Creative Chaos

A new book shows how conflict can lead to collaboration

Creative Chaos is a new book on best practices in teaching creative collaboration to the interdisciplinary groups in the interactive entertainment graduate program at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Co-authored by Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) Director Drew Davidson and others, the book provides an overview of ETC's work to foster an inclusive environment—welcoming constructive conflict in discussions and diversity in students' disciplines, worldviews, ethnicity and gender.

ETC was founded in 1998 as a joint venture between the School of Computer Science and the College of Fine Arts. Now, it’s part of CMU's Integrative Design, Arts and Technology (IDeATe) Network. About 40 percent of first-year students in ETC have technical backgrounds, such as computer science and engineering; another 40 percent have artistic backgrounds, like graphics or visual effects. The remaining 20 percent come from industrial design, theater, creative writing, business, audio, music, communications, etc.

Mengyao Wang earned a bachelor's degree in industrial design and is working on a master's degree in entertainment technology. "In terms of my experience in industrial design, the major methodology we applied to manage conflict and achieve collaboration is using prototypes to do user tests," she tells IDSA. "I think managing conflict is quite important to achieve collaboration because each student may have different perspectives and each perspective is equally important for creativity."

Students collaborate on semester-long projects developing games, augmented reality, robotics, animation, mobile devices and location-based installations.From 2008 to 2011, Laurie Weingart, senior associate dean in the Tepper School of Business and two doctoral students, studied 60 ETC project teams to explore whether—and to what degree—more disciplinary, diverse teams created more innovative work. The study, which led to the book, found that "teams with more expertise diversity had more conflict about tasks in the form of disagreements and debates," but those disagreements ultimately led to final products that were "more innovative, useful, usable and desirable."

Specifically, Davidson says constructive conflicts—arguments that facilitate problem solving—become the "creative sparks."

"That's where the idea of creative chaos came about," she explains. “As you're working on these projects together, you're bound to have conflict because you're working with clients, faculty and people from different backgrounds…. If you manage that known conflict well, it can be constructive and additive and you end up doing better work."

Researchers also found that gender diversity contributes to more innovations since mixed gender teams often have a better exchange of ideas. Also, while teammates appear to work well together when they have some familiarity, it can be detrimental if they have too much familiarity. Now, researchers are collecting a second data set that could bolster the study's original findings or lead in a new direction. Read more in CMU News by Julianne Mattera.

Photo Courtesy: Carnegie Mellon University