Research Methods Make Bad Dinner Conversations
By Dr. Kelsey Medeiros
Whenever I bring up research methods at the dinner table (which is embarrassingly often), I notice that my dinner mates typically retreat from the conversation, nodding their head on occasion with an expression of, “when is this girl going to stop talking about work?”
It’s true – research methods don’t make for the best party conversation starters (trust me, I’ve tried) or date night chats (ugh, also tried!), but understanding how research is conducted is as critical as understanding the results of a study and why it was done in the first place. In fact, I’ve found in conversations with family and friends outside of academia that people often challenge my discussion of research findings on the basis of, “there’s no way you could test that” or, “how could someone possibly get data on that?” Inherent in these challenges is the question: How was the data collected?
Data collection isn’t a very sexy topic, but some methods are more enticing than others.
One particularly interesting research method proves especially useful in our understanding of leadership. This research method is known as a historiometric analysis, and it relies on historical data or content to understand a topic. Drs. Matthew Crayne and Sam Hunter recently provided an overview of this method in Organizational Research Methods. Check it out here. A great example of this is Hunter and colleague’s analysis of NFL and NCAA football coach biographies.
The researchers were attempting to find support for the CIP model of leadership, which argues that there are three pathways to outstanding leadership – charismatic (C), ideological (I), and pragmatic (P). In general, charismatic leaders tend to be positive and future focused. Examples include John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. In contrast, ideological leaders tend to rely on negative emotions and focus on the past. Examples of ideological leaders include Ronald Reagan and Fidel Castro. Lastly, pragmatic leaders typically use a less emotional approach, focusing on the present situation and how to rationally solve the problem at hand. Dwight D. Eisenhower provides a good example of a pragmatic leader. To study these approaches to leadership, Hunter and colleagues collected coach biographies and autobiographies, read them, and identified behaviors, philosophies, and quotes related to the three approaches to leadership (C, I, & P).
Using historical documents such as books or speeches provides quite a bit of information on these leaders, allowing for unique insight that is often not available through traditional experimental or survey methods. However, the process can be challenging. It requires large amounts of time to identify, read, and assess the content.
Despite these challenges, the ECO lab recently embarked on a historiometric study of our own. Although Hunter and colleagues provided important insights regarding CIP leadership styles in their football study, the sample only investigated men leading men. This is not a limitation unique to the football study. Much of the leadership literature and many of the leadership theories are based on samples of men. Why? Because historically, men have held a majority of leadership positions. As more women move into leadership positions, however, it is becoming increasingly important that we give voice to this demographic in the literature – specifically, leadership literature.
So, we set out to replicate the football study with a sample of women’s basketball coaches. For the past few months, myself, Kendall, and Hayden have been buried up to our noses in women’s NCAA basketball coach biographies. We’ve been so entrenched in these biographies that the coaches have even entered our dreams! I recently dreamed that Vivian Stringer and Pat Summit were critiquing my on-court performance (which was way below acceptable, might I add). I woke up in a panic!
It’s an exciting process and we are anxiously awaiting the day our coders finish assessing the coaches so we can begin analyzing how these women (and a few men) lead their teams.
A nice side effect of this project has also been a significant increase in our basketball knowledge! Perhaps my family, friends, or next date will find a discussion of basketball coaches slightly more riveting than my regular research method chat. But my excitement about this method will likely sneak its way into the conversation, somehow – how could it not? It’s so cool!
Check out our excitement levels in the video below – the day Amazon delivered our books!
The Gender Apology Gap
By Pratibha Deepak
In the past weeks, the world has been consumed by the Facebook fiasco . In the incident that raised public outrage and a congressional hearing, it was revealed that information of nearly 87 million people were improperly shared with Cambridge Analytics, a consulting firm that did digital work for Donald Trump’s digital campaign in 2016.
This is not the first time that Facebook has been in middle of a firestorm, and definitely will not be the last! (not surprisingly, privacy advocates have long been screaming about the eventuality of a data privacy scandal).
