Brain power

How structured information can diminish creativity

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

In many ways, we are creatures of structure, and whilst much of the time this can be fantastically valuable, a recent study1 reminds us that it can have a damaging impact on our creativity.

The paper, from researchers at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, gives a particular focus to how we structure information within our organizations. It challenges the notion that structured, organized information is a good thing, despite the increased ease with which such information can be used.

“A hierarchically organized information structure may also have a dark side,” the authors warn.

The dark side of structured information

Across a series of experiments, the researchers found that participants showed lower creativity levels when asked to work with information that was tightly categorized than they did when asked to work with messier data. What’s more, those in the structured group also spent less time on the task than their unstructured peers, which with perseverance a key characteristic of creativity, it is another worrying sign.

So what are the implications of the findings? The authors suggest that leaders of multi-disciplinary teams should be particularly interested, as such teams often struggle to innovate. The authors believe a major stumbling block for such teams is their tendency to continue organizing information and ideas according to the norms of their function or area or expertise.

“We suggest people put their ideas randomly on a white board and then think about some of their connections,” they say. Our tendency to categorize information rather than efficiency itself is what those working in creative industries need to be most on guard about, the researchers say.

Article source: How structured information can diminish creativity.

Header image source: Adapted from IMG_20121004_103630 by Karolina van Schrojenstein Lantman – Orlinska, which is licensed by CC BY 2.0.


  1. Kim, Y. J., & Zhong, C. B. (2017). Ideas rise from chaos: Information structure and creativity. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 138, 15-27.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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