As more and more routine work is tasked to robots and computers, the jobs that do remain increasingly demand creative thinking. New research reports seeing or reading works of art, and briefly reflecting upon them, enhances that all-important ability.
"Appreciating art induces inspiration, which in turn facilitates performance on creative tasks," write Donghwy An and Nara Youn of South Korea's Hongik University. "Our results show that simply displaying art in the work environment could enhance employees' creative capabilities, thereby driving innovation."
In the Journal of Business Research, the Seoul-based scholars describe a series of studies. Two of them replicated previous research, finding that people who are open to aesthetic experiences "felt more inspired in their daily lives, and in turn performed better on creativity tasks." The final two applied this equation to a business context.
The first featured 94 business school undergraduates, half of whom "were asked to freely look through nine prints of artworks painted by Vincent van Gogh for three minutes." (They were told the experimenter wanted their opinion of the pieces.) The others spent that time examining "nine photographs depicting objects and landscapes analogous to those featured in the van Gogh paintings."
All were then asked to come up with creative solutions for business-related problems. Specifically, they "were asked to brainstorm ideas for a new computer keyboard," and then asked to come up with "as many creative brand names for a new kind of pasta product within three minutes."
The second study, featuring 79 business school students, was similarly structured. In this case, half of the participants read the lyrics of Bob Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind, and spent three minutes describing the thoughts and feelings the lyrics evoked. The others spent that time writing about "their typical daily lives."
They all then took part in the aforementioned pasta-naming task. In addition, they were asked to come up with innovative ways to recycle 250 cases of unneeded bubble wrap. In both studies, they were scored on how many ideas they came up with, and their level of originality.
The result: Those who gazed at the van Goghs, and those who read and contemplated the Dylan lyrics, came up with more creative ideas than their counterparts on the subsequent tests.
"These results imply that creativity induced through art may transcend domains, and transfer to workplace environments through (heightening employees') inspiration," the researchers conclude. "We suggest that firms should employ more art-related creativity training programs to increase their employees' creative problem-solving abilities, especially in the context of new product development."
A fine idea, but why not start earlier? When school administrators cut arts programs, their argument usually comes down to: We're training the workers of the future, teaching them the skills they need to succeed. Appreciating painting or poetry is nice, but it won't help them make a living.
This research provides further evidence of just how wrong they are.