The Primal Mark: How the Beginning Shapes the End in the Development of Creative Ideas

The Primal Mark: How the Beginning Shapes the End in the Development of Creative Ideas

Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. July
2014, Vol. 125, Issue 1, Pages 1-17

While creative ideas are defined as both novel and useful, novelty and usefulness often diverge, making it difficult to develop ideas that are high in both. To explain this tradeoff between novelty and usefulness and how it can be overcome, this paper introduces the concept of the “primal mark”—i.e., the first bit of content employees start with as they generate ideas, which anchors the trajectory of novelty and usefulness. In four experiments, participants started with primal marks that contained varying degrees of novelty. Results suggest that familiar primal marks foster usefulness at the expense of novelty, while new primal marks foster novelty at the expense of usefulness. However, the results also suggest a solution to this tradeoff: integrative primal marks that combine new and familiar content, fostering an optimal balance of novelty and usefulness. Implications for theory and research on creativity in organizations are discussed.