Too Much Categorizing of Information Inhibits Creativity Interview with:
Yeun Joon Kim | Ph.D. Student

Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
Joseph L. Rotman School of Management
University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario Canada What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response:   Managers in organizations tend to emphasize the importance of organizing and clustering information so that other employees can

(1) readily find information they want and

(2) easily learn and understand the information in terms of categories. For instance, our school system categorize information by higher-order categories such as mathematics, history, English, biology, geology, and so on. Also, within the mathematics, there are several sub-categories such algebra, geometry, calculus, and so on.

In other words, people prefer hierarchical information structure. Why? That is because conceptual categories reduce complexity of memorizing information and thus facilitate our learning process. For this reason, when we learn new information, we firstly question which category the information belongs, and then initiate learning.

However, we found that for creativity such hierarchical information structure is rather detrimental. This is because the categories, which were intended to ease our learning, lock our information processing into the categories. That is, the pieces of information classified by higher-order categories reduce cognitive flexibility, which in turn decreases creativity. What should readers take away from your report?

Response:  Managers in organizations may need to create a flat information structure when they want their employees to be creative in idea generation processes. One way to create a temporary flat information structure would be asking employees to generate ideas as many as possible in the group discussion; writing down the generated ideas on the white board without categorizing them; asking them to combining the ideas to generate better ones. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: It is possible that there can be other types of information structure other than the flat vs. hierarchical information structure. It would be interesting to investigate various kinds of information structure in relation to not only creativity, but also productivity or task performance. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Yeun Joon Kim, Chen-Bo Zhong. Ideas rise from chaos: Information structure and creativity. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 2017; 138: 15 DOI: 1016/j.obhdp.2016.10.001

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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