Towards a Theory of Organizational Creativity

Woodman et al. 1993. Towards a Theory of Organizational Creativity. Academy of Management Review, vol 18. N.2 (avril 1993).

Organizational creativity
The creation of a valuable, useful new product, service, idea, procedure, or process by individuals working together in a complex social system.

Organizational creativity as a subset of the broader domain of innovation.

An interactionist perspective on creativity

The complex product of a person’s behavior in a given situation.

The situation is characterized in terms of the contextual and social influences that either facilitate or inhibit creative accomplishments. The person is influenced by various antecedent conditions, and he brings to bear both cognitive abilities and then cognitive traits or predisposition.

The creative behavior of organizational participant is a complex person-situation interaction influenced by events of the past as well as salient aspects of the current situation.

In sum, individual creativity is a function of antecedent conditions, cognitive style and ability, personality factors, relevant knowledge, motivation, social influences, and contextual influences.

Group creativity is a function of individual creative behavior “inputs”, the interaction of the individuals involved, group characteristics, group processes, and contextual influences.

Organizational creativity is a function of the creative output of its component groups and contextual influences.

Individual creativity

Antecedent conditions

In terms of an interactionist model, antecedent conditions influence the personality and cognitive characteristics of the individual, and to some extent they probably determine the current situation in which individuals find themselves.

Personality factors

A core of personality traits that are reasonably stable across fields as emerge from divergent area:

  • high evaluation of aesthetics quality in experience
  • broad interests
  • attraction to complexity
  • high energy
  • independence of judgment
  • autonomy
  • intuition
  • self-confidenceability to resolve antinomies or to accommodate apparently opposite or conflicting traits in one’s self-concept
  • a firm sense of self as creative
  • internal locus of control
  • curiosity
  • intellectual honesty

Personality inventories predictive of creative accomplishment are as likely to yield results as those on leadership.

Cognitive factors

Originality, field independence, flexibility, fluency, and divergent thinking are all postulated to improve creative potential.

Intrinsic motivation

Akey element in creativity.

Motivational interventions such as evaluation and reward systems may adversely affect intrinsic motivation toward a creative task because they redirect attention away from the heuristic aspects of the creative task and toward the technical rulebound aspects of task performance.


Domain-relevant skills (knowledge, technical skills, and talent needed to produce creative product)  and creativity-relevant skills (cognitive skills and personality traits linked to creative performance)  are important for creativity.

Even though previous experience or knowledge could lead to a “functional fixedness” that prevent individual producing creative solutions, on balance it is hard to conceive of any creative behavior that is “knowledge free”.

Creativity in groups

Amabile suggested that:

  • creative performance may be inhibited when others are present in an evaluative capacity
  • exposure to creative models may have a positive impact on early creative achievement
  • models can improve a person’s performance on creativity tests, but only if the modeled behavior is very similar to the performance assessed

Conditions for group creativity

King and Anderson listed:

  • leadership
  • cohesiveness
  • group longevity
  • good composition
  • group structure

Democratic and collaborative leadership, organic rather than mechanistic structure, and groups composed from individual run from diverse fields.

Payne identified:

  • resource availability
  • leadership
  • group size
  • cohesiveness
  • communication patterns
  • group diversity

Group process and problem solving

Developed with the belief that rules or norms that restraining evaluation of ideas being generated would allow members to build off of others’ ideas and would result in a greater number of novel ideas being generated.

There is overwhelming evidence that individuals produce fewer ideas in such groups.

Training individuals in problem solving skills can make the group more effective, as it allows members to more readily identify good ideas.

Social information

Members do not simply add their own knowledge but use others’ knowledge to stimulate the usefulness of their own.

Creativity in organizations

Creativity training

Individuals often self-select in a career path, and organizations tend to select individuals matching their cognitive style.

The training of work groups promotes far superior transfer of training over training of individuals, presumably because of the establishment of social support for divergent thinking among the work group (Basadur, Graen and Scandura, 1986)

Conditions for organizational creativity

The generation of alternative solutions to problems should be separated from the evaluation of those alternatives.

The organization should:

  • Encourage risk-taking
  • Encourage free exchange of ideas
  • legitimize conflict
  • stimulate participation
  • rely on intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards

empirical support is lacking.

Organizational innovation is stimulated by (Cummings and O’Connell, 1978):

  • the organization’s evaluation of its performance in relation to its goals
  • opportunistic surveillance
  • environmental characteristics

Information exchange with the external environment was suggested to influence idea generation.

Research framework and propositions

Proposition 1: the creative performance of individuals in a complex social setting is a function of salient individual characteristics, social influences that an answer constraint individual creativity (e.g., group norms), and contextual influences that enhance or constrain individual creativity (e.g., organizational reward structure).

Hypothesis 1a: individual creative performance will be increased by group norms that support open sharing of information.

Hypothesis 1b: individual creative performance will be decreased by group norms that create high conformity expectations.

Hypothesis 1c: individual creative performance will be increased by organizational cultures that support risk-taking behaviors.

Hypothesis 1d: individual creative performance will be decreased by reward systems that rigorously evaluate creative accomplishment and link these outcomes tightly to extrinsic rewards.

Proposition 2: the creative performance of groups in a complex social setting is a function of the creative performance of group members, salient aspects of the group itself that enhance or constrain creativity (e.g., size), and contextual influences on group functioning (e.g., organizational culture).

Hypothesis 2a: group creative performance would be increased by group diversity.

Hypothesis 2b: group creative performance will be decreased by the use of autocratic styles of leadership.

Hypothesis 2c: group creative performance will have a curvilinear relationship to group cohesiveness.

Hypothesis 2d: group creative performance will be increased by the use of highly participative structures and cultures (e.g.: a high-performance-high commitment work system).

Proposition 3: the creative performance of the organization, as a complex social system, as a function of the creative performance of its constituent groups, and salient aspects of the organization that enhance or constrain creativity (e.g., resource availability).

Hypothesis 3a: organizational creative performance will be increased by the availability of slack resources.

Hypothesis 3b: organizational creative performance will be decreased by restrictions on information flows and communication channels within the system.

Hypothesis 3c: organizational creative performance will be increased by the employment of organic organizational designs (e.g., matrix, network designs, collateral group structures).

Hypothesis 3d: organizational creative performance will be decreased by restrictions on information exchanges with the  environment.

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