Organizational Creativity: A Research Perspective

What images come to your mind when you think of organizational creativity? Fancy, colorful spaces, expensive perks, larger-than-life personalities? These are useful embellishments, but organizational creativity really is a core competence – an integral part of the DNA of an organization. It acts as a constant source of innovation. In fact, innovation happens on the bedrock of creativity. There can be no innovation without creativity. Think of the most innovative companies through history, both big and small – organizations that made a leap into the future. Think AT&T, Ford, GE, Google, Apple, Sony, Facebook. When these organizations made those giant leaps, what was happening underneath? What is it that gave them this ability to break boundaries and create new possibilities? What are the common characteristics and dynamics of these organizations when they are their creative best? What can we learn from them? There are many ways to unravel these questions. Let us look at it from a scientific perspective – what does research on the subject have to say about it?
Organizational creativity has widely been defined as the creation of a valuable, useful, new product, service, idea, procedure, or process by individuals working together in a complex social system. Various models have been proposed on organizational creativity over the last 30 years. The complex nature of creativity in organizations is discussed as a common thread in these on account of the multiple levels of factors that influence and contribute to organizational creativity. Amabile proposed a componential model of organizational creativity consisting of skills specific to the task (expertise), general/ cross-domain creativity-relevant skills (creative thinking) and task motivation. Applying this model, for creativity to occur, organizations must ensure they have people with the right expertise (domain specific skills), a workforce that has creative thinking skills and are intrinsically motivated to do the work they do.

Componential model of creativity, Amabile, 1988

Later Woodman, Sawyer and Griffin proposed an interactionist perspective on organizational creativity by extending it from an individual level. “Organizational creativity is a function of the creative outputs of its component groups and contextual influences (organizational culture, reward systems, resource constraints, the larger environment outside the system, and so on).” (Woodman et al.,1996, p.296). This view integrates the elements of personality, cognitive, and social psychology in creativity. It is based on three levels of creativity – individual, group, and organizational that have an impact on the creative process and situation, resulting in the creative product for the organization. As per this model, organizational creativity has as input certain characteristics that make individuals, groups and organization creative (e.g. cognitive abilities, group norms, reward systems). These elements interact to produce transformation through creative behavior and creative situations to finally lead to organizational creativity as the end result.

Interactionist model of organizational creativity, Woodman, Swayer & Griffin (1993)

The 4Ps of creativity remains an elegant framework to understand and work on organizational creativity. It describes the four strands of creativity as the 4 Ps – (1) person, (2) process, (3) press, (4) products.

The 4Ps of creativity, Rhodes, 1961

Much of the work in later years was built on these foundational models of organizational creativity. Ford proposed a multi-level, co-evolutionary process model, where he describes how individual’s interpretation of multiple task domains within and between levels of analysis affect their preference for habitual versus novel actions and how the introduction of novel actions affects evolution of task domains. The multi-level model of creativity focused on the dynamic and changing processes of sense-making that emerge and establish themselves because of the cross-level effects (of individual, group and organization). It examined how periodic organizational crises reframe the negotiated order of belief structures about creativity. 
While earlier research on creativity focused heavily on the individual, large part of work done on organizational creativity in the more recent years has focused on the social environment aspect and creativity as a deliberate process. The social network perspective on organizational creativity present an individual’s creative life cycle in a social setting in terms of network position. The creative change model, a systems approach to creativity, further builds on the 4 Ps and adds the element of creative change which is an outcome of the interaction of the fours strands or the 4 Ps. Recent works have also looked into the more subtle aspects like the theory of “play” and the impact and relationship of context and feelings on organizational creativity.
Organizational creativity can be thought of as a core competence that keeps the organization moving, evolving, generating, creating, innovating and re-inventing itself. It is a complex phenomenon with multiple constituents, levels and influences. The various models and frameworks discussed here give organizations an access to manage the inherent complexity of creativity so it can be practically understood and applied. Context remains supreme on determining the level and aspects of creativity that work optimal for an organization. Creativity is not a one-time exercise, but a paradigm shift in how an organization evolves and operates. 

Reference:

  • Amabile, T. M. (1983). The social psychology of creativity: A componential conceptualization. Journal of personality and social psychology45(2), 357.
  • Drazin, R., Glynn, M. A., & Kazanjian, R. K. (1999). Multilevel theorizing about creativity in organizations: A sensemaking perspective. Academy of Management Review24(2), 286-307.
  • Ford, C. M. (1996). A theory of individual creative action in multiple social domains. Academy of Management Review21(4), 1112-1142.
  • George, J. M., & Zhou, J. (2002). Understanding when bad moods foster creativity and good ones don’t: the role of context and clarity of feelings. Journal of Applied Psychology87(4), 687-697.
  • Mainemelis, C., & Ronson, S. (2006). Ideas are born in fields of play: Towards a theory of play and creativity in organizational settings. Research in Organizational Behavior27, 81-131.
  • Perry-Smith, J. E., & Shalley, C. E. (2003). The social side of creativity: A static and dynamic social network perspective. Academy of Management Review28(1), 89-106.
  • Puccio, G. J., Murdock, M. C., & Mance, M. (2005). Current developments in creative problem solving for organizations: A focus on thinking skills and styles. Korean Journal of Thinking and Problem Solving15(2), 43-76.
  • Rhodes, M. (1961). An analysis of creativity. The Phi Delta Kappan42(7), 305-310.
  • Woodman, R. W. (1981). Creativity as a construct in personality theory. The Journal of Creative Behavior15(1), 43-66.
  • Woodman, R. W., & Schoenfeldt, L. F. (1990). An Interactionist Model of Creative Behavior*. The Journal of Creative Behavior24(4), 279-290.
  • Woodman, R. W., Sawyer, J. E., & Griffin, R. W. (1993). Toward a theory of organizational creativity. Academy of management review18(2), 293-321.

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