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The Social Science of Creativity and Research Practice: Physical Scientists, Take Notice

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The verdict is in: The methods of science can significantly enhance the effectiveness of creative teams. Just ask employers like Google and Facebook that are applying ideas from the social sciences to improve the performance of their organizations.1 Over the past few decades, social scientists, including psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists, have made important strides in developing a scientific understanding of how creative individuals and creative communities operate.2 Why not apply those insights to one of the most creative of human endeavors—the production of scientific and technological knowledge?

Sandia National Laboratories in 2013 sponsored the Art and Science of Science and Technology Forum and Roundtable,3 which all three of us participated in and Tsao and Narayanamurti co-organized along with Greg Feist of San Jose State University. This forum and roundtable brought together distinguished practitioners of research in the physical sciences with experts in the social science of creativity and research. The meeting was a robust exchange of ideas, with much learning and teaching on both sides. The overriding sense at its conclusion, and the main message of this essay, is that it is time for physical scientists to take seriously the idea that their research practices can be improved through systematic application of the emerging social science of creativity and research and the study of the institutional cultures that nurture them....

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1. See, for example, L. Bock, Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead, Twelve (2015).

2. See, for example, G. J. Feist, The Psychology of Science and the Origins of the Scientific Mind, Yale U. Press (2008); R. K. Sawyer, Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, 2nd ed., Oxford U. Press (2012); S. Sismondo, An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies, 2nd ed., Wiley-Blackwell (2010).

3. J. Y. Tsao et al., Art and Science of Science and Technology: Proceedings of the Forum and Roundtable, Sandia National Laboratories and Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (2013).

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For Academic Citation: Odumosu, Toluwalogo, Jeffrey Y. Tsao, and Venkatesh Narayanamurti.“The Social Science of Creativity and Research Practice: Physical Scientists, Take Notice.” Physics Today, November 2015.

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