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The impact of sources of inspiration on the genesis of creative ideas

Chan, Chu Sern Joel (2014) The impact of sources of inspiration on the genesis of creative ideas. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Innovation fundamentally begins with a good idea. But where do good ideas come from? Much research suggests that innovative breakthroughs are often inspired by past experience: things and ideas that one has interacted with in the world. However, the same experiences that can inspire innovation can sometimes constrain or harm innovation through focus on previously unsuccessful solutions. In this dissertation, I explore principles for guiding interactions with sources of inspiration (previous/other ideas) to maximize their benefits and minimize their pitfalls, focusing on the role of conceptual distance and diversity of sources. I analyze thousands of ideas for complex innovation challenges (e.g., increasing accessibility in elections, revitalizing struggling urban areas) posted to an online crowd-sourced innovation platform that required contributors to cite sources of ideas, tracing the impact of the distance and diversity of sources in ideas’ conceptual genealogies on their creative success (as judged by an expert panel).
In this dissertation, I make three primary contributions to the literature. First, leveraging techniques from natural language processing and machine learning, I develop a validated computational methodology for studying conceptual distance and diversity with complex design concepts, which addresses significant issues of efficiency and scalability faced in prior work. Second, I challenge the widespread but unevenly supported notion that far sources provide the best insights for creative ideation; addressing key methodological issues in prior work (time scale, statistical power, and problem variation), I show that overreliance on far sources can harm ideation success, and that good ideas can often come from very near sources. Finally, I demonstrate the potential value of incorporating a temporal dimension into analyses of the impact of sources of inspiration: I find evidence of differential impacts of source distance and diversity (viz., increased problem variation for the effect of source distance, and a more robust positive effect of source diversity) when considering sources farther back in ideas’ conceptual genealogies.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Chan, Chu Sern
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSchunn, Christian D.schunn@pitt.eduSCHUNN
Committee MemberAshley, Kevin Dashley+@pitt.eduASHLEY
Committee MemberNokes-Malach, Timothy J.nokes@pitt.eduNOKES
Committee MemberDow, Steven
Date: 17 September 2014
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 1 July 2014
Approval Date: 17 September 2014
Submission Date: 14 August 2014
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 138
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Creativity, Cognitive Science, Psychology, Problem-solving, Analogy, Design, Innovation
Date Deposited: 17 Sep 2014 20:09
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:23


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