Creativity’s Role in the Workplace


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Have you ever heard someone say they are open to new ideas, only to have your creativity discounted later?
Dr. Junfeng Wu, assistant professor of organizations, strategy and international management in the Naveen Jindal School of Management, studies creativity in the workplace and how managers receive it.
Not much research exists in the management field regarding the receiving side of creativity, so in his recent paper, Wu and his co-authors from Rice University, Tsinghua University and Erasmus University conducted a multidisciplinary review of studies from other fields, including psychology, marketing, education and sociology.
The study, published online in February in the Journal of Management, asked the questions, “What are the factors influencing one’s recognition of creative ideas?” and “Will managers be able to recognize creative ideas and react favorably to them?”
Wu offers some of his findings — from this study and prior research — for managers to keep in mind when aiming to foster creativity at work:

  • The ability to recognize creativity depends on a manager’s individual characteristics. Some people are more willing and able than others to recognize creative ideas.
  • When people are promotion-focused, concentrating on goals and aspirations, they tend to pursue more creativity. They also recognize creativity more easily.
  • When people are prevention-focused, prioritizing security and obligations, they tend to stick with the status quo and are less receptive of creative ideas.
  • Receiving creativity also depends on the person’s environment. Some workplace cultures value creativity and innovation and encourage employees to speak up with new ideas. Even people who are less-receptive to creativity can receive creativity well if put in an environment that focuses on gains and growth.
  • In general, the researchers found people tend to believe ideas from men are more creative than ideas from women, but, Wu said, the manager’s focus should be on the idea, not the generator.
  • Studies suggest that people tend to favor ideas that are moderately new, but not fundamentally new. “If you have a truly new idea, say, for a product, then be prepared that customers may not act very favorably,” Wu said. “If the product is moderately incongruent with an existing product, consumers are more likely to try it.”

–Brittany Magelssen