I was not surprised by the by Facebook’s recent data breach and associated ethical transgressions. What really intrigued me was the response of a female leader, Sheryl Sandberg, in the midst of the chaos. The former Google executive, Sandberg, was the first to publicly offer an apology about the Facebook circus. Some might say she went on a full apology tour with interviews on CNBC , Fox News , NBC News and more . Her apology was an open, undiluted confession. She knew Facebook committed a crime and she took full responsibility for that. As quoted by her,
"We made mistakes and I own them and they are on me," she told NBC's Savannah Guthrie during an interview on Friday Today, part of which aired Thursday night.
In her interviews, Sheryl was apologetic and did not shy away from taking accountability. Her apology had the perfect rhythm – Admitting the mistake, Owning responsibility, and suggesting the Future course of action. During her interview, she added:
"We know at Facebook we did not do enough to protect people's data," Sandberg told Perino, also referencing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "Mark is sorry about that. I'm sorry about that." Sandberg further added that, the tech company is taking steps to become more transparent in the stories that it shares on users feed and also that, they will be sharing stories only from trusted feeds.
It was Sheryl who jumped out to douse the fire by going on an apology tour. The question is, then, why was the female leader, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, more aggressive in apologizing than the male leader, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder of Facebook?
Perhaps, it has something to do with Sheryl being a woman? Possibly, by putting her in the spotlight, Facebook aims to regain the trust of followers. Or are women more likely than men in general to admit a mistake and hence, be the first one to apologize?
As Deborah Tannen, a McGraw distinguished lecturer at Princeton University had said,
“In the American context, there is ample evidence that women are more inclined to offer expressions of contrition than men. (Tannen, 1999, p. 67)
Research has argued that, men are not forthcoming with apologies because they have difficulty admitting that they are wrong! (Engel, 2000; Tannen, 1999). Tannen (2001) in her article further recounts an interesting story of a little boy who disliked Yom Kippur - the Jewish Day of Atonement – because on that day, "you have to say you're sorry" (p. 95).
So, why are men less likely to apologize?
“Suck it up, and be a man” is a common phrase that most of us have heard before. It captures the gender stereotyping of apology. Society sees men who apologies as weak and expects women to apologize. Engel (2001) argued, for men admitting wrongdoing is like losing a power struggle. This is further exemplified by comedian Jim Belushi’s (2006) best seller , which is adequately named Real Men Don’t Apologize. But, can there be another explanation to this? In fact, research suggests that men may be less likely to apologize because they fail to recognize that they have committed a mistake!
This brings us to an interesting experimental study conducted by Schumann and Ross (2010). In this study, 33 men and 33 women were asked to record conflicts with others for twelve days and report the gender of those making apologies at the end of the conflict. Women reported giving a greater number of apologies (217) than men (158), but women also reported committing more offenses (267) than men (196). The study concluded that compared to men, women reported offering more apologies then men. It was also found that, once men were made aware that, they had committed a transgression, they were as likely as women to offer apology. However, women in general are more likely to categorize a behavior as offensive and thus more likely to perceive that an offense occurred. From an organizational perspective, this has important implications. For organizations and leaders of organizations to be able to recover from mistake, it is necessary to admit that, a transgression has happened. Recovery will come only after admittance of mistake.
Does it Really Matter?
Apologies do matter! Experimental studies have shown that leader apologies can reduce anger and aggression and promote wellbeing in the leaders and followers (Basford, 2014; Byrne et. al, 2014).Though Zuckerberg, in his initial apology took responsibility for the Cambridge Analytica’s data abuse, he stopped short of officially verbalizing an apology. His apology was more like a statement about what Facebook will do in the future to prevent third part applications’ misuse of data. This was a departure from Sandberg’s statement, in which she did not hesitate to say, “I’m sorry.”
If a leader has made a mistake, it is necessary that, to ensure the survival of the organization, he or she admits the mistake and moves forward. Organizations should develop their leaders, men and women alike, to have similar standards for understanding transgressions, so that they know when they have made a mistake and can apologize at the right time and in the right way. Organizations needs to establish a strong company culture and robust training program for employees and particularly for its leaders at all levels. These trainings will help them to understand the nature of transgression , the ability to accept and admit that they were wrong and finally to enable them to recover from the transgression.
Some men who are reading this might argue that they apologize all the time! And maybe that’s true. We are not arguing that men don’t apologize at all but what we are saying here is that we there is a gender apology gap. Men and women, equally, need to be able to appropriately recognize their mistakes in order to take corrective action!
