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Creativity at Work

Summary and Keywords

Creativity at work has long been acknowledged as a source of distinct competitive advantage as organizations seek to harness the ideas and suggestions of their employees. As such, it is not surprising that a considerable amount of research has accrued over the last 30 to 40 years in this field. Most commonly defined as the production of novel and useful ideas, research on creativity at work has focused on identifying different individual as well as contextual factors that shape employee creativity.

This research has been driven by many different theoretical frameworks. Some of them focus on creativity as an outcome variable and suggest employee skills, expertise, and intrinsic motivation as the key drivers of employee creativity. The organizational context in terms of support and resources for creativity is also suggested as playing an important role in employee creative output according to these frameworks. Other models have considered creativity more from the process perspective, arguing that creativity involves a set of different stages that lead to creative output. These models focus on different creativity-related behaviors that employees engage in to generate novel and useful ideas, such as problem formulation, preparation or information gathering, idea generation, and idea evaluation. More recent developments in the field suggest that creativity could best be captured as both a process and an outcome of employee endeavors to improve their own work roles, team processes, and outcomes, and as a result, the overall organizational effectiveness. Drawing upon these different frameworks, a considerable amount of research has explored different individual and contextual antecedents of creativity at work.

However, although this is a vibrant research area with a potential to contribute significant implications for different stakeholders, including employees, work teams, businesses, and wider societies, much more research is needed to address the complex interplay of various factors at different levels of analyses that impact creativity at work. Also, many questions remain to be answered in terms of how different ways of working, in increasingly global and diverse organizations, influence creativity in the workplace.

Keywords: employee creativity, team creativity, componential theory, interactionist theory, creative action, process models of creativity, individual antecedents, contextual antecedents


Creativity at work is essential for organizations across different sectors in order to improve their organizational performance and overall effectiveness (Anderson, Potočnik, & Zhou, 2014). Creativity has been claimed as an essential ingredient for any successful organization—if employees and teams do not come up with novel and useful ideas, firms will be clueless regarding how to design their innovation efforts and what changes to implement in order to prosper in the competitive markets (Anderson, Potočnik, Bledow, Hulsheger, & Rosing, 2016). Some examples of employee creativity include the successful 3M Post-It Notes, an idea that came from an employee who found a marketable use for a pressure-sensitive, reusable adhesive in the 1970s. Another example of how a single employee revolutionized a specific product is reusable diapers. These became a huge market success after a Procter & Gamble engineer came up with the idea of using cellulose fibers instead of tissue paper to improve absorbency (Markides & Geroski, 2004). This chapter reviews and integrates the existing research on employee creativity that can help explain how novel and useful ideas such as these are generated.

Creativity at Work Defined

One of the first conceptual definitions of creativity in the field of applied/organizational psychology was proposed by Amabile (1983) who suggested that “[a] product or response will be judged as creative to the extent that (a) it is both a novel and appropriate, useful, correct, or valuable response to the task at hand and (b) the task is heuristic rather than algorithmic” (p. 360). The importance of both novelty and value can be seen in Ford’s (1996) definition, which argues creativity to be “a domain-specific, subjective judgment of the novelty and value of an outcome of a particular action” (p. 1115). Building on these operationalizations, creativity has been most commonly defined as the production of novel and useful ideas (Amabile, 1988; Montag, Maertz, & Baer, 2012) and oftentimes it is simply referred to as “idea generation” (Nijstad, Diehl, & Stroebe, 2003).

There are, however, other more recent definitions of creativity, such as the one by Shalley & Zhou (2008) who argued that “[c]reativity can be described as both an outcome and a process … As a process, creativity can involve continuously finding and solving problems and implementing new solutions … it is an iterative process, involving reflection and action, seeking feedback, experimenting, and discussing new ways to do things in contrast to just relying on habit or automatic behavior” (p. 4). Similarly, other scholars have suggested that creativity should be conceptualized from a process perspective whereby employees engage in different behaviors not necessarily according to some predetermined sequence but many times in an iterative and unpredictable fashion, such as problem formulation or definition, preparation or information gathering, idea generation and idea evaluation or validation (Montag et al., 2012).

