CREATIVITY AT THE INDIVIDUAL LEVEL
Creativity is a concept critical to the survival and competitiveness of organizations
(George and Zhou, 2002; Oldham and Cummings, 1996; Zhou, 1998). If we
rely on this assumption, employee creativity is beneficial for the results of work
(Gong et al., 2009). For this reason, recent research has focused on identifying
the background, determinants and consequences of creativity (Zhou &
Creativity is a necessary condition for innovation but is not alone sufficient
for it. In the field of organizational behavior, creativity refers to the creation
of useful new products, practices, services and procedures (Amabile, 1996,
George, 2008). Ideas are new when they are “unique in relation to other
ideas currently available in the organization” (Shalley et al., 2004: 934), and
are useful when they “directly or indirectly represent a potential value for the
organization, both short and long term” (Shalley et al., 2004: 934). Creativity
is necessary for the survival of organizations, especially in a rapidly changing
environment (Oldham, 2003), where innovation is becoming more and more
necessary to ensure the continuity of business projects (Clitheroe, Stokols &
The level and frequency of successful creative behaviors depend on many
factors: the motivation that an organization has for innovation, the resources
that it is willing to contribute (Amabile, 1988), the influence of job characteristics
on the type of tasks being performed (Shalley, 2002) and the management
practices being used (Amabile, 1988) are just some examples.
Within the intermediate variables between the creativity contexts, we also found
transformational leadership and good use of human resources (Scott, 1994;
Shalley, 2004, Oldham, 1996). Even in jobs with ideal characteristics, in which
complex and challenging work is performed, creativity is greatly increased
under conditions of supportive and non-controlling supervision (Oldham, 1996).
Some seminal studies (Siegel & Kaemmer, 1978; among others) have already
included assessments given by workers of their perceptions of leadership,
ownership, property, continuous development and consistency.
Regarding intraorganizational influences, the characteristics of teams and
organizations can be discussed (Woodman, Sawyer & Griffin; 1993). The
design of a group has a direct influence on its creative performance. Other
studies suggest that external demands, the integration of group processes and
security within organizations all also act as direct influences (Shalley, 2002).
The inclusion of personal variables at the individual level is a real milestone
for the advancement of knowledge in the study of creativity. Except for a few
studies, such as those carried out by Shin and Zhou (2003), not many take
into account the individual characteristics that encourage creative behavior.
Some authors, like Tierney and Farmer (2002), include, for their part, intrinsic
variables such as motivation in the fostering of creativity.
Organizations are, after all, groups of people. Creativity often arises from
the interaction of people and the situations they are in (Hunter, 2007).
For heterogeneous teams, it has been demonstrated that high levels of
interdependence are related strongly and positively to innovative behaviors.
However, this relationship is not agreed on by those writers who perceive low
levels of interdependence in the workplace (Van der Vegt & Janssen, 2003).
Surprisingly, the existence of weak ties among group members is generally
beneficial for creativity. However, the existence of strong ties has shown
neutral effects (Perry-Smith, 2006). In more heterogeneous teams, a greater
diversity of opinions is produced. Creativity therefore depends on a variety of
situations and individual attributes. It will be necessary, then, to have different
varieties of knowledge, skills and talents (George, 2002).
Conflicts are, in most cases, a cause of stress for workers, so one might think
that work stressors affect creativity. In fact, numerous studies have considered
the measures of stress at work to observe the influence on creativity, for example
the one recently developed by Binnewies (2010) and the studies conducted by
Beal et al. (2006), Fisher (2000) and Fuller et al. (2003) previously. It seems
clear that a relationship does exist between conflict and creativity. Different
perceptions of a conflict within a team could undermine its ability to generate
inventive behaviors and be detrimental to creativity (Jehn, 2010).
