Overreliance on conceptually far sources decreases the creativity of ideas

Joel ChanLearning Research and Development Center, University of PIttsburgh
Christian SchunnLearning Research and Development Center, University of PIttsburgh
Steven DowHuman Computer-Interaction Institute, Carnegie-Mellon University

Abstract

Ideas are often generated from inspiration sources (e.g., prior experiences with the world, solutions to analogous problems). These sources may have benefits but also pitfalls (e.g., difficulty thinking of alternative approaches). In this paper, we investigate whether and how features of inspiration sources predict their impact on creative outcomes. In particular, we examine the popular but unevenly supported hypothesis that conceptually distant sources of inspiration provide the best in-sights for creative production. We test this hypothesis in the context of a Web-based real-world creativity platform, while addressing key methodological issues in prior empirical studies (e.g., truncated time scale, low statistical power, problem variation). Through a text analysis of many hundreds of concepts, we test whether greater conceptual distance between a concept's cited sources and the problem domain increases its probability of creative success (in this case, being shortlisted by an expert panel as a promising creative concept). We found that concepts that cite sources had greater success than those that did not cite sources of inspiration. However, in-creases in mean conceptual distance of sources actually decreased the probability of success, suggesting that far sources do not uniquely boost creativity and that an overreliance on far sources may even harm creativity. This negative effect of distance was robust across authors and different design problems on the platform. In light of these findings, we revisit theories of creative inspiration and general creative cognition.

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Overreliance on conceptually far sources decreases the creativity of ideas (455 KB)



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