information from a domain one knows to another domain in which there is a problem one wants to solve (Chan, Paletz, and Schunn, 2012). Someone who wants to design a tube that can transport liquid but does not know much about possible materials to use might think about strong but flexible materials used in other contexts (e.g., Christensen and Schunn, 2007). Analogous ideas might come from within the same general domain or a completely different one, such as when materials engineers studied the way geckos’ feet allow them to adhere to vertical surfaces and adapted the mechanism to develop new adhesives. Thus, teams with members with diverse training and experiences will collectively have deeper and broader knowledge structures to rely on, Paletz explained, and thus likely be more successful problem solvers.
Paletz and her colleagues explored these processes using records of informal problem-solving conversations that took place among the more than 100 scientists who collaborated on the NASA Rover mission. The researchers coded the conversations using social and cognitive variables at the utterance, or clause level. In one analysis, they established the degree of uncertainty the speakers expressed before, during, and after considering an analogy as they solved a problem. The researchers found that the introduction of a problem-solving analogy tended to reduce uncertainty (Chan et al., 2012).
They also examined the different sorts of conflicts teams might have at the clause level: task conflicts about the matter at hand; process conflicts about scheduling, plans, priorities, and the like; and relationship conflicts, in which participants dislike one another or react negatively to another’s manner. Some conflicts have more negative emotion associated with them than others. The researchers found that the relationship between conflict and analogies is complex. The introduction of analogies from within a domain (both elements of the analogy are within the same domain) tended to spark both task and process conflicts, which may be constructive. On the other hand, process and negative conflicts, but not task-relevant conflicts, significantly preceded within-discipline analogies, but not within-domain (very close) or very distant analogies (Paletz, Schunn, and Kim, 2013).
Paletz noted that the environment can influence the sorts of conflicts that develop and whether they are mostly constructive or not. According to Paletz, “some places really encourage dissent and encourage disagreement and create what’s called psychological trust so that you can disagree without feeling like it’s going to get personal. And that’s of course where disagreement is going to be the most useful.”32
Chris Schunn, University of Pittsburgh
Chris Schunn presented his research on the creativity process in engineering design processes. His main premise is that analogies to nature or other human designs are frequently cited as major sources of innovative ideas in engineering. Schunn argued that little is known about how to efficiently find the right analogies. One complicating factor
32For more details on this research, see Chan, Paletz, and Schunn (2012); Christensen and Schunn (2007); Paletz and Schunn (2010); and Paletz, Schunn, and Kim (2013).