M.Sc Thesis

M.Sc StudentRonen Ori
SubjectTake Your Time, Structure the Problem: How and When
Worktime and Problem Structuring Affect Creativity
DepartmentDepartment of Industrial Engineering and Management
Supervisors PROFESSOR EMERITUS Miriam Erez
PROFESSOR EMERITUS Gabriela Goldschmidt
Full Thesis textFull thesis text - English Version


Creativity research focuses on problem solving and its effect(s) on the outcome’s novelty and usefulness. However, creative processes and problem structuring are often overlooked, ‘structuring’ being a self-interpretation of a problem while solving it. This study aims to deepen the understanding of problem structuring from two perspectives - design research and organizational psychology. Specifically, this study explores how problem structuring affects the outcome’s creativity in the context of two problem types: open or closed problem presentation, and novelty or usefulness focus problems. In addition, Kruglanski’s ‘need for cognitive closure’ (NFCC) - one’s sense of urgency to reach a solution, is considered.

An experimental study of a 2X2 factorial design served to test the hypotheses. Participants were advanced students and architects (N=48) who completed a preliminary design task under one of four conditions: open/closed presentation, and novelty/usefulness focus. NFCC was self-reported. Naïve experts followed specified criteria to assess problem structuring from video protocols, and creativity according to participants’ sketches.

We hypothesized that problem types interact with the problem solver’s NFCC to indirectly affect creativity through problem structuring. Accordingly, higher problem structuring was expected for novelty-open problems, when NFCC is low. Lower levels of problem structuring were anticipated for either closed or usefulness focus problems, or for individuals whose NFCC is high. Furthermore, an inverse U curvilinear relationship was expected between problem structuring and creativity, where extreme levels of problem structuring hinder creativity.

The results partially support our hypotheses, such that the outcomes’ novelty and usefulness were positively affected by problem structuring. An unanticipated positive effect of worktime on novelty through problem structuring was revealed for individuals whose NFCC was low, but not for those whose NFCC was high. Novelty focus problems positively affected outcomes' novelty for an open presentation but not for a closed one. Finally, problem structuring positively affected the outcome’s usefulness under the usefulness-open problem condition, but not under the novelty focus or the closed presentation conditions. An analysis of participants' answers to open debriefing questions supports the worktime and problem structuring positive relationship. This analysis demonstrates how individuals who work a longer time refer more to problem related issues, and how these issues serve as motivators for them. Moreover, the answers support the positive effect of problem structuring on the outcome's novelty, as individuals whose proposals were more novel tended to report problem related issues as motivators, more than those whose proposals were less novel.

The results of the present study highlight a number of important contributions. First, they show the conditional indirect effect of problem structuring on the creativity of the outcome. Second, the effect of the three-way interaction between open/closed problem presentation, novelty/usefulness problem focus, and problem structuring on the outcome’s usefulness is revealed. Third, the moderating effect of personal traits on problem structuring and the outcome’s novelty relationship is studied. Fourth, this study shows how problem presentation moderates the relationship between problem focus and the outcome's novelty.