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Goals and creativity: it’s about making connections

Datum:12 maart 2019
Auteur:Marta Wronska
Goals and creativity: it’s about making connections
Goals and creativity: it’s about making connections

If you think about your goals in the upcoming year, how do you picture them? Do you think of them according to their importance, degree of association, or time sequence? Visualizations may help you achieve your goals more effectively. But more importantly, how you arrange your goals influences the ability to come up with a single creative solution, according to the findings published recently in Frontiers in Psychology.

How often do you find yourself saying that you are busy? Probably more often than you wish. No doubt you pursue multiple goals; you might find it hard to juggle family, hobbies, and a career. The good thing is that you are not alone – each of us values many things and faces the challenge of compromising different aspects of life. But aside from personal life, the same is true in the work context: Managing goals is difficult yet important component of organizational success. This is why managers developed different ways of visualizing professional goals.

Goal visualization involves depicting goals in a graphical form, whether on paper or on the screen, and arranging them according to some principle. In hierarchical models, goal importance is the key principle. Goals are arranged into a tree, with every goal linked to a value that drives the goal on the one hand, and a concrete action – means of achieving the goal – on the other hand. In network models, however, the associations between goals are the most important. These associations can be positive or negative, which means that goals, along with the means to these goals, may support or hinder each other. Finally, sequential goal models use time as the main principle. Goals are arranged into a timeline and concrete actions are depicted as chronological steps (for example see attachment).

The three goal models are commonly used in organizations, and they have also been found to emerge as the main three types in prior research. But apart from their influence on the goal pursuit, how do they affect other activities, for instance, creative thinking? The demand for creativity in organizations is growing, and thus, it becomes crucial to know how creativity is influenced by other workplace tasks. With this question in mind, Franki Kung and Abigail Scholer set up an experiment, in which they asked 239 students to visualize their strivings at school that helped in university success. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the three goal models conditions: network, hierarchical or sequential. They received an example of the model and were asked to create their own structures in a similar way. Next, participants performed two creativity tasks. They rewrote the story of Snow White “using their wildest imagination” (convergent creativity) and generated creative uses of a brick (divergent creativity), a task commonly used in creativity research to measure the number of ideas, their diversity, and their originality.

It turned out that participants in the network model condition wrote significantly more creative stories than participants in the two other conditions (hierarchical and sequential models). However, creating visual goal models did not influence how creative uses of the brick participants generated – they were similarly creative in the hierarchical, network and sequential model condition.

But why did the network models boost convergent creativity, that is, coming up with a reinterpretation of a classic fairy tale? The authors claim that both of these activities put a big emphasis on connecting remote ideas. Creating network goal models requires finding the connections between goals, sometimes the most distant and unexpected ones. The same process of linking unrelated concepts is necessary to give a new life to an old story. Overall, thinking about our goals and the way we pursue them makes a difference to our creative thinking. With these results in mind, managers may consider how to improve creativity in their organizations by adjusting the models of goal visualization.

Marta Wronska (m.k.wronska is a PhD candidate at the Department of Human Resource Management & Organizational Behavior, Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Groningen. Her dissertation is about motivational mechanisms involved in creativity, such as how engaging in creativity influences attentional breadth (broad or narrow lens through which people perceive the world) and what goal interrelations and creative associations have in common.


Kung, F. Y. H., & Scholer, A. A. (2018). A Network Model of Goals Boosts Convergent Creativity Performance. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1910.