A recent study using LEGOs implies that for adults, following careful directions to solve a well-defined problem can reduce creativity when performing subsequent tasks.
Groups were given LEGO sets and told to either build a specific thing, or to build “something” and, after that, were assigned another task, either ill or well-defined. The groups that tackled the well-defined tasks had a harder time with subsequent, ill-defined tasks, and tended to prefer well-defined task thereafter.
At first glance, the study seems to imply that, while LEGOs are good for teaching kids creative thinking, the building toy is harmful for adults. It is unlikely that this problem is solely one of LEGO, but of how adults think, especially in the workplace. As children, even when we aren’t expressly told be creative, we often “think outside the box” to solve problems because we haven’t learned rote methods to do so. As adults, however, we have had years of learning to figure out how we’re “supposed” to do something–that’s part of the goal of education, in fact.
In a work environment, adults are encouraged to follow specific guidelines in most cases, and they are even punished for not following them, which makes being creative in that environment difficult. This is essentially why progress and invention are so difficult; we develop a system that “works” and stick with it. In less rigid environments, wherein employees are given the freedom to be creative, they are more likely to do so and less likely to rely on rote method.
What the study is really saying is that we can’t have it both ways. Employers, teachers, and parents can’t demand creativity while expecting people to perform exact sequences. Creativity and ingenuity are common buzzwords in a lot of industries, but just throwing those words around doesn’t mean they’ll actually make an appearance. Creativity isn’t like Beetlejuice; you can’t just say it three times and expect it to show up. You have to let it grow naturally.