The existence of a relationship between negative factors and creativity has
already been outlined. Some studies include dissatisfaction with the status quo
as an influential factor in creativity (Zhou, 2010). These studies, surprisingly, do
not always generate negative implications. It is clear that there must have been
further circumstances alongside this dissatisfaction to lead to the emergence
of a creative idea.
In this paper we propose three important predictors of creativity: dissatisfaction
with the status quo, work stressors and conflict asymmetries. Although there
have only been a few studies into these concepts, these clearly demonstrate
the possibility of their beneficial influences (Chen, 2006; Zhou et al., 2001;
Binnewies, 2011). It is therefore an aim of this study to determine when and
under what conditions these negative situations could be exploited as drivers of
positive and creative results to help organizations to continue in an increasingly
changing environment. By shedding light on the role of intermediate variables,
it may be possible to broaden the understanding of why, in some cases,
inconsistencies in the results exist (Gong et al., 2009).
WORK STRESSORS AND CREATIVITY
Two “work stressors” have been most studied in past years: “time pressure”
and “the limitations of the situation”. We define “time pressure” as the extent
of an employee’s feelings when he or she has an inadequate amount of time
to do his or her job (Baer and Oldham, 2006; Kinicki and Vecchio , 1994).
The “limitations of the situation” are the (Kane, 1997) obstacles (Frese and
Zapf, 1994) which inhibit workers from doing their jobs. (Greiner et al., 2004).
Examples would include shortages of tools, inappropriately organized teams or
shortages of required information.
The literature suggests that it is necessary to study the framework that favors
an increase in creativity, analyzing its relationship with work stressors. Although
a certain level of pressure at a specific time can lead to an activation and
increase of creativity, it seems likely that an experience of constant pressure at
work would decrease creativity (Binnewies and Wörnlein, 2011).
The work stressor and predictor of creativity that has been studied most to
date is time pressure. The results of these studies, in the field of interpersonal
relationships, have been inconsistent (studies by Amabile et al. (2002), Baer
and Oldham (2006) or Ohly, Sonnentag and Pluntke (2006)). Studies in this
area tend to be very general and ignore the internal changes that take place in
people in the short moments between work stressors and creativity.
The effects of the limitations of everyday life on creativity have also been
analyzed. The studies showed inconsistent results. However, they demonstrated
that the presence of an active mood in people is more related to creativity
(e.g. Binnewies and Wörlein 2011, De Dreu 2003; Sonnentag 2011; Zhao and
Humanyun 2010, Zhou and George, 2001) than an “off” or passive mood.
Different theoretical models have been created of the intrapersonal positive
relationship between positive moods and creativity (Binnewies, 2011).
Stress can be positively related to performance because employees sometimes
work better with time pressure. An employee may believe that he can work
better with a certain level of time pressure, knowing it drives him to work
harder, faster and longer (Binnewies et al., 2011). In contrast, according to
the relationship of stress with creativity, research based on the Theory of
Activation (Gardner, 1990) and the Theory of Evaluation of Stress (Lazarus and
Folkman, 1984) reveals that a worker is properly stimulated and fully engaged
at medium levels of activation (Baer and Oldham, 2006; Gardner, 1990). The
moderating role of a continued link between work stressors and creativity has
already been demonstrated (Baer & Oldham, 2006). In short, when workers are
optimally stimulated, challenged and engaged, work stressors can promote the
generation of creative ideas at work (Baer & Oldham, 2006).
Given the above, we propose that:
P1. Work stressors are positively related to creativity.
CONFLICT ASYMMETRIES AND CREATIVITY
The “asymmetry of conflicts”, at an individual level, refers to how a team
member perceives a conflict as being greater or smaller than his fellows do
(Jehn, 2010). It therefore does not give a sense of direction or intensity of
perception but provides information related to the perception of individuals
within the group.
