The psychology of novelty-seeking, creativity and innovation: Neurocognitive aspects within a work-psychological perspective

Schweizer, S. T. 2006. The psychology of novelty-seeking, creativity and innovation: Neurocognitive aspects within a work-psychological perspective. Creativity and Innovation Management. Vol. 15, n. 2. pp. 164-172.

From a neuropsychological point of view, highly novelty-seeking individuals and above-average novelty-finders can be identified by particular sets of neurocognitive traits and styles of thinking that also require specific work conditions.

A heritable bias in the activation or initiation of behavior such as frequent exploratory activity in response to novelty which belongs to automatic, pre-conceptual responses to perceptual stimuli presumably reflecting heritable biases in information processing.

Novelty-seeking behaviour
Related to individual differences in specific neurotransmitter activity in the brain.

Highly novelty-seeking individuals are at a higher risk of falling prey to particular patterns of psychological dysfunctioning, most notably attention deficits and addictive behaviours that may also influence their social interaction patterns in professional environments.

A particular kind of response style (MacKinnon, 1962)

Activities of problem seeking, problem-finding and problem solving (Getzels & Csikszentmihaly, 1975;Kasperson, 1978).

In order to find something new, focused attention is necessary, but also the defocusing of attention: creative thinking involves intuitive leaps, which are facilitated by states of unfocused relaxation, low levels of cortical and frontal-lobe activation and more right than left hemisphere activation (Martindale, 1999).

Associative capabilities (Mednick, 1962), especially between remotely associated items, have long been identified as a key cognitive marker of creativity.

Latent inhibition
A tendency to have – put simply – many things on your mind at the same time

Latent inhibition is another key to creative cognition: low latent inhibition is linked with higher creative achievement. Low LI individuals continuously experience a higher number of stimuli simultaneously because they ignore less than those with average or high LI scores.

Personality and social psychological views on creativity and innovation

Personality traits that are widely accepted as supporting creativity are:

  • judgemental autonomy
  • self-confidence
  • risk-taking
  • non-conformity
  • independence
  • a critical attitude towards norms

Diversive curiosity
Includes the seeking of novelty or complexity driven by a state of boredom

Epistemic curiosity
Driven by the need to resolve uncertainty concerning perceptual or symbolic representation

Within Zuckerman’s sensation seeking trait two dimensions are of particular interest:

Experience seeking
The seeking of novel sensations and experiences through the mind and senses, as in arousing music, art, and travel, and through social nonconformity, as in association with groups on the fringes of conventional society (e.g. artists).

Boredom susceptibility
Represents an intolerance for repetitive experience of any kind, including routine work, and boring people.

Openness has been found to be related to trait creativity, creative personality, creative achievement and cultural innovation.

Novelty-seeking and creative activities can be influenced by the social environment in which they take place.

An innovation is not ‘something new’, but more appropriately referred to as ‘something that isjudged as new’, thus a label resulting from a social comparison and judgment process – a label that can disappear from the product again, for instance if it enters another environment in which social judges do not consider this product as new.

Introducing the novelty generation model on novelty-seeking, creativity and innovative performance

The phases of creativity (Wallas, 1962):

  • Preparation: when individuals direct their attention to a particular topic and gather information within themselves and their environment
  • Incubation: in which conscious work stops and attention is directed to other things, while unconsciously the creative process continues
  • Illumination: the moment when new insight suddenly comes to mind
  • Verification: in which logical and rational thought comes in again to turn the new insight into something apparent to others

Novelty generation model

  1. Process of novelty-seeking: the first component in the onset of the whole novelty generation process
  2. Creativity as a second component consisting of two main processes:
    1. Novelty-finding
    2. Production of the novelty
  3. Innovative performance: in which a product is presented to a wider social environment.

The process of novelty generation is not necessarily as linear as the NGM’s ideal-typical framing of the novelty generation process depicts.

It clearly treats creativity as only one component within the wider process of novelty generation. It also pays attention to the neurocognitive/neuropsychological traits supporting it.

It is not the highly above-average novelty-seeking personality, but rather a personality marked by slightly above average novelty-seeking scores that provides the optimal basis for the novelty generation process.

Practical implications of the NGM for creative work environments

The interaction between creative staff on the one hand and operational staff on the other often becomes a key management issue. This can also include interactions between departments or business units. R&D departments are an example of units to which the generation of novelties is central.

In departments and professions where novelty generation is not the essential task creativity also increasingly plays a role.

The NGM is meant to represent the basis for a toolbox that can be used by two particular groups of professionals:

  • Those who directly operate in creative work environments
  • The group of individuals who take more facilitative roles, for instance as support staff for creative staff, or who are involved in personnel selection or human resource management in the widest sense

Those who operate in creative environments

  • Where are my strengths and weaknesses within the whole process of generating a novelty:
    • in the seeking of novelties?
    • in finding them?
    • in transforming my findings into products?
  • How am I doing when it comes to finding public recognition for my products?
  • Can I get really excited about things?
  • Do I get easily bored?
  • Do I take pleasure in thinking about things in unusual ways?
  • Can I step back from a problem and let its solution come up in me in a relaxed mode?
  • Do I have a tendency to jump to new projects without finishing them?
  • Do I feel confident about my own creativity?
  • Do I like to present my ideas and my work inpublic or do I have a tendency to keep my ideas to myself?
  • What motivates me to generate novelties?
  • Am I genuinely enthusiastic about my work?
  • How important is it for me to produce something and see for myself that Ican do it?
  • To what degree am I concerned with what others will think about it?
  • How important is it for me to get the public recognition of others for it?
  • Where are the links in my novelty generation processes that could be improved?
  • What kinds of training could help me to better handle myself in the critical switches of the process?
  • Do I receive the social support I need for seeking and finding novelties, producing them and presenting them to others?
  • Can I accept support from others at all?
  • What are the main sources of support I draw on?
  • Do I experience a sense of wellbeing in my work environment?

The support functions

  • Creative staff selection. Have a rather limited set of criteria for the decision-making process concerning the selection of new staff for creative positions. Screening for the neurocognitive and personality markers that support work inthe different components of the NGM can facilitate the decision-making process.
  • Training creative staff. For existing staff an identification of the individuals’ personality and neurocognitive strengths as well as deficits affecting the novelty generation process would be a worthwhile HRM policy.
  • Managing addictive behaviours in workplaces. According to recent research in the neurosciences and neuropsychology, neural pathways can be trained in order to achieve effects that are able to substitute for the effects of nicotine and alcohol. Stimulating the training and use of these alternatives during work hours could help employees maintain good productivity within a drug-wise restricted environment.
  • Detecting compensatory behaviours.
  • Composition of work teams. Whereas neurocognitively more rigid team members can provide good structure to the overall process,they often respond less constructively in drastically changed situations and under extreme time-pressure. In contrast, team members with more flexible cognitive styles of thinking may be more able to shift between different cognitive sets, which makes them more likely to respond in a constructive way to the changed situation, seeking out new opportunities and thereby realizing creative potential in such disruptive situations. Joined in a team, differentsets of capabilities further the novelty generation process at different points in time.
  • Handling employees’ stress, fatigue and absence records. The identification and dissolution of such distortions in the working process form an important part of managing the well-being and productivity of employees.
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