The existing literature suggests that the concept of creativity at work indeed refers to both outcomes (e.g., creative ideas) and processes that lead to these outcomes (e.g., idea generation, idea evaluation, etc.). However, it is also important to include the level of analysis at which the outcomes and processes evolve to the operationalization of creativity in order to capture the whole spectrum of creativity at work. In other words, it is argued that creativity refers to outcomes and a complex set of processes that may take place at both the individual employee level and the team level of analysis. Importantly, creativity has to be conceptually distinguished from innovation. Although it is difficult to draw a clear line between creativity and innovation, it has been generally argued that creativity refers to the generation of ideas and their evaluation in terms of usefulness and novelty, whereas innovation also involves their promotion or championing and implementation (Potočnik & Anderson, 2016). In order to provide a response to all of these points, Anderson et al. (2014, p. 1298) proposed that “[c]reativity and innovation at work are the process, outcomes, and products of attempts to develop new and improved ways of doing things. The creativity stage of this process refers to idea generation, and innovation to the subsequent stage of implementing ideas toward better procedures, practices, or products. Creativity and innovation can occur at the level of the individual, work team, organization, or at more than one of these levels combined, but will invariably result in identifiable benefits at one or more of these levels-of-analysis.”

In the rest of this article, the theoretical frameworks and past research are reviewed, focusing specifically on creativity at work.

Theoretical Frameworks

A number of different theoretical perspectives and models have been propounded across the creativity literature. Perhaps the most influential theories that have also received substantial empirical support over the years are the componential theory of organizational creativity (Amabile, 1988) and the interactionist theory of organizational creativity (Woodman, Sawyer, & Griffin, 1993). Although they have received less research attention, other theories such as the model of individual creative action (Ford, 1996) and different process models of creativity (Baughman & Mumford, 1995; Drazin, Glynn, & Kazanjian, 1999; Montag et al., 2012; Reiter-Palmon & Ilies, 2004) also deserve a closer inspection.

Componential Theory of Organizational Creativity

This model was built on the assumption that work environment shapes employee creativity by influencing individual components of creativity such as expertise, creative thinking skills, and intrinsic motivation (Amabile, 1988, 1997). Key features of work environment that influence these individual components are organizational motivation to innovate, resources, and managerial practices. In terms of individual components, Amabile (1988, 1997) argues that expertise includes features like memory for factual knowledge, technical proficiency, and special talents. Creative thinking skills refer to a cognitive style that favors taking new perspectives on problems and the ability to explore new pathways. Whereas expertise and creative thinking skills have an influence on what an employee is potentially capable of, it is intrinsic task motivation that determines what a person will actually do (Amabile, 1988, 1997). Intrinsic motivation is present when a person is mainly “driven by deep interest and involvement in the work, curiosity enjoyment, or a personal sense of challenge” (Amabile, 1997, p. 44).

With regard to work environment components, organizational motivation to innovate refers to an orientation toward innovation and support for innovation, whereas the resources component represents any resource relevant to innovation, including finances, time availability, and personnel (Amabile & Conti, 1999). Finally, the management practices component refers to all management levels and is represented by such aspects as providing employees with challenging work, work group support, supervisory encouragement, and autonomy or freedom in the workplace.

In sum, according to this theory, employee expertise, creative thinking skills, and intrinsic motivation are key individual components of creativity, but work environment in terms of organizational motivation to innovate, resources, and managerial practices will also have an impact on these individual components and consequently on individual and small team creativity (Amabile, 1988, 1997). Previous research has provided substantial empirical support for the role of intrinsic motivation as a psychological mechanism that may explain the influences of work environment on employees’ creativity; however, the other two components have received less research attention to date (Shalley, Zhou, & Oldham, 2004; Zhou & Shalley, 2010).

