Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Introduction to Creativity: Creative Thought through Conceptual Expansion

Creativity is described as comprising of two properties, 1) a novel or original creative product, 2) that is useful or practical. [1] Since creativity, or the generation of new ideas, is at the heart of the entrepreneurial spirit the attention that is paid to this domain cannot be understated.[2] Researcher Thomas Ward has developed a creative cognition approach which seeks to delineate the conceptual properties and structures that underlie the creative process. [3]

Conceptual Expansion
Conceptual Expansion is a common form of creative behavior. [4] Conceptual expansion is “the generation of novel instances of familiar conceptual domains.” [5] When one uses conceptual expansion for creative accomplishments they access “highly specific examples of solutions to earlier problems and pattern new solutions directly after them.”[6] Therefore this form of creative behavior is not the dramatic leaps of insights we normally think of. Instead, conceptual expansion indicates more ordinary (as opposed to revolutionary) creative accomplishments.[7] Nevertheless, they represent creative behavior in the most basic of forms by creating a novel (though derivative) product that is useful or practical.[8]

Role of Specific Exemplars
As mentioned above, a typical form of creative behavior occurs by accessing common exemplars of earlier knowledge and then expanding on that to create a new and useful product. As Ward, Patterson, Sifonis put it,

When people develop new ideas for a particular domain, the predominant tendency is to retrieve fairly specific, basic level exemplars from that domain, select one or more of those retrieved instances as a starting point, and project many of the stored properties of the instances onto the novel ideas being developed.[9]

Using highly specific exemplars as a starting point for creative products has the strength of providing rapid solutions.[10] However, a common weakness of this strategy is that the new product may be constrained by unnecessary properties of the specific exemplars that dampen the creation’s originality or usefulness. [11]

Real Life Examples of Conceptual Expansion
Two infamous examples of this downside to conceptual expansion are illustrated by the invention of passenger railcars and the audio C.D.[12] First, when the passenger railcar was conceived they were modeled after the horse-drawn carriage. Horse-drawn carriages necessitated the conductor to be on the outside of the stagecoach. However, there was no such functional requirement for trains. Nevertheless, the new creative product ended up being constrained by the unnecessary property (conductor being outside the stagecoach) of the specific exemplar (here horse-drawn carriage). As a result many needless deaths occurs by conductors falling off until eventually they were modeled to situate the conductor’s position inside the train as we are now accustomed to.

Lastly, Sony initially delayed research into the audio C.D. because they thought 18 hours of music was commercial nonviable. This is because they used the LP record as a starting point for modeling the audio C.D. and thus were fixated on only a 12-inch diameter device. They did not yet conceive that they may merely produce a product smaller in diameter with a shorter, more commercially viable audio capacity.

For my next blog post on Creativity, we can discuss how framing solutions through greater levels of abstraction instead of specific exemplars may provide for more original and useful creations.

[1] Thomas B. Ward, Creative Cognition as a Window on Creativity, Methods (2007), 28.
[2] Thmoas B. Ward, Cognition, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship, Journal of Business Venturing 19.2 (2004), 173.
[3] See Ward, supra note 1.
[5] Id.
[6] See Ward, supra note 1, at 30.
[7] Id.
[8] See Ward, supra note 4.
[9] Id. at 2.
[10]See Ward, supra note 1
[12] Id.

No comments:

Post a Comment