The importance of creativity cannot be underestimated in today's competitive marketplace. For many organizations, the ability of their employees to generate new and useful ideas is critical to their survival. A relatively recent range of tools designed to increase and improve an individual's creative performance are the computer-based creativity tools known as creativity support software (CSS). While substantial anecdotal evidence regarding effective CSS use exists, and the popularity of these tools continues to increase, academic research has provided little empirical support for the value of CSS tools in creativity enhancement. This thesis seeks to provide valuable insight as to the puzzling findings of prior CSS studies, to build upon those studies, and to provide meaningful direction for future CSS research efforts.
The research approach taken and detailed in this thesis is interpretive and exploratory. An effort was made to understand CSS use in its context and to use this understanding to explain the perplexing results of prior CSS research and to identify potential missing variables. To this end, five individuals highly knowledgeable about CSS use were selected to participate in semi-structured experience surveys. The questions asked of participants during the interviews were intended to address five pre-specified research questions related to the types of persons best suited to CSS use, the types of problems best suited to CSS use, which phases of the creative process CSS use best supports, the relationship between incubation and CSS use, and the presence of other critical unanticipated factors.
The results of this research revealed several potential ways in which a CSS can "add value" to an individual's creative performance. First, CSS use appears to at least partially compensate for some personal traits that are conducive to creativity but lacking within an individual. Where the salience of such inhibiting factors can be decreased by virtue of CSS use, system use may have a positive impact upon creative performance. Second, a CSS can provide excursionary diversions seemingly unrelated to the task at hand that may serve to assist the user in breaking out of their established patterns of thinking. These set-breaking thought patterns expand the foundation for creative ideas. Third, repeated CSS use may "retrain" a user's thought patterns, thereby allowing the user to engage in more set-breaking thought patterns with or without the help of the CSS. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, CSS use may add value in complex conceptual problem-solving by helping the user store and process information, thereby reducing the perceived complexity of the problem.
Finally, several recommendations for future CSS research design are suggested and a theoretical model of the relationship between CSS use and creative performance is proposed. This theoretical model is intended to form the basis of future empirical research.