טכניון מכון טכנולוגי לישראל
הטכניון מכון טכנולוגי לישראל - בית הספר ללימודי מוסמכים  
M.Sc Thesis
M.Sc StudentEliav Emuna
SubjectThe Effect of Frequent Interruptions on
Creative Problem Solving
DepartmentDepartment of Industrial Engineering and Management
Supervisor Professor Ella Miron-Spektor
Full Thesis textFull thesis text - English Version


Abstract

As work becomes increasingly dynamic and technology based, organizations depend on creative ideas from employees. Technological developments also increase the frequency of interruptions at work (e.g., emails, phone calls, chats). The current research examines the effect of interruptions on individuals’ creative problem-solving. We contrast two lines of research with seemingly contradictory findings. Research on frequent interruptions documented negative effects on performance in analytic and memory tasks. In contrast, incubation research documented positive effects of a single interruption on performance in creativity tasks. To reconcile these seemingly inconsistent findings, we examined the effect of frequent interruptions, a single continuous interruption and no interruption on creativity. In addition, we examined personal and task characteristics that shape the effect of interruptions on creativity. We suggested that the effect of interruptions depends on whether the task requires divergent or convergent thinking, and on individuals’ preference for multitasking (i.e., polychronicity).

We tested our predictions in two studies. In Study 1 (n = 75), interruption conditions reduced attention focus but did not affect performance in a creativity task that requires convergent thinking (i.e., insight). In Study 2 (n = 61) we used the same interruption conditions and tested the effect of interruptions on creative performance in both convergent and divergent thinking tasks. In addition, we assessed the participants’ polychronicity and tested its moderating effect. In line with our prediction, single and frequent interruptions increased creativity in a creativity task that requires divergent thinking. Participants in single and frequent interruptions conditions performed significantly better in the idea generation task compared to those in the no interruption condition, with no significant difference in the creativity of participants in the frequent and single interruption conditions. Similar to Study 1, creative performance in the convergent thinking task was not affected by the interruption conditions. A further examination of the moderation effect of polychronicity revealed that frequent interruptions improved the creativity of individuals with a polychronic orientation, but hindered the creativity of those with a monochronic orientation.

This study makes several theoretical and practical contributions. Although frequent interruptions are prevalent at work, little is known about the effect of frequent interruptions on the ability of individuals to generate creative solutions. We extend research on frequent interruptions to tasks that require creative and divergent thinking. We also show that previous findings in the incubation literature can be generalized to multiple interruptions in a given task.  Furthermore, we show that the effect of interruptions on creativity depends on individuals' preference to engage in multiple tasks simultaneously.