Make CSR a Priority
By Jelisa Jones
A recent online article noted the many benefits of engaging in corporate social responsibility (CSR), which is the voluntary decision by an organization to be actively involved in their community. Many organizations are adding CSR initiatives as an afterthought because owners and leaders are focused on financial growth, rather than social initiatives. However, this article suggests it is possible to focus on both, and in fact, research shows that doing both offers many benefits. These benefits reach both the community and the organization. Even if you are leading a small start-up, building CSR into your organization and laying the foundation for community involvement may prove beneficial.
Research has identified numerous benefits for organizations having an active role in society. One major benefit is the facilitation of a brand strategy. Customers want to support organizations that express concern for the welfare and development of the community – specifically, environmental sustainability and human rights. This has been recognized by many business leaders. For instance, the former CEO of Shell Corporation stated, “Successful companies are those that integrate the personal values of the customers’ employee’s and the business. People want to support organizations that contribute to society, share the same values, and where their actions count and their views matter.”
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Additionally, organizations that engage in CSR have more positive reputations in the community, higher consumer preferences, more creative and satisfied employees, and higher financial performance. So it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved! For example, one survey found that consumers were willing to pay more for goods that reflect a commitment to CSR programs, and that newer generations accounted for a vast majority of the consumers most attuned with supporting organizations with CSR practices. Even potential stock buyers are interested in an organizations’ CSR initiatives!
Proctor & Gamble provide a great example of CSR as they have CSR initiatives for all parties involved in their business - consumers, employees, suppliers, community, and investors. Some of their CSR initiatives in the community include developing recyclable bottles for shampoo, building wind farms for renewable energy use at their sites, using plant based ingredients in detergent, and pursuing alternatives to animal testing for skin care products.
Currently, it is unclear which CSR approaches have the most positive impact, so organizations are advised to embrace creativity and experimentation in developing CSR models for their organization. When brainstorming how to embed social initiatives into an organization, the Huffington Post article lists five important steps that should be considered. We highlight three:
CSR programs should be considered a priority alongside performance during the beginning of an organization, not as an afterthought. No matter how big or small your social initiative, organizations big and small may positively influence the community while building a reputation for CSR that may positively impact the organization’s bottom line.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
What Happens in [Online] Vegas...
By Kendall Ackerman
As social media use becomes increasingly common in this digital age, the use of cybervetting during employee selection processes is also becoming progressively popular. Many human resource management professionals today assess applicants’ social media accounts such as Facebook or Twitter to identify applicants who demonstrate admirable public images and “reflect the ‘right’ kind of private life and mainstream values.” While many employers believe that social media serves as a useful method for determining an applicant’s potential organizational fit with a company, there are many ethical issues still to be worked out in terms of the legality behind using social media for selection decisions.
Employers use cybervetting as a way to narrow down their applicant pool by eliminating candidates whose use of social media does not meet the organization’s standards of professionalism or professed values. In general, social media can provide insight into an individual’s personality, habits, and communication style with others. However, those who are against the use of cybervetting in selection decisions argue that social media has nothing to do with the requirements for performing well on the job, and thus it should not be considered during the selection process. Researchers with this view have been said to have a, “What happens in Vegas” mentality, believing that what happens outside of work should stay outside of work.
However, what happens when an employee decides to blur the lines between work and play on social media, especially when acting as a representative of the organization online? And further, what about when that employee happens to hold a leadership position in the organization and uses social media as a platform for sharing personal opinions, thus portraying the organization in a certain light?
Take a minute to think back to the recent presidential election and its outcome. 44% of US adults reported that they learned information about the 2016 election through social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Throughout the campaign, voters referred to presidential candidates’ social media accounts to collect information about what the candidates believed and why. Old posts were dug up from the past and brought to the attention of everyone across the nation. While Hillary Clinton supporters viewed Trump’s past activity on social media as a negative sign for what was to come, Donald Trump supporters argued that he should not be judged by his past social media posts because they had nothing to do with how he would perform as the President of the United States.
