Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Creativity: More Ideas Leads to Better Ideas

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This week, I came across a terrific paper publishedy by clinical neuropsychologist Rex E. Jung and his colleagues in Frontiers of Psychology.  The paper is titled, "Quantity yields quality when it comes to creativity: a brain and behavioral test of the equal-odds rule." 

For years, design thinking advocates such as the practitioners at IDEO and instructors at the Stanford d.School have argued that creative problem-solving techniques should first focus on generating lots of ideas, while deferring judgement.  The notion is that you have the best chance of coming up with a truly great idea if you brainstorm as many ideas as possible. Some quote Linus Pauling who once said, "The best way to get a good idea is to have a lot of ideas."  Is this true, though?  Does idea fluency (the number of ideas developed) relate positively to creativity and originality?    Jung and his colleagues examined that question using a multi-method research approach.  They not only collected data on a series of behavioral measures from a pool of 246 research subjects, but they conducted neuroimaging as well.   Here is what they sought to study, as described in the opening to their paper: 

There is a long history, within the creativity literature, noting an association between idea fluency (the number of ideas generated) and the associated quality, originality, and/or creativity of the ideas that are produced on divergent thinking tasks (Wallach and Kogan, 1965). This notion has since been conceptualized as the “equal-odds rule” by Simonton (1997), which states that “the relationship between the number of hits (i.e., creative successes) and the total number of works produced in a given time period is positive, linear, stochastic, and stable.” This principle has great appeal in that it conforms broadly to evolutionary principles (i.e., there is a variation/selection process; Campbell, 1960), it is parsimonious (Simonton, 1984b), and it conforms to excitatory and inhibitory neuronal processes familiar to the neurosciences (Logothetis, 2008).

At the opening of their discussion section, the authors summarize their findings: 

We found that quantity was associated with quality on measures of divergent thinking customarily associated with creative cognition. Subjects who produced more descriptions of abstract visual designs produced more creative descriptions of the designs as measured by judges who were blind to subject demographics. These results provide compelling support for the equal-odds rule which underlie BVSR theories of creative cognition, and which have been demonstrated repeatedly in Big C cohorts throughout history. Importantly, these results were obtained in a college sample ranging in creative achievement (0–144), and intellectual capacity (80–153), thus spanning the normal ranges of both creative and intellectual abilities. We found that fluency and creativity were highly related to one another when measured using a test of divergent thinking and the consensual assessment technique. Finally, we found that fronto-subcortical brain networks were implicated in performance of both fluency and creativity measures, with a common locus across both measures being the frontal pole.

The research confirms Pauling's observation:  "The best way to get a good idea is to have a lot of ideas." 

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