Interactionist Theory of Organizational Creativity

Similarly to componential theory, the interactionist theory of organizational creativity also suggests that both individual and work environment factors influence creativity at work (Woodman et al., 1993). More specifically, this model argues that creativity is a result of a complex employee-environment interaction at different levels. For instance, creativity at the individual level is a function of antecedent conditions (e.g., past reinforcement history), cognitive style and ability (e.g., ideational fluency), personality (e.g., openness), relevant knowledge, motivation, and social influences (e.g., social facilitation), and contextual influences (e.g., task and time limitations). Team-level creativity is a result of employee creative behavior, the interaction between team members (e.g., group composition), group characteristics (e.g., cohesion), team processes (e.g., problem-solving), and contextual influences (e.g., organizational size). In turn, organizational creativity is considered as a result of its teams’ creative outputs and contextual influences, such as organizational culture and reward systems (Woodman et al., 1993).

Previous research has frequently applied this framework to explore how interactions between the contextual and individual aspects shape employee and team creativity at work (Shalley, Gilson, & Blum, 2009; Yuan & Woodman, 2010; Zhou & Shalley, 2010). Given its explicit focus on different levels of analysis, this model has great potential for exploring effects on creativity across different levels of analysis (Woodman et al., 1993).

Theory of Individual Creative Action

According to the theory of individual creative action, employees have to choose between two competing, conceptually independent, behavioral options—either to engage in creative actions or perform more routine, habitual actions (Ford, 1996). This model further suggests that the choice of what action to take is jointly influenced by three groups of factors such as sense-making processes, motivation, and knowledge and ability. In other words, individual creative action is a function of the combined influences of these different factors, and if any of them are lacking, an employee would not take creative action. In terms of sense-making factors, Ford (1996) suggests that a problem-finding orientation enhances creative actions, whereas automatic problem interpretation schema likely facilitates habitual actions. Among the group of motivational factors, goals (e.g., desired outcomes involve creativity, independence, and achievement), receptivity beliefs (e.g., creative actions are rewarded), capability beliefs (e.g., having confidence in being creative), and emotions (e.g., interest and anger) are suggested as drivers of creative actions. Regarding knowledge and ability, Ford (1996) suggests domain-related knowledge, behavioral abilities, and creative thinking ability to influence individual decisions whether to initiate creative versus habitual actions. For instance, diverse expertise, communication skills, and divergent thinking are all facilitators of creative actions, whereas narrow expertise and low social competence are initiators of habitual actions. This theory has not received much research attention, although some studies provided empirical support for some parts of the model (e.g., Janssen, 2005; Unsworth & Clegg, 2010).

Process Models of Creativity

There are several different models of creativity that can be categorized as process models due to their focus on the sequence of cognitive processes and actions that ultimately lead to creative outcomes—that is, novel and useful ideas (King, 1992; Montag et al., 2012). Traditionally, these models assumed that the creative process evolves in a standard sequence (e.g., Patrick, 1937; Wallas, 1926), but more recent empirical research has suggested that different stages in the creative process may take place simultaneously and/or in an unexpected sequence (Montag et al., 2012). Therefore, rather than focusing on the sequential nature of the creative process, it has recently been suggested that researchers should focus on different types of creative behaviors that take place in different stages of the creative process (Montag et al., 2012). Some of these process models include up to eight different behaviors related to the creative process (Mumford, Mobley, Uhlman, Reiter-Palmon, & Doares, 1991), whereas others focus on two (Drazin et al., 1999) or four behaviors (Baughman & Mumford, 1995). More specifically, early process models suggested preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification as key behaviors of the creative process (Patrick, 1937; Wallas, 1926). In another model, Mumford et al. (1991) suggested that the creative process involves problem construction, information encoding, category search, specification of best-fitting categories, combination and reorganization of best-fitting categories, idea evaluation, implementation, and monitoring. Interestingly, this model also includes implantation as part of the creative process, although idea implementation is essentially part of innovation. More recently, a shorter list of creative performance-related behaviors was suggested by Reiter-Palmon and Ilies (2004) who argued that problem construction, information search and encoding, generation of alternatives, and idea evaluation are key components of the creative process. What is common to all these process models is that most of them cover behaviors that are, in one way or another, related to problem formulation or problem definition, preparation or information gathering, idea generation, and idea evaluation or validation (Montag et al., 2012).


