Assessing the Work Environment for Creativity

Amabile et al. 1996. Assessing the Work Environment for Creativity. Academy of Management Journal. Vol 39, n. 5, pp. 1154-1184.

We assume that the social environment can influence both the level and the frequency of creative behavior.

The production of novel and useful ideas in any domain.

The successful implementation of creative ideas withinan organization.

Creativity by individuals and teams is a starting point for innovation; the first is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the second.

Creativity is the seed of all innovation, and psychological perceptions of innovation within an organization are likely to impact the motivation to generate new ideas.

Related theories

Broad organizational factors

  1. Organizational motivation to innovate: basic orientation of the organization toward innovation, as well as supports for creativity and innovation throughout the organization.
  2. Resources: everything that the organization has available to aid work in a domain targeted for innovation
  3. Management practices: allowance of freedom or autonomy in the conduct of work, provision of challenging, interesting work, specification of clear overall strategic goals, and formation of work teams by drawing together individuals with diverse skills and perspectives.

Work environment inputs

  1. Group characteristics are the norms, group cohesiveness, size, diversity, roles, task characteristics, and problem-solving approaches used in the group.
  2. Organizational characteristics consist of organizational culture, resources, rewards, strategy, structure, and focus on technology.

Issues in the assessment of organizations

Some aspects of an organization’s environment can be considered homogeneous, other aspects can differ considerably across subgroups within the organization.

The success or failure of a work team depends greatly upon the context or environment of the group, which is fashioned, in large part, by “the design and designer of the group”.

Subunits of a given organization can vary significantly in their effectiveness, their daily functioning, and the reactions that employees have to working within them.

Conceptual model

Encouragement of creativity

Organizational encouragement

  1. Encouragement of risk taking and of idea generation, a valuing of innovation from the highest to the lowest levels of management
  2. Fair, supportive evaluation of new ideas
  3. Reward and recognition of creativity
  4. Collaborative idea flow across an organization and participative management and decision making

Supervisory encouragement

  1. Goal clarity
  2. Open interactions between supervisor and subordinate
  3. Supervisory support of a team’s work and idea

Work group encouragement

Encouragement of creativity can occur within a work group itself, through diversityin team members’ backgrounds, mutual openness to ideas, constructive challenging of ideas, and shared commitment to the project.


Creativity is fostered when individuals and teams have relatively high autonomy in the day-to-day conduct of the work and a sense of ownership and control over their own work and their own ideas.


Aside from the obvious practical limitations that extreme resource restrictions place on what people can accomplish in their work, perceptions of the adequacy of resources may affect people psychologically by leading to beliefs about the intrinsic value of the projects that they have undertaken.


Although workload pressures that were considered extreme could undermine creativity, some degree of pressure could have a positive influence if it was perceived as arising from the urgent, intellectually challenging nature of the problem itself.

Excessive workload pressure would be expected to undermine creativity, especially if that time pressure were perceived as imposed externally as a means of control.

Organizational impediments to creativity

Internal strife, conservatism, and rigid, formal management structures within organizations will impede creativity.


Hypothesis 1: The work environment stimulant scales on KEYS will be rated significantly higher in projects rated as highly creative than in projects rated as less creative. Thus, ratings should be significantly higher in the high creativity projects than in the low-creativity projects for the following scales:

  1. organizational encouragement (supported)
  2. supervisory encouragement (supported)
  3. work group supports (supported)
  4. freedom (not supported)
  5. sufficient resources (not supported)
  6. challenge (supported)

Hypothesis 2: The work environment obstacle scales on KEYS will be rated significantly lower in projects rated as highly creative than in projects rated as less creative. Thus, ratings should be significantly lower in the high creativity projects than in the low-creativity projects for the following scales:

  1. workload pressure (not supported)
  2. organizational impediments (supported)

Results and discussion

Phase 1 : the raw data

The correlation between rated creativity and rated quality of the projects (as rated by the nominators) was substantial (r= .57, p < .001).

Six aspects of the work environment discriminate most strongly between high- and low-creativity projects:

  1. challenging work
  2. organizational encouragement
  3. work group supports
  4. freedom
  5. organizational impediments
  6. supervisory encouragement

Respondents tended to report lower frequency of contact with their low-creativity projects, and they tended to report recalling the high-creativity projects better.

Phase 3 : selected representative projects

The high-creativity project environments were higher on the creativity stimulant scales of:

  1. work group supports
  2. challenging work
  3. organizational encouragement
  4. supervisory encouragement

The freedom scale was marginally higher.

Low-creativity projects, in contrast, were rated as higher on the creativity obstacle scale of organizational impediments.

No differences were found for the workload pressure and sufficient resources scales

Causal interpretations cannot be drawn from this observational study.

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