Spaces for Creativity: Unconventional Workspaces and Divergent Thinking
42 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2022
Date Written: July 25, 2022
In recent years, companies have been experimenting with unconventional workspace designs to promote creativity among their employees. However, empirical evidence on the effect of unconventional workspaces on creativity has been lacking. We study this effect by examining the causal relationship between unconventional workspaces and individual divergent thinking performance in a controlled experiment setting. Across three studies with 855 participants, we found, contrary to our initial expectation, that unconventional workspaces did not always facilitate divergent thinking and were even harmful to it under certain conditions. In particular, we found that solving a creative challenge in an unconventional workspace was detrimental to divergent thinking when salient features of the workspace were related to the creative task at hand, which otherwise would anchor the respondents into solution paths that would limit their divergent thinking. Hence, the positive effect of unconventional workspaces on divergent thinking was significant only when the creative task was unrelated to features of the workspace. We also found that the unfamiliar and atypical nature of the space (relative to the usual workspaces the respondents worked in) mediated the positive effect of unconventional workspaces on divergent thinking. Importantly, we were able to replicate the effect of physical workspaces in an online setting, which implies that divergent thinking can be facilitated in virtual work environments as well. This study contributes to the behavioral operations and organization design literatures by not only empirically establishing the causal effect of unconventional workspaces on divergent thinking, but also offering important boundary conditions to such an effect.
Keywords: Creativity, Divergent Thinking, Behavioral Operations, Workspace Design, Organization Design
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