Although there are other more specific models of creativity, particularly in the category of process models, the aforementioned theories are considered to be major frameworks in the field of creativity at work. Whereas process models of creativity focus specifically on the individual level, paying attention to different cognitive processes involved in creativity, all other models highlight the role of wider work and organizational context in fostering creativity at work. In the next section, the empirical research on different antecedents of employee creativity that have drawn upon these theoretical frameworks is reviewed and integrated.

Antecedents of Creativity at Work

Research on creativity at work has been increasing exponentially in the last three decades (Potočnik & Anderson, 2016). The majority of this research has explored the role of different antecedent variables at the individual level, although the literature has been witnessing an increasing number of studies conducted at the team level exploring team-level effects on both team creativity and individual employee creativity—so-called cross-level effects (Anderson et al., 2014). Some of the most recent research at both levels of analysis is summarized here, distinguishing between individual and contextual factors. Some recent studies regarding team-level creativity at work are also reviewed.

Individual Factors

Research on the role of individual factors in employee creativity has mainly been driven by the componential and interactionist models of creativity exploring the role of different personality traits, self-concepts, abilities, skills, knowledge, expertise, motivation, moods, and emotions in creativity at work (Anderson et al., 2016; Anderson, De Dreu, & Nijstad, 2004). In terms of personality traits, openness to experience, proactive personality, and creative personality have been consistently found to foster employee creativity (Baer, 2010; Baer & Oldham, 2006; Gong, Cheung, Wang, & Huang, 2012; Raja & Johns, 2010; Tierney & Farmer, 2011; Wang & Cheng, 2010; Zhou, 2003). In contrast, other personality traits, such as conscientiousness, extroversion, and neuroticism that were found to predict a variety of employee behaviors like job performance, do not seem to have a direct effect on creativity. Following the interactionist approach (Woodman et al., 1993), some studies explored the boundary conditions under which their effects may be significant. For instance, Raja and Johns (2010) looked at job scope as a contextual moderator of the relationships between “Big Five” personality traits and creativity. Their results showed that both neuroticism and extroversion negatively predicted creativity when the job scope was high or, in other words, when employees had jobs that involved high skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback (Hackman & Oldham, 1980). George and Zhou (2001) reported that conscientiousness may inhibit employee creativity, but only if supervisors engage in close monitoring and colleagues are unsupportive of creative attempts.

Related to personality traits are different self-appraisals or self-concepts such as self-efficacy and creative self-efficacy (i.e., individual beliefs of how able one is to produce creative ideas; Tierney & Farmer, 2002). These have been found to exhibit stronger relationships with creativity than the personality traits of the five-factor model (Potočnik, Anderson, & Latorre, 2015). According to the theory of individual creative action (Ford, 1996), self-efficacy is considered as one of the important motivational enablers of creative action, and empirical evidence has supported this assumption showing strong, positive effects of self-efficacy and creative self-efficacy on creativity at work (Clegg, Unsworth, Epitropaki, & Parker, 2002; Tierney & Farmer, 2002, 2011).

