Research shows that human beings are much more creative when resources are scarce, encouraging them to find new solutions to problems.
For a long time, it was believed in psychology that restrictions always imposed a great barrier against creativity. People who perform repetitive and manual work or who work for superiors who have a great deal of control have always used this argument, but this may be an incomplete view.
Columbia University psychologist Patricia Stokes conducted an experiment with rodents in 1993 in which they had to press down on a bar with their right paws. What she found was that eventually, in addition to their having to adapt to this restriction, they figured out how to press the bar in various ways with the use of their limbs. Such an event came to be called small creativity.
For Fast Company, writer Scott Sonenshein writes that the human being has a tendency to believe that creativity is something purely artistic and very abstract, but it’s really about getting everyday things done.
“It’s the manager who finds a new opportunity in the market when trying to launch a new product, it’s the designer who finds a faster way to deliver their work or even the cleaning lady thinking about how to clean the same workspace with less effort, A restriction also makes us improve our performance, it puts pressure on us.” — says the writer
Sonenshein further explains that in 2015, Ravi Metha and Meng Zhu of the University of Illinois took a survey in which they contrasted how creative people were by having abundant or extremely scarce resources.
They performed five experiments with 60 participants who were divided into two groups: one with resources and one without. The goal was to solve a problem the university was facing: there were 250 sheets of bubble wrap left over from the last renovation of the computer lab, and the two groups had to find useful ways to work with this material.
With the help of 20 judges who did not know which people belonged to each group, the result was that people who worked with scarcity of resources found much more creative ways to deal with the excess of bubble wrap. But why? Metha and Zhu concluded that creativity is a situational aspect and not an innate skill or personality trait of people.
It’s the environment and the chips we have at our disposal that make us behave in certain ways. When resources are scarce, people need to think more about ways to solve a problem, after all, they have no way out. Meanwhile, an abundance of resources can be counterproductive, as problems are more manageable and people tend to look for solutions already known in their memory, as this flexibility allows us to choose paths with less resistance to conserve mental energy. It’s pure instinct.