The Elusive Benefits of Mind Wandering: How Incentive Scheme and Task Structure Facilitate Creative Incubation in a Multitask Environment

43 Pages Posted: 10 May 2019 Last revised: 25 Jul 2019

See all articles by Jeffrey Hales

Jeffrey Hales

University of Texas at Austin - Department of Accounting

Wenqian Hu

Georgia Institute of Technology - Accounting Area

Ivo Tafkov

Georgia State University

Date Written: April 18, 2019

Abstract

We use two experiments to investigate how incentive scheme and task structure influence creative incubation in a multitask environment where participants perform both creative and simple routine tasks. In our first experiment, where participants are given the discretion to switch between a creative and a routine task, we find that creativity-based incentives generate the most incubation benefits in terms of the greatest number of high-creativity ideas compared to quantity-based incentives and fixed wage. However, we find little evidence that incentive scheme itself can effectively “nudge” individuals to self-select into an incubation period. In our second experiment, we examine whether randomly assigning participants to switch between tasks can achieve the incubation benefits we observed in our first experiment. Results suggest that the performance advantage under creativity-based incentives disappears when the task environment is structured in a way that forces an incubation period. Taken together, our results suggest that employees need both the right incentives and self-insight with regard to the right switching time to gain incubation benefits in a multitask environment. Further, the simple way to impose an incubation period can backfire, as the interruption costs may outweigh the incubation benefits once the switching is forced during creative production.

Keywords: creativity, incentive scheme, multitask environment, quantity vs. quality incentive, task structure, creative incubation

Suggested Citation

Hales, Jeffrey and Hu, Wenqian and Tafkov, Ivo, The Elusive Benefits of Mind Wandering: How Incentive Scheme and Task Structure Facilitate Creative Incubation in a Multitask Environment (April 18, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3374305 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3374305

Jeffrey Hales

University of Texas at Austin - Department of Accounting ( email )

Austin, TX 78712
United States
512-471-2163 (Phone)
512-471-3907 (Fax)

Wenqian Hu

Georgia Institute of Technology - Accounting Area ( email )

800 West Peachtree St.
Atlanta, GA 30308
United States

Ivo Tafkov (Contact Author)

Georgia State University ( email )

35 Broad Street
Atlanta, GA 30303-3083
United States

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