Drawing on the componential theory of creativity (Amabile, 1988), previous research explored what roles different abilities, skills, thinking styles, and knowledge play in employee creativity. One of the most consistent findings in this field has been the positive effect of creative ability, defined in terms of creativity-relevant skills, such as intuitive thinking and the use of imagination, on employee creativity (Choi, 2004; Choi, Anderson, & Veillette, 2009). Also, certain types of thinking or cognitive styles, such as intuitive, innovative, and creative, have been consistently related to creativity at work (Clegg et al., 2002; Shalley et al., 2004; Tierney, Farmer, & Graen, 1999). Employees characterized by these types of thinking styles are likely to process information from different paradigms simultaneously and have a propensity to take risks and hence come up with novel and useful ideas about how to do their tasks. More recent research has addressed the role of need for cognition, defined as an “individual dispositional tendency to engage in and enjoy thinking” (Cacioppo & Petty, 1982, cited in Wu, Parker, & De Jong, 2014, p. 1512), in creativity. Empirical evidence suggests that individuals scoring high on need for cognition generate more creative ideas (Dollinger, 2003) and also engage in more innovative behaviors (Wu et al., 2014).

In terms of knowledge and expertise as important individual components of creativity (Amabile, 1983, 1988), there is some research that has looked at the effects of job knowledge and job experience on creativity at work (Hammond, Neff, Farr, Schwall, & Zhao, 2011). Although job experience does not seem to be related to creative performance, there is evidence to suggest that job knowledge has positive effects on employee creativity (Choi, 2004). This finding is not surprising given that factual knowledge, technical proficiency, and domain-relevant skills could be considered as necessary to appreciate what improvements are needed and hence generate ideas to achieve them (Potočnik et al., 2015).

Also following the componential theory of creativity (Amabile, 1988), past research has explored the role of employee motivation in creativity. In this line of inquiry, one of the most consistent findings has been the positive effect of intrinsic motivation on creativity (Anderson et al., 2014; Shalley et al., 2004). Employees who are driven by the nature of their work and sense of accomplishment and enjoy doing the work for itself are more likely to generate novel and useful ideas. Recently, Grant and Berry (2011) reported another motivational facilitator of creativity—prosocial motivation. They observed that the effect of intrinsic motivation on creativity was enhanced when employees also exhibited high prosocial motivation. In terms of extrinsic motivation, although the componential theory of creativity (Amabile, 1988) and early research both suggest that extrinsic rewards may undermine creativity, more recent studies suggest that extrinsic incentives may positively affect creativity at work (Byron & Khazanchi, 2012), particularly when intrinsic motivation is already high (Hennessey & Amabile, 2010). However, the effects of extrinsic rewards have been studied in different contexts and they seem to be greater in experimental lab studies than in field studies (Gerhart & Fang, 2015). Much more work is thus needed to clarify the role of different types of motivations in employee creativity.

Finally, a considerable amount of research has explored the role of moods and emotions in creativity at work (Anderson et al., 2014). For instance, there has been consistent support for relationships between positive affect and positive moods and creativity (Binnewies & Wörnlein, 2011; Hammond et al., 2011). In contrast, the evidence about the role of negative affect and negative moods on creativity has been mixed and proved to be much more complex compared to the role of positive affect. For instance, Binnewies and Wörnlein (2011) observed no direct relationship between negative affect, as experienced in the morning, and daily creativity at work. This relationship was negative, however, for those employees who experienced lower levels of job control. Bledow, Rosing, and Frese (2012) explored a dynamic interplay between negative and positive affect and its role in fostering creativity at work. They found that employees exhibited higher levels of creativity if their experience of negative affect in the morning was followed by an affective shift—i.e., they experienced a decrease in negative affect and an increase in positive affect during the day. More research is needed to further uncover the underlying mechanisms of the affect—creativity link, particularly in relation to how contextual variables may shape this relationship. Next, creativity research that has addressed some of the contextual variables is discussed.

Contextual Factors

Drawing primarily upon the interactionist theory of creativity (Woodman et al., 1993), research has addressed a range of contextual factors as enablers of creativity at work. Contextual factors have also been explored as moderators of the relationships between individual factors and creativity at work to uncover the boundary conditions under which employees may be most creative. Past research has explored contextual factors in terms of task, social, and wider organizational contexts (Anderson et al., 2014, 2016).