In general, the literature related to conflicts assumes that all members of a group
perceive conflicts identically (Amason, 1996; among others). The idea that
different persons may have different perceptions of reality is based on Social
Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 2001). Along this line, Jehn, Rispens and Thatcher
(2010) studied some elements that mediate between conflict asymmetries and
creativity. The mediators they analyzed were “group atmosphere” and “social
processes”. “Group atmosphere” is the term used to describe the attitude that
members have about the working environment (Jehn & Mannix, 2001). “Social
processes”, meanwhile, reflect the interactions between members regarding
the group atmosphere. The group atmosphere refers to the degree to which
group members compete or co-operate with their companions and the levels of
respect or commitment they feel to each other (Mannix & Jehn, 2004).
Working teams are prone to the development of conflicts that can affect their
performance. Conflicts in teams take the form of concerns among parties such
as discrepancies or inconsistent and irreconcilable desires (Boulding, 1963).
These controversies can be categorized into three types. The first are “relational
conflicts”, relational incompatibilities that can cause tensions or frictions. They
can also include feelings such as disappointment, frustration or anger with
other group members (Amason, 1996; Pinkley, 1990). The second category
is formed of “tasks conflicts”, which arise due to differing points of view and
opinions during team tasks (Amason and Sapienza, 1997). These conflicts
consist of lively discussions and exchanges of points of view and, by definition,
are not associated with negative interpersonal emotions (Jehn and Mannix,
2001). A third category has been identified more recently in the literature:
“processes conflicts” (Jehn, 1997; Jehn, Northcraft and Neale, 1999). These
kind of conflicts are caused by concerns related to how workers think they
should proceed in order to accomplish their tasks (Jehn and Mannix, 2001)
Today, teams face ever greater challenges due to the changing environments
of the workplace. Solving the stresses associated with the three categories of
conflict discussed above, whether they have occurred on account of real or
merely perceived differences, is a challenge . (De Dreu, Hanrick, & Van Vianen,
1999; Thomas, 1992; Wall & Callister, 1995). Different perspectives on conflicts
are critical to studying teams’ performances and, by extension, to studying
creativity. Conflict asymmetries affect personal relationships, creating tensions
that make the relationship between conflicts and creativity an interesting one
to study. However, scientific contributions on this topic so far have been largely
anecdotal, with the exception of the study by De Dreu (2006). It seems that an
individual’s perspective on a conflict could influence individual creativity in a
negative way, which would mean that a direct negative relationship could exist
between individual conflict asymmetry and creativity. However, once again, the
lack of a theoretical framework for this topic is clear.
A significant volume of the literature on shared mental models, consensus
in groups and collective cognition suggests that the asymmetries of conflicts
have a negative influence on employee performance and creativity (Jehn et
al., 2011, among others). This is because asymmetries in how conflicts are
viewed can make team discussions unproductive, since team members who
do not believe some problems exist are not able to discuss topics in relation
to them (Jehn et al., 2010). The exchange of information necessary for the
development of creativity is then destroyed.
Team members who perceive less conflict feel more identified with the group
and more committed to the team, which increases their general satisfaction
(Jehn et al., 2010). This motivates them to engage with the generation of
ideas and share them with the group. However, team members who perceive
more conflict have higher levels of distrust and believe that their colleagues
have bad intentions. This makes them waste time and extra energy in
protecting themselves, which reduces their performance and interferes with
communication and the proper functioning of the team. When higher levels
of conflicts are perceived, the team’s effectiveness is inhibited. In such
circumstances, the group’s cooperation and communication capabilities are
impaired. They are not facilitated through the sharing of mental models and
members are thus not allowed to function effectively (Cannon-Bowers et al.,
1993, Mason, 2006, Salas et al., 1992).
Relational conflicts increase stress and anxiety and decrease productivity
and the generation of ideas, as they cause an inhibition of peoples’ cognitive
functions (Staw et al., 1981; Roseman et al., 1994). They form a distraction
for employees from their tasks which consequently reduces their productivity
(Argyris, 1962; Kelley, 1979 Wilson et al.. 1986).
