Lile Jia, et al., on Increasing CreativityIt is always encouraging to find research support for techniques promoted by business trainers, since all too often trainers' prescriptions and advice are not backed up by solid evidence of effectiveness.
What I have in mind at the moment is the recently published paper, "Lessons from a Faraway Land: The Effect of Spatial Distance on Creative Cognition," by Lile Jia, Edward Hirt, and Samuel Karpen (JHK), social psychologists at Indiana University.1
The experimental results JHK report indicate that, for example, the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. brainstorming technique, the subject of one of my earliest posts back in 2006, embodies a cognitive principle that has a plausible theoretical basis for which there is growing experimental confirmation.
According to the authors' abstract of their paper,
Recent research ... has identified temporal distance as a situational moderator of creativity. According to Construal Level Theory ... temporal distance is just one case of the broader construct of psychological distance.2 In the present research, we investigated the effect of another dimension of psychological distance, namely, spatial distance, on creative cognition and insight problem solving. In two studies, we demonstrate that when the creative task is portrayed as originating from a far rather than close location, participants provide more creative responses (Study 1) and perform better on a problem solving task that requires creative insight (Study 2).The JHK research came to my attention from reading a July 21 article at ScientificAmerican.com by Oren Shapira and Nira Liberman of Tel Aviv University. In addition to describing the JHK article, Shapira and Liberman outline how inducing other types of psychological distance can boost creativity. As Shapira and Liberman explain,
... previous studies ... demonstrated that distancing in time projecting an event into the remote future and assuming an event to be less likely (that is, distancing on the probability dimension) can also enhance creativity. In a series of experiments that examined how temporal distance affects performance on various insight and creativity tasks, participants were first asked to imagine their lives a year later (distant future) or the next day (near future), and then to imagine working on a task on that day in the future. Participants who imagined a distant future day solved more insight problems than participants who imagined a near future day. They also performed better on visual insight tasks, which required detecting coherent images in "noisy" visual input, as well as on creative generation tasks (e.g., listing ways to improve the look of a room). Similar evidence has been found for probability. Participants were more successful at solving sample items from a visual insight task when they believed they were unlikely, as opposed to likely, to encounter the full task.As Shapira and Liberman point out, one of the implications of the JHK research is that actually traveling a significant distance from home might promote creativity, and there is indeed evidence that this is the case.
1 "Lessons from a Faraway Land: The Effect of Spatial Distance on Creative Cognition," Lile Jia, Edward R. Hirt, and Samuel C. Karpen, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 45, No. 5 (September 2009), pp. 1127-1131.
2 Shapira and Liberman explain, "anything that we do not experience as occurring now, here, and to ourselves falls into the 'psychologically distant' category."