Regarding task contexts, a substantial amount of research has provided strong support for the positive effects of job complexity on creativity at work (Anderson et al., 2014; Baer, Oldham, & Cummings, 2003; Tierney & Farmer, 2004). In contrast, more routine jobs—not necessarily less complex, but more automatic—could be expected to lead to lower creativity at work. Although the research on this matter is scarce, there is evidence against this assumption, suggesting that routinization also positively predicts creativity (Ohly, Sonnentag, & Pluntke, 2006). Other aspects related to task context are employee goals and how much creativity the job actually requires. Some studies found that the more employees are expected to engage in creative behaviors, the higher their actual creativity is (Unsworth & Clegg, 2010; Unsworth, Wall, & Carter, 2005).

Some research examining how time pressure affects employee creativity has provided mixed findings. On one hand, there is evidence showing the positive effects of daily time pressure on daily creativity, which suggests that having deadlines could enhance employee creativity (Ohly & Fritz, 2010). On the other hand, Baer and Oldham (2006) observed an inverted U-shaped relationship between time pressure and creativity when employees experienced high support for creativity and were characterized by high openness to experience. Some studies reported no significant relationship between time pressure and creativity at work (Ohly et al., 2006). Clearly, more research is needed to clarify the nature of the effects that time pressure may have on creativity at work.

In terms of social context, previous research has looked at how supervisors, co-workers, and even customers shape employee creativity (Anderson et al., 2014). The vast majority of this research looked at leadership and its role in creativity, providing evidence for the positive role of transformational leadership (Gong, Huang, & Farh, 2009; Shin & Zhou, 2003), benevolent leadership (Wang & Cheng, 2010), supervisory empowerment behaviors (Zhang & Bartol, 2010), and supervisory expectations for creativity (Tierney & Farmer, 2004). Overall, these studies suggest that when leaders and supervisors are supportive of their subordinates, are able to clearly communicate their expectations, and can stimulate and empower them, subordinates are more likely to exhibit higher creativity at work. Recently, Rujie, Janssen, and Shi (2015) showed that transformational leadership is related to employee creativity through follower relational identification with the leader. They further found that this indirect effect of transformational leadership on creativity was significant only when leaders set high creativity expectations. More studies such as this are needed to uncover the underlying mechanisms of leadership effects on employee creativity.

Apart from supervisors, peers or co-workers were also found to exert a significant influence on employee creativity. For instance, previous studies have found that creativity at work can be fostered when co-workers have high creativity-related expectations, are themselves highly creative, and provide support to their colleagues (Farmer, Tierney, & Kung-Mcintyre, 2003; Madjar, Oldham, & Pratt, 2002; Madjar, Greenberg, & Chen, 2011). In general terms, any agent in the employee social context who can provide feedback could be expected to influence employee creativity. Along these lines, De Stobbeleir, Ashford, and Buyens (2011) found that employees who were actively seeking feedback exhibited the highest levels of creativity. Similarly, Madjar and Ortiz-Walters (2008), using a sample of stylists from hairdressing salons, found significant effects of customer input and customer affect-based trust on stylist creativity.

Apart from exploring the impact of these different agents on employee creativity, a growing amount of research has focused on social networks and how these affect creativity at work (Baer, 2010; Perry-Smith, 2006; Perry-Smith & Shalley, 2003; Zhou, Shin, Brass, Choi, & Zhang, 2009). Different network characteristics, such as centrality and diversity, and personality characteristics, such as openness to experience may moderate the relationship between social ties and creativity.

