A Home for Creativity Researchers

A Home for Creativity Researchers

Psychology September 14, 2012 / By Keith Sawyer
A Home for Creativity Researchers

The Academy of Management annual meeting in 2012 had an impressive number of presentations on creativity and innovation.

Creativity researchers don't really have a place we can call home.

It's because the study of creativity is interdisciplinary. That's the key take-home message of my 2012 book Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation. And that's a problem, if you want a home, because universities are organized into disciplines--such as psychology, anthropology, economics, computer science. And where do creativity researchers fit, into this organizational structure? Most of us don't fit comfortably anywhere. So where are we?

Many of us are psychologists, and we have homes in psychology departments. (My Ph.D. is in psychology.) And psychologists have made the majority of the scientific contributions to our understanding of creativity. But being in a psychology department has big limitations: you can't study cultural influences on creativity, you can't study group and organizational issues--you really are expected to focus on the solitary individual.

I've made my home in a department of education, and education holds probably the second biggest collection of creativity researchers. That's because educators are concerned with art education; but increasingly, it's also because our national leaders realize that our schools need to graduate people who are prepared to be creative across the board, including in science and engineering.

There's other important research being done by sociologists, anthropologists, and economists. It's all great work. But this disciplinary structure causes a problem, because a complete understanding of creativity requires all of these perspectives to come together, essentially at the same time. Creativity is a multi-levelled phenomenon--to understand it, we need to understand individual minds, group dynamics, and organizational and cultural differences.

This brings me to the title of today's post: I have found a new home for creativity researchers, at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management (AOM), in Boston last week. This is the big annual meeting of business school researchers; there were over 10,000 scholars in attendance. It was my first time attending AOM, and I was delighted to see so many sessions on creativity and innovation. And the great thing about it is that business scholars are deeply interdisciplinary--the scholarly research being presented often touched on individual, group, and organizational factors, all at once.

Here are the take-home messages from just a few papers I listened to:

  • Frustration leads to enhanced creativity, but only if you're led by a transformational leader.
  • Cognitive diversity among team members leads to greater team creativity.
  • Panels of dance judges give their evaluations using very similar language to entrepreneur idea judges.
  • Social network centrality contributes to innovation.
  • Minority dissent contributes to innovation.
  • People who have lived overseas are, on average, more creative.
  • When companies create a new organizational unit for their new breakthrough technology, what usually happens is that the new unit gets crushed by the existing power structure. It tends to work better if the new technology stays embedded in the existing structure. (Mary Tripsas)
  • The degree of challenge of a task relates to creativity, but the degree of enjoyment does not.

Great stuff, right?

At the annual American Psychological Association (APA) meeting, Division 10 includes scholars who study the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. I invite those creativity researchers to consider attending the AOM meeting next year! Let me know if you're going to be there!

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