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26 Nov 2012

Creative Innovation (Pt 11): Quantification Restricts Creativity

This entry is part 11 of 15 in the series Creative Innovation

Numbers can force us to think inside the box.

Business prizes quantification; yet, ironically, it restricts creativity and innovation in two ways:

  • Encouraging electrical activity in our brains which restricts idea generation
  • Compelling people to confine their ideas to the quantifiable ones

Evangelia G. Chrysikou’s article “Put Your Creative Brain to Work” (Scientific American Mind, July/August 2012 edition, pgs: 26-27) summarizes the body of research to date by saying “idea generation is associated with a state of lower cognitive control” and

. . . generating novel applications for objects also seems to benefit from less filtering of knowledge and experiences, which enables people to consider a greater variety of possible answers.

Essentially, high cognitive control of our brain emits different electrical waves (beta) than low cognitive control (alpha) does. In Heidi K. Gardner’s article, “Coming Through When It Matters Most” (Harvard Business Review, April 2012 edition), we find quantification correlates to people’s need for certainty and conservatism by writing:

In high pressure situations . . . [people] support their responses with hard, usually quantitative, evidence instead of anecdotes and comparisons . . . Enthusiasm for innovation and improvisation gives way to concern for strict professionalism and covering all the basis.

My previous post, “Knowledge States”, helps us see the restrictive nature of quantification by the amount of knowledge we filter from the problem when we do so. This is partially why altering our normal problem-solving process (i.e. don’t worry about quantifying the problem or aspects of it) can be such an effective problem-solving technique.

Thus, the focus on numbers not only alters us physiologically in terms of the electrical waves our brains emit but also mentally in terms of compelling us to filter out unquantifiable knowledge that might contain the solution. Let’s face reality: problems are like squirrels. Neither goes away simply because we cannot quantify them.

 

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Series Navigation<< Creative Innovation (Pt 10): Information & InterruptionsCreative Innovation (Pt 12): Associative Thinking >>

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