In terms of wider organizational context, factors like organizational climate, bureaucratic practices, and perceived organizational support have been explored as predictors of employee creativity. Wang and Rode (2010) have explored the role of innovative organizational climate as a boundary condition of the transformational leadership-employee creativity link and found that when innovative climate was high and employees strongly identified with their manager, the positive relationship between transformational leadership and employee creativity was enhanced. Hirst, Van Knippenberg, Chin-Hui, and Sacramento (2011) explored the role of bureaucratic practices in terms of centralization and formalization as contextual moderators of the relationship between learning orientation and employee creativity. Although the majority of their findings suggested that less bureaucratic practices favor creativity, they also observed that less formalized practices strengthened the negative relationship between avoid orientation and employee creativity. Finally, perceived organizational support was also linked to creativity, particularly through the process of work team identification and success expectancy (Yu & Frenkel, 2013).

Team Creativity

With increasing reliance on teams in modern organizations, creativity research has recently expanded its inquiry into the team level, exploring factors like team structure, team composition, and team process variables, and the impact these may have on team creativity (Anderson et al., 2014). In terms of team composition, team diversity has been suggested as an important factor in team creativity. Shin and Zhou (2007) found that teams that are more diverse in terms of employee educational specialization or background are more creative, particularly when their supervisor is exhibiting a transformational leadership style. Regarding team processes, Farh, Lee, and Farh (2010) observed a curvilinear relationship between task conflict and team creativity at an early project team phase, such that creativity was highest at moderate levels of task conflict. Gilson and Shalley (2004) explored the role of a wide range of antecedents of team creativity and found that the more creative teams had tasks that required high levels of creativity, member interdependence, shared goals, and placed importance on participative problem-solving and experienced a climate that was supportive of creativity.


Creativity at work has received substantial research attention over the recent years. Scholars interested in this field have explored a wide array of both individual and contextual factors (and interactions between both) as predictors of employee creativity. Although previous findings provide rich implications for both theory development (e.g., Bledow et al., 2012; Perry-Smith & Shalley, 2003) and practical recommendations, much more research is needed to provide conclusive evidence about how creativity unfolds over time and how factors at different levels of analysis influence individual and team creativity at work. Some of these avenues for future research are discussed next.

Avenues for Future Research

Creativity at work is a vibrant area of research. A substantial amount of work has been done in the field that has made significant contributions to our knowledge of how creativity at work unfolds both over time and across different levels of analysis and how it can be malleable in different contexts. However, based on the literature review presented here and considering recent methodological advances, particularly in terms of multilevel analyses, some directions for future research are suggested in order to further the understanding of creativity in modern workplaces.

First, future research should start revisiting the theoretical underpinnings of creativity at work. The major theoretical frameworks that guided the vast majority of research in the field were developed more than 20 years ago, and they may not adequately capture the fast-changing, complex, and global organizational environments of today (Anderson et al., 2014). Although a few conceptual pieces have been published more recently, these have tended to be rather narrow in focus and have not really been picked up by creativity researchers in their studies. Second, many so-called process models of creativity have been mushrooming in the literature, each suggesting their own fine-grained sub-processes or creativity-relevant behaviors (Montag et al., 2012). For the field to radically move forward, more research is needed at the conceptual level to bring these different models together and propose what antecedents could shape different creativity-relevant behaviors or sub-processes. But, and perhaps more important, in order to fully explore creativity at work, the theory building around process models of creativity should move beyond the micro, individual focus to include team and wider organizational and even societal contexts as factors influencing employee creative processes.

Furthermore, future research should start exploring creativity at work simultaneously with other dimensions of job performance. Given how much organizations today value creativity at work and expect their employees to be creative (e.g., creativity has become part of the formal appraisal systems in many organizations), there is still not enough evidence about how creative performance can be managed along with other, more routine dimensions of job performance. There is some research suggesting that different individual antecedents shape different dimensions of job performance; for instance, conscientiousness and general mental ability strongly predict routine performance, but not creativity, whereas openness predicts creativity, but not routine performance (Potočnik et al., 2015). More research is needed to uncover similar differential effects of contextual variables on both types of performance in order to understand how the working environment can be designed in a way to optimize specific types of behaviors.