Fast forward to present-day, and those who argued against President Trump’s social media use are likely saying, “I told you so.” Due to its instantaneous and impersonal nature, social media has allowed our President to share his immediate and uncensored thoughts with his 49.5 million Twitter followers with the click of a button. Many argue that President Trump has abused this power, as he often posts opinionated comments that represent the United States in an unfavorable light to other countries. As the President of the United States, Donald Trump is the ultimate leader, public figure, and representative of the giant organization. Everything he says on social media is publicized to an extreme extent, which is crucial for him to keep in mind as he represents the entire United States in all of his messages, good or bad.
So should President Trump’s Twitter account have served as a method of cybervetting him from the presidential candidate pool in 2016? Is cybervetting an appropriate method to narrow down an applicant pool for a leadership position? I am not at liberty to say for certain. In essence, it should come down to whether social media use is a key aspect related to the job at hand. However, it is important to recognize the very fine line between work and play on social media that can be easily blurred or even erased by organizational leaders online. It is a well-known fact that past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior. Perhaps then, a leader’s past behaviors on social media might, in fact, reflect their future social media behaviors – something that organizations should keep in mind when identifying high profile leaders to represent their companies.
The Curious Case of Curious George
By Adam Damadzic
Psychology is the study of the human mind, and while much of the research available uses human participants, it’s always fun when you come across exciting research that uses orangutans for participants.
Some of you may be asking why I’m about to write about orangutans. Well…
Because it’s cool!
Carel Van Schaik at The University of Zurich and his “pry-mates” have spent several years studying curiosity. More recently, they’ve studied curiosity in orangutans. Carel Van Schaik noticed that wild orangutans did not destroy his equipment while he was studying the climate in the canopy of the Sumatran rain forest. In contrast, he noticed that the orangutans he saw in rehabilitation centers were far more curious. Wild orangutans, he observed, are incredibly incurious, avoiding to the new, and hate the unfamiliar. However, captive orangutans are the opposite, ready to explore the new.
Using ape-lied science, one of Van Schaik’s team members, Sofia Fross, built fake habitats and included items that the wild orangutans had never seen before. Footage from motion sensor cameras showed these wild orangutans avoided the new items. The same study was replicated in several zoos. In comparison to the wild orangutans, those in the zoo explored the new items.
These results were bananas. There was something about captivity that led the orangutans to become more curious. The same researchers found that should this potential be touched on early enough, the curiosity resulting from captivity could boost their problem solving abilities.
The why behind this study is pretty cool. The researchers propose the idea from an evolutionary standpoint, that as the captive orangutans feel “safe”, they are more open to explore. They tie this link to human evolution, where weapons and the ability to gather large quantities of food allowed us to take further risks. Hence, the wild orangutans were less likely to experiment with the new items, as they might be dangerous. Instead of exploring, they followed the lead of others.
The monk-key to these findings is how a safe environment allowed orangutans to take more risks, and be far more open to new experiences. Both these qualities are tied to creativity in humans which allows us to use this research to suggest that if we wanted to encourage creativity in organizations, having a secure safe environment may be one possible route. So next time you are trying to create a creative climate, take a swing at encouraging risk-taking and being open to new experiences in your organization!
What can a chicken shortage teach us about leadership?
By: Pratibha Deepak
The recent KFC chicken shortage in the UK and their clever apology, raises questions regarding the effectiveness of apologies as a recovery strategy when an organization, or a leader, make a mistake. Last week, KFC offered this statement (and hilarious advertisement) in response to closing hundreds of their UK stores due to a chicken shortage:
“We’re sorry. A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed. And endless thanks to our KFC team members and our franchise partners for working tirelessly to improve the situation. It’s been a hell of a week, but we’re making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants. Thank you for bearing with us.”
KFC is not the first to offer such an apology. Many leaders have offered apologies in the past for errors with much more life threatening consequences.
In 2009, General Motors recalled 30 million cars after Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, issued a public apology taking full responsibility for 13 deaths caused by faulty ignitions:
"Today GM will do the right thing," said Barra, who was named CEO in January. "That begins with my sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall, especially the families and friends (of those) who lost their lives or were injured. I am deeply sorry."
