The Steps of Creativity - Early Crowd sourcing and Prototyping

In this interesting paper from Stanford, researchers found that adults asked to perform a creative task (drawing) did better if they were exposed to examples early in their approach to the task.

Over-all, the use of examples tended to increase conformity (decreasing creativity or reducing novel responses), but this creativity-deadening effect was more evident if examples were given late in individuals' work on a project.

Early examples had a stimulating effect on creativity, increasing subjects' openness to possibilities, increasing the numbers of novel prototypes or drafts.


"One possible explanation for these effects is that early exposure to examples aids the designer in understanding the scope of acceptable solutions to a problem, and helps form an initial representation of the creative concept (Heit, 1992). Prototyping results in subsequent abstraction and refinement of the initial representation (Lim et al., 2008). Without initial exposure to examples, the refined representation may dif fer widely from the one embodied in examples, which would make it harder to map concepts from the example to one’s own representation. When exposure is only for a short duration (90s in our experiment), it is possible that only concepts with high enough activation, such as critical features in our experiment, are transferred (motivated by Boroditsky, 2007). Another counter-intuitive experimental result is that repeated exposure to the same examples led to higher creative quality. This may also be explained by a seeding-and-transfer account. Initial exposure to examples prevents the refined representation formed by prototyping from diverging greatly from the one embodied in the examples. This refined yet similar representation would then allow the designer to learn different concepts on re-exposure to the same example. In essence, the crucial ingredient that allows repeated exposure to improve creativity might be the prototyping that occurs between exposures."

Prototyping and exposure to outside ideas is a recurrent theme among successful entrepreneurs.  "Act now and learn new things." 

The lessons of these two articles are really hitting home the past few weeks. Our teens have been doing the new beta Stanford Human-Computer Interaction course through Coursera has been keeping them busy. The first week they thought was a snap when they were asked to brainstorm a possible new business application. Then it turned to shock when they realized they should design a prototype and load it onto a website. They're learning more about Flash Catalyst than I ever would ever have thought possible. How much less they would have learned if their classroom work was confined to 'thinking' and not 'doing'. Learning by leaps.

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  1. Can you please correct the link to the original research? It's a bad link. Thanks!

  2. Just changed it - hope it works now. The work is by Scott Klemmer:

    Early and repeated exposure to examples improves creative work. It's now linked through his course site - so even this link may change from time to time. Usually you can find the articles through the author's faculty member site. I'll try to remember to cite the author in the future - just in case the links change!

  3. Feedforward vs. Feedback. Fascinating. Thanks for the research link!

    It jives with concepts of cognitive apprenticeship. The scaffolding curve is a bit more tentative, but it seems to me the modeling phase sets a frame of expectation, reducing processes of friction and narrowing the field to prevent the need for covert trial and error.

  4. He keeps changing the site. Just search Google Scott Klemmer, early repeated exposure and look for the latest link. Today it's here:

    The authors are Kulkarni, Dow, Klemmer and the article title is: Early and Repeated Exposure to Examples Improves Creative Work.