LEGO is great for unleashing your imagination, but recent studies suggest following LEGO kit instructions can actually hurt creativity.
Photo by HJ Media Studios
Researchers from the Wisconsin School of Business and Buskerud and Vestfold University in Norway tested over 130 undergraduate students' creativity scores after either free-building or kit-building with LEGO. Those who followed the LEGO kit instructions did worse at solving "ill-defined" problems (those with no rules and infinite possible answers) than their counterparts. Additionally, even looking at a picture of a finished LEGO kit hampered the subjects' ability to come up with original answers in later creativity tests.
Psychology Today explains that these findings, according to the researchers, go beyond using LEGO creatively or not:
"Rather than using a map along with trial-and-error to find our next destination, we can now ask Siri to guide us seamlessly to that location; instead of following an Italian recipe, we can now sauté a Bertolli ready-to-cook frozen meal for dinner, and instead of struggling to retrieve an answer to a question from our memory, we can instantaneously Google the information. The marketplace essentially offers more products that engage us in well-defined problem-solving. The goal of this paper is to better understand the downstream consequences of engaging in this type of behaviour," [researchers Moreau and Engeset] write.
If you take these experiments at face value, the "better understanding" of this research is that the more we are confronted by and complete well-defined problems like LEGO kits or word finds or colour-in-the-lines pictures, the less we choose to engage in and the worse we are at solving ill-defined problems: create something beautiful, discover something meaningful, find someone to love.
In other words, if you have a creative task coming up and need to think outside of the box, prime yourself by avoiding well-defined problem-solving tasks (things that come with instructions or set outcomes). Forget the manual and go build freely.
The Downstream Consequences of Problem-Solving Mindsets: How Playing with LEGOs Influences Creativity [Journals of Marketing Research, American Marketing Association via Psychology Today]