With this apology, Barra become an instant celebrity leader, public and corporates alike appreciated Barra for her courage, her accountability to the crisis, and her determination to make it right. Another example, one that became one of the best examples of a leader apology in recent history, was seen in the Johnson and Johnson Tylenol Crisis. With seven people dead from consuming over the counter Tylenol Capsules, many thought it might be the death of the Tylenol brand. James Burke, CEO of John and Johnson at that time, assumed full responsibility and even went public with his apology. Within a year, Tylenol had captured 90% of its market share.
Mary Barra and James Burke became role models for corporate apology, and leadership institutes have even started sharing lessons in how to apologize effectively rather than how to take accountability.
But, are leader apologies really effective in regaining follower trust?
Experimental research in this field says, “maybe not!” In an experimental study by Kim et al. (2004), they found that, follower trust in leaders was repaired more successfully when the mistrusted parties apologized for competency related violations but for violations pertaining to integrity, denial was found to be the more efficient approach. In yet another study by Skarlickj et al.(2004), they found that apologies are not always effective in promoting forgiveness.
Moreover, the world of apologies is in itself quite tricky. An apology that is too late, empty, or not followed by meaningful action may do more harm than good.
So, how can a leader make an effective apology?
An apology can strengthen an organization, reposition a brand, repair relationships and may also act as a tonic for the psychological well-being of leader, however it has to be done correctly.
Because apologizing can be quite a tricky thing to do, it is helpful to have an “apology design”, the following checklist will help to deliver an impactful apology.
It should clearly serve a purpose and address an event when a clear error was done.
Combine an apology with an appropriate action plan that addresses the problem, victims, or steps needed to recover from the error. What made Tim Cook's apology (CEO, Apple) on Apple Maps effective was that along with a clear apology, it also provided a clear action plan and alternatives to Apple Users.
If you have decided to apologize, then don’t pass the buck.This goes to show that you are not in control.
For example, Volkswagen’s US head, Michael Horn issued an apology but in doing so, took little to no responsibility by blaming his software engineers for the car’s illegal software to cheat on emission tests. He said:
“This was a couple of software engineers who put this in for whatever reason,” Horn said to the House of Representatives Oversight and Investigations Committee, according to NBC News. “This was not a corporate decision. There was no board meeting that approved this.”
Make sure the apology swiftly follows the error. For an example of what not to do, just look to Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings. In response to customer outrage on Netflix price hike, Hastings issued an apology that came two months late!
So, the next time you make an error, and before you rush out to make an apology, stop and ask yourself-is it the right thing to do? Once you have decided that an apology is the right recovery method to repair relationships, then don’t hesitate to own responsibility and back it up with a clear action plan.
It Takes Two to Tango
By Jelisa Jones
Ethical failures by companies, like fraudulence, corruption, and hacking are becoming more and more common. Wells Fargo recently paid $185 million in fines because their employees opened up over a million fraudulent bank accounts.
At first glance, we may think, why did they not hire better employees? Why did they not choose employees with more integrity, honesty, and ethical standards? This is one of the reasons why ethical evaluations like integrity tests are popular during the selection and interview process nowadays. We tend to blame the workers when big ethical scandals like this come out in the news, because we believe that employees should have high ethical standards that match the company’s standards.
One article found that the use of integrity assessments during selection might provide great benefit. The scores from the integrity test were found to be correlated with a candidate’s career potential, leadership activities, and job performance. Other scholars found that engagement in ethical behaviors might also increase organizational commitment and job satisfaction. Hence, selecting employees that demonstrate high integrity and ethics may benefit an organization in more ways than reducing the risk of a front-page headline about an ethical scandal.
However, why people choose to engage in unethical behavior is a much more complex ethical tango than you may think.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review refers to ethical decision making as a tango between the employee and the organization. It is not always the fault of the employee for engaging in unethical decisions. Sometimes it can be the nature of the company that is the true driving force of turning good people into bad decision makers.
The question then becomes, what could a company, as the other tango partner, do to drive “ethical” people to make unethical decisions? There are many factors to consider when answering this question.
Next time news of a major ethical scandal breaks, do not jump to the conclusion that these are all horrible people. Remember, ethical decisions involve two entities, the company and the employee, because it always takes two to tango.