The nature of teamwork has been changing with an increasing number of employees working, at least to some degree, in a virtual environment. The research on virtual teams, defined as teams in which members rely on information and communication tools (ICTs) to deliver a common goal (Maynard & Gilson, 2014), is almost completely lacking in creativity research. Taking into account that team processes are likely to unfold differently in virtual teams compared to face-to-face-teams (Maynard, Mathieu, Rapp, & Gilson, 2012), it cannot be assumed that findings on employee creativity in traditional settings can be generalized to a virtual environment. Future research should address this matter, starting with theory development on how virtual contexts may affect creative processes.

There is also a demonstrable need to simultaneously explore both creativity and innovation in future research. On one hand, studies that address only creativity at work are missing the final stage—idea implementation (Anderson et al., 2014, 2016). The production of novel and useful ideas is essential for idea implementation, but if ideas are not implemented, organizations do not benefit from them. On the other hand, the large majority of innovation research tends to merge the creativity stage with the implementation stage. Therefore, based on the current findings, a fine-tuned, clear understanding of what factors are at play at each stage of innovation is missing. Future research in this field is encouraged to add further evidence to this important issue.

Future research should also conduct more intervention studies to explore how employee creativity can be enhanced. Most of the creativity training programs include the creative problem-solving method, which consists of applying creative thinking to open-ended problems. For instance, companies like Quaker Oats have successfully used this method to solve a problem related to syrup blockages, and in general there is empirical evidence to suggest that this method could be effective for enhancing employee creativity (Puccio, Firestien, Coyle, & Masucci, 2006; Thompson, 2001). Other companies, such as IDEO, may focus specifically on the brainstorming stage of creative problem-solving. The brainstorming method has been found highly effective for enhancing employee creativity, not only in terms of short-term results, such as increasing the number of generated ideas, but also in terms of long-term results, such as creating an innovation culture (Sutton & Hargadon, 1996). More research is needed, however, to explore the effectiveness of brainstorming and other creative problem-solving programs using experimental designs and employee samples.

Finally, although the field has witnessed some studies using samples from China, India, and South Korea, among others, the vast majority of creativity and innovation research has been conducted in Western countries (Anderson et al., 2014). More research is needed in different geographical areas around the world in order to understand how national cultures may shape creativity at work.

Based on the evidence presented here, creativity at work is clearly a flourishing research area. By addressing some of the gaps identified as areas for future research, however, more can be understood about the creative process at multiple levels and in a changing work environment. Researchers in the field are encouraged to tackle some of these issues in order to expand and develop the existing understanding of creativity in the workplace.

Further Reading

Amabile, T. M. (2000). Stimulate creativity by fueling passion. In E. A. Locke (Ed.), Blackwell handbook of principles of organizational behavior (pp. 331–341). Oxford: Blackwell.Find this resource:

    Amabile, T. M., Conti, R., Coon, H., Lazenby, J., & Herron, M. (1996). Assessing the work environment for creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 39, 1154–1184.Find this resource:

      Baas, M., De Dreu, C. W. K., & Nijstad, B. A. (2008). A meta-analysis of 25 years of mood-creativity research: Hedonic tone, activation, or regulatory focus? Psychological Bulletin, 134, 779–806.Find this resource:

        George, J. M., & Zhou, J. (2007). Dual tuning in a supportive context: Joint contributions of positive mood, negative mood, and supervisory behaviors to employee creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 50, 605–622.Find this resource:

          Liao, H., Liu, D., & Loi, R. (2010). Looking at both sides of the social exchange coin: A social cognitive perspective on the joint effects of relationship quality and differentiation on creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 53, 1090–1109.Find this resource:

            Madjar, N., & Shalley, C. E. (2008). Multiple tasks’ and multiple goals’ effect on creativity: Forced incubation or just a distraction? Journal of Management, 34, 786–805.Find this resource:

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