LEGO Kit Instructions vs. Creativity

Garth Sundem, for GeekDad:

Basically, is the shift toward kit- rather than free-building creating a generation of sheep-brained automatons, suited only to Laverne-and-Shirley-like assembly line work rather than to the creation of new and novel ideas? (Not to be, you know, alarmist or anything…)

This was the question Page Moreau of the Wisconsin School of Business and Marit Gundersen Engeset of Buskerud and Vestfold University in Kongsberg, Norway, brought to the lab (with the paper just accepted at the Journal of Marketing Research): does following LEGO instructions make you less creative? They frame the question in terms of mindsets–“Recent research on mindsets has demonstrated that an individual’s behavior or thought processes in one situation can influence their thoughts and behaviors in later, unrelated tasks,” they write.


Now let’s get to the science. In a first experiment, Moreau and Engeset stuck 136 undergrads in the lab, had them free-build or kit-build with LEGOs, and then measured their performance on well-defined and ill-defined problems. Specifically, after building they had them solve 25 analogies (well-defined, with set rules and each with only one correct answer) or draw and title small doodles, starting with a couple squiggles to spark the imagination (ill-defined, with almost no rules and infinite “answers”).

Here’s how they describe the results: “Participants tackling the well-defined problem [kit building] received a lower creativity score than those solving the ill-defined problem [free building] … participants in the well-defined condition scored lower on both originality and abstractness than their counterparts in the ill-defined condition.”

This kind of thing fascinates me. I was always more interested in so-called “free building” than in “kit building.” Any instruction manuals were always pushed aside — I didn’t want to build someone else’s model to spec. I preferred to explore.