In contrast, it has been shown that, with moderated levels of task conflicts, when
performing certain types of more complex work, non-routine and uncertain
environments (Jehn and Mannix, 2001) may be beneficial to the performance
of workers (Jehn, 1995). In complex tasks, teams may benefit from differences
in opinion on how the tasks should be done (Burgeois, 1985; Jehn, 1995), thus
generating new ideas and improving the quality of the decisions made jointly.
The opposite is displayed by those workers who adapt to a more individual
way of working (Mason and Mitroff, 1981; Schweiger, Sandberg and Rechner,
1989; Schwenk, 1990). With a higher level of task conflicts, cognitive systems
decrease, information processes are hindered and creativity and performance
suffer (De Dreu and Weingart, 2003).
Meanwhile, conflicting processes are also associated with low levels of
productivity (Jehn, 1992). Continuous disagreements over the allocation of
tasks diminish the effectiveness and performance of workers (Jehn, 1999). In
such circumstances, the focus tends to shift to unproductive discussions about
the skills of the members (Jehn, 1997).
In summary, the literature shows the functionality of task conflicts in team
relationships and processes (McShane and Von Glinow, 2000; Robbins, 2000;
Rollinson, 2002). Some researchers, however, such as De Dreu (2003), believe
that there are no significant differences in terms of influence on performance
between different levels of task conflict. In fact, Dreu’s study shows a negative
correlation between job satisfaction and experiences of both kinds of conflict.
In spite of the above, the opposite may also apply: badly performing teams
may feel concerned, stressed and frustrated, increasing their relational
conflicts. This revealing data shows that certain levels of conflict could be
beneficial or have positive effects on elements like creativity and divergent
thinking (Carnevale and Probst, 1998, Van Dyne and Saavedra, 1996;). Thus,
if we study the effects of both types of conflict on decision making teams, the
trend shows a positive effect on the quality of decisions (Hollenbeck et al.,
1995, Schulz-Hardt et al., 2002). Finally, we note that certain circumstances of
openness, sincerity and psychological health can make a positive impact on
employee performance (De Dreu and Weingart, 2003).
From the discussion in the preceding paragraphs, we suggest that:
P2. Asymmetries of conflict are negatively related to creativity.
DISSATISFACTION WITH THE STATUS QUO AND CREATIVITY
Another construct studied that has an influence on creativity is “dissatisfaction
with the status quo”. Under certain conditions, this may, according to recent
studies (Zhou et al., 2001), increase the creativity of workers. In past studies,
dissatisfaction has usually been measured by “absenteeism”, “turnover”
and “behavior”. Recently, however, a current of study has emerged, aiming
to determine whether this dissatisfaction with the status quo is detrimental
to employees’ effectiveness in all cases. These studies have revealed that
discontentment with the situation in which a person is working can be an
incentive for change (Zhou et al., 2001; Janssen et al., 2010).
Job dissatisfaction is an important motivator. It can make people change, be
concerned about changes (Farr and Ford, 1990) and assess the introduction
of new ideas (Yuan and Woodman, 2010). The literature on the topic has
positively associated job dissatisfaction and creativity (Zhou et al., 2001), to
the extent that people with certain characteristics may create a constructive
response to job dissatisfaction and use creativity to express their position.
However, a worker needs to feel that his creative output is effective in the
company and know that he has the support and feedback of his colleagues
and organization. Feedback from companions increases the level of attention
given to tasks, fosters interest and increases orientation towards learning, all
of which leads to creativity. Under these conditions, the worker is able to see
things from different perspectives and is stimulated to find new ways of doing
things (Cummings and Oldham, 1997). A constructive response by workers is
needed, as they get results by adopting a cognitive perspective on negative
situations. It is necessary for individuals to perceive that their ideas are useful
for their organization and to believe that they will produce a change, so that
they will continue to take an active response when facing dissatisfaction.
Considering the above as a starting point, we propose that:
P3. Dissatisfaction with the status quo is positively related to creativity.