Skip to main content

‘Some scholars believe that playing with Lego bricks helps kids, and even adults, train creativity skills. Our research suggests that is probably right,’ PhD candidate Yeun Joon Kim of Rotman says.

Alamy

The Globe's latest report on research from business schools.

Lego lovers know the colourful little toy bricks have a myriad of uses, from building simple houses to full-scale cars and functioning prosthetic legs.

But could Lego be applicable to business school research, too? Yeun Joon Kim, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, certainly thinks so.

Story continues below advertisement

Working with Chen-Bo Zheng, a Rotman associate professor of organizational behaviour and human resource management, Mr. Kim recently used the toy blocks in a study exploring the relationship between information structure and creativity.

Specifically, the researchers were looking to test Mr. Kim's hypothesis that "ideas rise from chaos" – also the title of their paper, published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

"Some scholars believe that playing with Lego bricks helps kids, and even adults, train creativity skills. Our research suggests that is probably right," says Mr. Kim in an e-mail interview.

The idea behind the research sprang from Mr. Kim's personal experience. A former software engineer with Samsung Electronics, he found that the job of processing information (in this case software coding schemes for various cellphone models) was made easier and more efficient if it was presented in a well-organized manner (such as manuals or set specifications).

However, when he was tasked with processing information that had no hierarchical order, he found that he was better able to "think outside the box" and develop innovative ways of doing business.

"I read most of the information in random order and found that it slowed my learning, but increased my capability of combining information," he says.

Mr. Kim and Dr. Zheng ran a series of experiments to test the theory. In two, participants were given a group of nouns that were either organized into neat categories or not, and then told to make as many sentences with the words as possible.

Story continues below advertisement

In a third experiment, participants were asked to craft an alien out of a box of Lego bricks. The box was either organized by colour and shape or filled with random pieces.

The researchers concluded, based on the experiment results, that when presented with organized information, people are less creative and cognitive flexible than those working in random order. The people working with organized information also spent less time on their tasks, suggesting reduced persistence (considered an important ingredient in creative thought).

For employers, particularly those looking to stimulate new ideas within an organization, the study highlights an important lesson, says Mr. Kim. It's not a bad idea to organize information, "because employees, particularly newcomers, should learn organizational information and knowledge." But there is a dark side to that structure.

To stir up innovation, Mr. Kim suggests asking staff to come up with ideas on a certain issue. Those ideas can then be written on a whiteboard as they come up, with the group later encouraged to search collectively for ways to combine the information, stimulating discussion and creative thought.

Story ideas related to business school research in Canada can be sent to darahhansen@yahoo.ca.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter