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RESEARCH BRIEF: Diverse social relationships facilitate Individual creativity: Managers who are able to create diverse teams and promote networking are more likely to create an environment that fosters creativity and innovation


Takeaway: Though creativity is often discussed as an inherent personal trait, there are some organizational practices that can promote creativity among team members. Having many relationships with a variety of types of people, and being positioned at the center of a network (as opposed to on its periphery) has a significant effect on individual creativity.  A manager can improve team functionality and individual creativity by facilitating networking in the workplace and beyond. Employees who have strong and consistent contacts with the same people at work are less likely to diverge from established norms of thinking or be as creative as employees who have multiple, diverse relationships throughout the organization and beyond its boundaries. Managers who mix-up teams and promote outside networking may be better able to establish an environment that fosters creativity and innovation.

Suggested audience:  Managers seeking to promote creativity among teams    

This study looked at researchers working in two labs in the United States. These labs had a focus on either discovery or intervention, placed high value on creativity, and had a flat organizational structure that promoted fluid communication. The study examined individuals’ work contacts and assessed the strength of each relationship based on closeness, duration, and frequency of contact. The heterogeneity of all employees was measured by tenure and background (subject and level of highest degree earned).

Additionally, the study looked at the effect a person’s position in the network would have on creativity. For example, individuals with several relationships and who played a role in multiple work activities were considered to be in a central position. The survey measured centrality within the network by determining the average distance to other members. It also examined outside ties that individuals had spoken to about their work. Finally, supervisors rated the creativity of their employees in the past two years.

Analysis of the networks showed that if an employee had many relationships that were not considered strong or close they were more likely to be creative in their jobs. Individuals who had multiple relationships with diverse types of people were also more likely to get high marks for creativity. Employees considered more central in the network were more likely to take calculated risks that are associated with creativity in the work place. Overall, the findings of this research indicate that individual creativity is influenced by external factors, such as team dynamic and work relationships, rather than just by intrinsic characteristics. This suggests that a manager can have some control over employee creativity in the work place.

If citing please refer to original article: “Social Yet Creative: The Role of Social Relationships in Facilitating Individual Creativity”, 2006. Academy of Management Journal, Vol 49, No. 1. pp 85-101, Jill Perry-Smith

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