Dissertation Defense by Leslie Hennessy

Date and Time

Monday, March 24, 2014 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.


Mother Rosalie Hill Hall, 201

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110






     This research study explored how eight individuals recognized for their creativity activate, develop, express, and sustain their creativity through decision making. The individuals were MacArthur Fellowship award winners. This prestigious fellowship is given to individuals who the MacArthur Foundation considers to be high-achieving and highly innovative individuals. The Fellowship recipients in this study were affiliated with either nonprofit or for-profit organizations, and all were founders of their respective organizations.

     The specific goals of the research were to: (1) understand the details of participant decision making strategies and processes; (2) investigate if participants demonstrate consistent or different decision making strategies across the sample and across different decision making contexts; (3) compare the strategies and processes of participants with the established theories of decision making; and (4) understand how the creative thinkers activate, develop, express, and sustain their creativity in their pursuit of novel outcomes.

     This was a qualitative study that employed face-to-face interviewing as the primary data collection method. Participants were chosen using a purposeful sampling technique in which potential participants were stratified by gender, age, and organizational type and then randomly selected from each category. Interviewees came from different regions of the United States and worked in a range of fields including physics, agriculture, computer technology, human rights, conservation, pharmaceuticals, environmental policy, and music. An interview guide was employed to give interviews structure and maximize the busy interviewees’ time. Interviews lasted approximately 60 minutes. Interview data were organized into single case studies built around constructs that surfaced during a review of the literature on both decision making and creativity. A cross-case analysis was also conducted.

     The results of the study supported existing theories of decision making, though these theories are relatively abstract and this study presents richer—what anthropologist Clifford Geertz would call thicker—descriptions of the decision making process than one can find in the more abstract theoretical literature. As a consequence, this study should be useful to those who want to emulate individuals who have been publicly recognized for their creativity and for successfully making decisions in areas where well-established decision making pathways do not exist.


**Free for USD faculty and graduate students only**