No Such Thing as a Quiet Leader?
By Kendall Ackerman
Recently, I was tasked with interviewing applicants to fill an administrative position with an organization at Texas A&M University. I asked most of the “typical” questions that one might prepare for prior to an interview, such as, “Can you tell me about a time you had to work with a group on a difficult task?”, “Why do you want to work here?”, and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” When I asked one applicant about her weaknesses, she responded with, “Well, I am an introvert.” Her response caught me off guard.
Since when has introversion been considered a weakness?!
This is a topic that has received much attention in organizational leadership research. So many organizations today use personality assessments in their application process. They assess traits such as openness, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and extraversion (i.e., The Big Five) in order to determine which applicants might be best suited for a leadership position. Generally, the applicants who score highly in a specific trait such as extraversion are the favored candidates. In fact, research has found that personality traits do, in fact, have an impact on job performance. But just because someone’s test scores indicate that they are more introverted than they are extroverted, does that automatically mean they won’t be an effective leader?
A recent article discussed this question in terms of common leadership paradoxes. Organizational leaders are generally expected to be extroverted and outgoing in order to effectively lead their teams. The desire for employees to be more engaged at work requires leaders to be in contact and involved with their subordinates – something that extroverted people are assumed to do better than introverted people. We think of effective leaders as people who command the room, guide and develop their subordinates, and get things done. We think of people like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and George W. Bush, all of whom are extroverts.
But is it possible for introverted leaders to be just as effective as extroverted leaders?
Absolutely. Introverts have a unique advantage in that they tend to be viewed as more receptive to ideas, listening carefully to make their employees feel valued and motivated. They are often more organized and prepared due to their thoughtful and thorough nature. While they may be a bit uncomfortable interacting with people and being the center of attention, introverts’ ability to provide thoughtful insights and to make their employees feel heard and appreciated are traits that we look for when determining a leader’s effectiveness.
While an extroverted leader might focus more on the social interactions involved in leading, her introverted counterpart might focus more on the bigger picture to motivate her followers to get things done. These trade-offs are important to consider when identifying effective leaders, because leaders rarely work alone. Take the “Apple Steves”, for example. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, co-founders of Apple Inc., are likely one of the most famous extrovert-introvert duos to ever exist. Jobs acted as the face of Apple, while Wozniak served as the behind-the-scenes tech guru. Together, these two leaders on opposite ends of the introvert-extrovert spectrum created the world’s leading company in technology products and services.
So while extroverts are overwhelmingly believed to make the best leaders, we shouldn’t automatically pass over introverts when selecting for high performers and leaders! An introverted leader could bring a unique perspective to a team that would be overlooked by a more extroverted individual. Introverts like Apple’s Steve Wozniak have the power to do extraordinary things when given the chance to do so in a leadership position, so we should not overlook them!
Finally, I leave you with a tip to all self-proclaimed introverts: Next time you find yourself in an interview where you are asked to describe your greatest weakness, do not sell your introversion short! It can be a strength, if used appropriately. Be proud of your choice to be quiet in a world that can’t stop talking, as Susan Cain would say.
Running to Creativity
By Adam Damadzic
When we hear the word creativity, we often think of category defining products, like the I-phone. Some of us may even consider timeless compositions by Beethoven, or venture into the domains of art and theatre. It’s less often that we think of ways to BE creative. Thankfully, a recent article on Health.com promoted the idea of exercising to help “kickstart” our creative juices!
The article highlights some interesting topics for those looking to boost their creativity. First, the article explains how exercise can release stress and give our creative minds freedom to let new ideas generate. Pretty sweet, but I’m not sure how my office-mates are going to enjoy me running up and down the department next time we need to do some brainstorming.
The article really hones in on how physical activity can “flush out cortisol” which, in ordinary folk terminology, is stress. Gross! Cortisol is this same hormone that hurts our ability to creatively solve problems. Double gross!! So, the article argues that exercise reduces cortisol, which, in turn, improves creative problem solving. In other words, exercise helps us be more creative!
The author concludes with some advice - get exercising with some low concentration activity (e.g., running) to help your mind wander. Its also advised to bring a notepad to write down whatever awesome ideas spring to mind. Once you start flushing out that stress hormone, your mind will start clearing and making room for more creative ideas!
