Friday, February 19, 2021

Could Repeated Practice Reduce Creativity?

Source: Wikimedia 

Columbia Professor Melanie S. Brucks and Stanford Professor Szu-chi Huang have published a thougght-provoking new paper titled, "Does Practice Make Perfect? The Contrasting Effects of Repeated Practice on Creativity." These scholars asked the question: "Could repeatedly 'exercising' the creativity muscle help build up creative performance over time?" Brucks and Huang conducted three studies with over 800 research subjects. Their results proved surprising. Here's an excerpt from a Stanford Business Insights article about the research:

According to recent research by Stanford Graduate School of Business alumna Melanie S. Brucks and associate professor of marketing Szu-chi Huang, regular brainstorming sessions are not likely to lead to an increase in unique ideas. In fact, the average novelty of your output — that is, the degree to which your inspirations depart from convention — actually might decrease over time.

“It was surprising,” says Brucks, who earned her PhD in marketing at Stanford in 2019 and now is an assistant professor of marketing at Columbia University. “People got worse at one type of idea generation, even as they thought they were getting better at it.”

Huang, who studies motivation, also admits she was taken aback by the results, which are detailed in an article, “Does Practice Make Perfect? The Contrasting Effects of Repeated Practice on Creativity,” recently published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. “In my field, practice is always good. It’s always about practice — do it every day and you will learn and improve your skills, or at least build good habits. But it turns out that to get better at creativity, you need to do some creative thinking about creative thinking.”

The authors found that the participants thought they were becoming more creative over time, but in fact, the number of novel ideas decreased. The scholars explain that the brain may become more inflexible as it concentrates on a particular activity repeatedly. That damages divergent thinking capabilities, unfortunately.

What can we do to maintain or boost our creative abilities while engaging in repeated brainstorming or other types of creative problem-solving activities? Change things up! Inject novelty into a team's approach to problem solving. Disrupt routines quite intentionally. Use a variety of exercises, rather than the same type of brainstorming or problem-solving process. Even change the time of day perhaps.  Huang concludes, "To practice creativity effectively, we have to change how we define practice... The structure needs to be more dynamic."  

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