The Blank Page: Effects of Constraint on Creativity

Caneel K. Joyce
2009 Social Science Research Network  
The Blank Page: Effects of Constraint on Creativity This dissertation is about how constraint-restrictions to freedom that limit and direct search-influences creativity. Freedom is often associated with creativity, yet recent work in the decision making literature suggests that too much freedom can be paralyzing when it provides too many choices. This dissertation examines how the extent of constraint imposed on a task, when conceptualized as a continuum, affects creative processes and
more » ... It employs a multi-method, multi-level approach through three studies. Study 1 was a controlled laboratory experiment centered around a written product design task where constraint was manipulated by varying task instructions. A curvilinear effect of constraint on creativity was identified such that a moderate degree of constraint was more conducive to creativity than either a high or a low degree. These effects were not explained by alternative explanations such as time allocation during the task, or decreased intrinsic motivation. Studies 2 and 3 examined the role of constraint in 43 new product development teams. Through quantitative analysis, Study 2 found that the degree of constraint that new product development teams voluntarily imposed on their projects at the beginning of the semester predicted the creativity of their product proposals more than ten weeks later. The results held up even when controlling for task conflict. Study 3 examined the same 43 teams through a series of three multi-method case studies. Grounded-theory analysis gave qualitative support to the theory proposed in Chapter 2 and revealed several emergent themes that were not anticipated, namely: assumption-constrained creativity, uncovering latent conflict, and confirmation-constrained creativity. The study resulted in new predictions about how constraint affects creative teams, and a novel framework for conceptualizing creativity as a hypothesis-testing activity. These findings suggest that while some amount of choice is important for encouraging creativity, too much can be counterproductive, which runs counter to many popular theories of creativity. This dissertation should provide encouragement to organizations that are institutionally embedded, have scarce resources, or are otherwise restricted. i Dedication This dissertation is dedicated to: My mom Cindy, for her open-minded enthusiastic embrace of life, her die-hard positivity and encouragement; her effortlessly natural ability to recognize beauty in all things and situations; her contagious wonder and love of all creations, and for being my teacher and partner in the countless creative projects we've done together that inspired this research My dad Peter, for his insistence that I stay true to who I am wherever that path may lead; his genuine love of people, community, and fun; his innate curiosity and love of all things oceanic or scholarly; and for demonstrating that with integrity, humor, and the persistent pursuit of things one loves, a person can truly have it all My brother Britt, for his humor, best-friendship, wisdom, improvizational song-writing ability, high ethical standards, and love of business as an intellectual pursuit; his sense of calm and appeciation of theories, food, surfing and kareoke; and for being my sounding board for ideas that are at once ludicrous and possible & Roy, my partner, lover, husband, and best friend, who gave me the gift of loving him; for never allowing me to lose faith or give up, for cooking me gourmet meals, nursing my back back to health, maintaining my social life, playing devil's advocate, teaching me to open doors and walk inside, moving to Europe three times, listening to me think out loud, helping me when I lost my keys/erased my hard drive/went down the rabbit hole/was mad as a hatter/forgot to x, y, or z (again), celebrating every gold star, supporting me in every way, wanting the very best for me, and for loving me with all of his heart.
doi:10.2139/ssrn.1552835 fatcat:5qqgymp6efcthmqxamdr7ngyru