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Be Less Self-Centered to Be More Creative, Study Says

Study of CreativityBusiness is, ultimately, all about the bottom line and sometimes focusing on the needs of your fellow man seems like the last thing you need to be thinking about to improve it. Sure, you want your customers and your employees to remain happy and loyal, but can thinking about others do anything else for you in business?

According to two business school professors at NYU and Cornell, if you are in the business of being creative, then the answer is yes. Evan Polman and Kyle Emich set out to investigate the relationship between working for someone else's benefit and creativity.

Using the traditional biz school study guinea pig (willing undergrads), the two professors had subjects complete a series of tasks that demanded creativity -- drawing aliens, brainstorming gift ideas, imagining how to escape from a tower -- telling them sometimes that they were completing the tasks for themselves and sometimes for an anonymous second student. Surprisingly, the students were more creative when they were working for unknown others.

In reporting the research, the Research Digest blog of the British Psychological Society notes the findings actually conform to an existing psychological principle called construal level theory. This theory states that the more psychological distance we have from a subject (caused by actual spatial distance, distance in time or social distance), the more abstract our thinking on the topic is likely to be. Research Digest writes:

The next time you're struggling to solve a creative problem, try solving it for someone else... we're more capable of mental novelty when thinking on behalf of strangers than for ourselves... It's been shown, for example, that greater physical and temporal distance lead us to think more abstractly, such that you're more likely to solve a problem.
This research, the study's authors conclude, should prove interesting not only to other researchers but also, "to negotiators, managers, product designers, marketers, and advertisers."

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user tanya_little, CC 2.0)
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