Creativity… Such a complex concept, and one that all companies are dependent on. How do you foster creativity in your organization? Is it even possible? According to recent research, it is! And it depends in a big way on your organizational culture.
Recent scientific findings shows that culture* has a far bigger impact on creativity* than previously assumed. In a recent meta-analysis, covering decades of creativity research, Miron-Spektor and Paletz (2022), states that the impact of culture on creativity is far greater than initially assumed.
So how can company culture affect the creativity of your co-workers?
Flat hierarchy = high creativity
The first cultural factor that affects creativity in an organization is power distance. Power distance refers to the extent to which differences in hierarchy are accepted and expected. In groups with high power distance, individuals are less likely to voice their concerns regarding ideas from someone higher up, resulting in fewer alternative ideas considered and suboptimal solutions selected. An organization with low power distance has a flat hierarchy.
High psychological safety = high creativity
The next cultural factor we will consider is uncertainty avoidance, which refers to the extent to which the members of a group feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations. Another word for this is psychological safety. The generation of novel ideas, as our definition of creativity goes, usually involves risk-taking and uncertainty. Thus, in a culture with low psychological safety, people are less likely to be creative. Besides, people in low psychological safety cultures report experiencing higher levels of anxiety and stress.
Individualistic culture = high creativity
Individualistic or collectivistic culture? When it comes to creativity and generating novel ideas, it seems the individualistic culture has the upper hand. Interestingly, it has been shown that collectivistic groups might be better at generating practical ideas. However, while collectivistic groups tend to conform to one single idea, the individualistic culture values autonomy and uniqueness, and encourages people to stand out by sharing new ideas. This results in a combination of elements from several suggested ideas, producing more novel solutions.
Diverse culture = high creativity
Last but not least, let’s look at diversity. A diverse culture offers the members exposure to different cultural systems, which in turn increases the range of available cognitive scripts and behaviors. With access to a larger selection of cognitive scripts, the team is able to combine more elements to create innovative solutions. The reasoning here is sound and supported by empirical findings. However, studies also shows that multicultural experiences can discourage creative thinking if people are not open to integrating culturally different ideas to their own. Therefore, common values cannot be defined through compromise or accepting the dominant sub-groups views. Trying to resolve contradictions can be contra productive, instead, use a dialectical approach. In a large group, seemingly opposing values can co-exist, embrace paradox. Effective leadership, coordinating processes and encouraging cultural intelligence are crucial factors if you want to reap the benefits of a multicultural team.
So, an individualistic and culturally diverse organization with a flat hierarchy and high psychological safety= a creatively top notch organization? Simple as that?
Of course not, as always when it comes to social psychology, everything is not as black and white as it might seem. Situational cues such as rewards and authority figures, as well as cultural tightness (the strength of social norms), are two mediating factors that should be taken into account.
And finally, if anyone still harbors any misconceptions about this, studies examining the relationship between masculinity and creativity have yielded inconsistent findings.
*Creativity can be defined as the generation of novel ideas that are useful.
*Culture is usually defined as a shared system of learned meanings and refers to values, norms, beliefs and assumptions embraced by members of a given social unit.
Reference: Miron-Spektor, E., & Paletz, S. B., Culture and Creativity in Organizations: New Directions and Discoveries., (2022).