Marit Gundersen Engeset from Norway's Buskerud and Vestfold University College gave some of the subjects in her study step-by-step instructions on how to build a Lego structure, while others were allowed to build whatever they pleased.
Those who were left to their own creative whims were found to be better able to solve subsequent creative tasks that those who had been given instructions.
“There are a lot of studies that explore what enhances creativity. Ours is one of the few that considers ways in which creativity may be undermined,” Engeset and her co-author C. Page Moreau from the University of Wisconsin, wrote in their paper, which was published in the Journal of Marketing Research.
“What we find is that a well-defined problem — in our case, following an explicit set of instructions to build something with Legos — can actually hamper creativity in solving future problems.”
Lego has long claimed that its bricks foster creativity in children, although parents increasing complain that the sets are reducing the scope of imagination, with more and more kits coming with specific instructions.
In their article, The Downstream Consequences of Problem-Solving Mindsets: How Playing with Legos Influences Creativity, Engeset and Moreau compare building a Lego structure to instructions to Googling a solution to a problem rather than retrieving information from memory.
“Managers and policymakers should become more aware of the way in which things like routine tasks can make an employee ill-suited for creative work and how standardised testing, by encouraging the use of well-defined problems, can hamper imaginative thinking.”