity and a moderate level of “abusive supervision.” The paper, published in The Leadership Quarterly, finds innovation goes down when such sarcasm or scolding is taken to excess—or entirely absent.
If you’re looking for creative ideas, set your memory to a microscopic level and re-create, as best you can, an event from your recent past.
“These results imply that creativity induced through art may transcend domains, and transfer to workplace environments through (heightening employees’) inspiration,” the researchers conclude. “We suggest that firms should employ more art-related creativity training programs to increase their employees’ creative problem-solving abilities, especially in the context of new product development.”
“Appreciating art induces inspiration, which in turn facilitates performance on creative tasks,” write Donghwy An and Nara Youn of South Korea’s Hongik University. “Our results show that simply displaying art in the work environment could enhance employees’ creative capabilities, thereby driving innovation.”
Want to get those creative juices flowing? Try having someone scowl at you.
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Indeed, it’s easy to imagine American workers responding to abusive bosses with insubordination rather than innovation. That said, a 2010 meta-analysis, which looked at the results of 76 separate studies, found “a curvilinear relationship between evaluative stress and creativity.”
Whether this says more about East Asian culture or human nature in general is an open question—a point the researchers, led by Soojin Lee of Seoul National University, acknowledge. Nevertheless, their study is a reminder that creativity can sometimes be stimulated in surprising ways.
As more and more routine work is tasked to robots and computers, the jobs that do remain increasingly demand creative thinking. New research reports seeing or reading works of art, and briefly reflecting upon them, enhances that all-important ability.
The other half were instructed to conjure up specific mental images from the video, including the arrangement of the kitchen where much of the action took place, the clothes worn by the man and woman, the shape of their faces, and color of their hair. In addition, they were asked to recall the specifics of the story; a facilitator prompted them by asking “What happened after that?”
Employees rated their supervisors’ abusiveness (or lack thereof) with a 15-item questionnaire, responding to such statements as “My supervisor tells me my thoughts or feelings are stupid.” For their part, supervisors evaluated their employees’ penchant for innovation with a 13-item questionnaire, responding to such statements as “(The employee) comes up with creative solutions to problems.”
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A fine idea, but why not start earlier? When school administrators cut arts programs, their argument usually comes down to: We’re training the workers of the future, teaching them the skills they need to succeed. Appreciating painting or poetry is nice, but it won’t help them make a living.
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Afterwards, all took three tests designed to measure different facets of creative thinking, including the well-known Alternative Uses Task, which instructs users to come up with “as many unusual and creative uses as possible” for five different common objects.
Once you’re thinking imaginatively, it’s easier to come up with justifications for taking ethical shortcuts.
But how do you make the leap from a hazy notion to one that is spelled out in practical details? Newly published research points to one simple technique that may do the trick.
New research suggests less-creative people do more innovative thinking when they are told individualism is the norm, and instructed to conform.