This research got me thinking about some other attempts to get creative when you hit a roadblock in your creative designs. Frequently, with creative problem solving you are limited in some regard, whether that is your budget, the timeline, or even the people you are working with! We call these constraints. Whenever you hear a story of someone being creative, it’s often accompanied by some kind of struggle or obstacle that needs to be overcome – that obstacle is essentially a constraint. Research by Peterson et al (2013) discussed the idea that training individuals on how to manage constraints, especially those that you don’t think about often, will actually improve creative problem-solving. For example, using an educational intervention to make people more aware of constraints that may appear during a creative task could increase feelings of self-efficacy (your confidence in the task) and ultimately led to you being more creative!
So next time you have a creative problem to solve, grind the track before you grind the problem with your team! Or even better, prepare yourself and your team with some training on how to beat those obstacles!
I’d just make sure you shower before you meet with your team…
The Creative Brain
By Dr. Kelsey Medeiros
Are creative brains the same as uncreative brains? A new study recently covered by The Guardian suggests not! Specifically, a team of researchers identified a “brain network” that was better connected in those who demonstrate higher levels of creativity compared to those who demonstrate less creativity.
To examine this, 163 participants were placed in an fMRI machine and asked to work on a divergent thinking task. A divergent thinking task is a classic measure of creative potential in which respondents are asked to list as many ideas as possible to a prompt. For example, Guilford’s Consequence Task (a well known divergent thinking measure) asks, “What would be the results if it appeared certain that within three months the entire surface of the earth would be covered with water, except for the few highest mountain peaks?” Respondents are then instructed to list as many responses as possible. The total number of responses creates your “fluency” score.
In this study, the brain network activity of those who scored highly on the divergent thinking measure (i.e., higher fluency) was compared to those who had low scores (i.e., lower fluency). The researchers identified 3 networks active during the divergent thinking task. Importantly, they also found that these networks were highly connected for those with high fluency scores and less connected for those with low fluency scores.
The first network is associated with mind wandering and spontaneous thinking. The second network is typically active during periods of focused thought. The third network determines where we focus our attention. But, how can we let our mind wander and focus our attention at the same time?
Although somewhat surprising, these neural network findings back up a theoretical argument in the creativity literature – the dual-pathway model! As the name suggests, this model argues that there are two important paths to creativity. The first is the “flexibility pathway” which argues for the importance of wide exploration. This pathway most closely aligns with the first neutral network identified in the fMRI study. The second pathway, “persistence,” suggests that digging deeper into a smaller subset of ideas results in more creativity - a concept that aligns with the second and third neural pathways.
In addition to telling us that the creative brain is more complex and maybe even a little weird, this study also relates to the work we do in the ECO lab. We are interested in how constraints, limitations or restrictions on open-ended thought (e.g., goals, limited resources), influence creativity. Researchers in the past argued that adding constraints would be bad for creativity. Now, however, researchers (including us!) are starting to argue that constraints may actually be beneficial for creativity. Even a few pretty cool business leaders like Biz Stone and Marissa Mayer agree!
Specifically, we argue that constraints help to focus attention and allow for more mind wandering within a limited, or constrained, space. In other words, constraints give your brain a specific area to wander in rather than wandering endlessly. It’s like if I were to tell you to go explore the woods and find something new. You’d have a lot of ground to cover and likely wouldn’t be able to dig very deep into the ground to explore uncharted territory. But, if I tell you to go explore a specific, smaller section of the woods, you have more time and energy to dig deeper and look more closely at the details. So, by adding constraints to a creative project, you may focus your attention and identify new connections or new ideas by looking a bit more deeply.
Results from the fMRI study suggest that people who demonstrate more creative potential may be better at managing these conflicting pathways than people with less creative potential. This suggests that perhaps, they are better able to manage mind wandering in a limited space, which may help them be more creative when presented with a highly constrained project!
So, if you think you have a “creative mind,” try introducing constraints to spark new ideas. Want to improve your creativity? Practice generating new ideas and introduce new requirements such as a stricter budget, a more specific goal, or a shorter timeline. Might be difficult at first, but over time you may be able to improve your creativity!