The Creative Outcomes of Positive Emotion

Employee creativity is generally recognised as a crucial component in achieving innovative success and more importantly, organisational sustainability.  This would come as little surprise to many; in fact it would be far more peculiar to find any large corporate organisations that didn’t occasionally emphasise the importance of creative performance outcomes.  Within-person studies that acknowledge creative performance as a dynamic outcome, which can change from day-to-day or even hour to hour, are very sparse as most look at the creative differences between people.  But why wouldn’t we look within the person?  We can probably all attest to the fact that some days we intuitively feel more creative that others

One recent diary-type investigation looked at 100 architect’s daily experience of creativity with the aim of asking “what makes a creative day?” The authors found that the better the architects felt in the morning upon getting to work, the far more creative they were the rest of the day.  The authors also looked at the relationship between job stressors and creativity.  Before I tell you what they found, take a moment to question yourself on what level of stress you think you are at your most creative: When you’ve kicked up your feet on the desk? Or, when you have 17 deadlines to meet before lunchtime? The architects’ diaries suggested an inverted U-shaped curve type relationship (a Yerkes-Dodson type curve) between daily time pressure and daily creativity, but only for those with a high level of job control.  That is, employees with a relatively high level of autonomy felt they were at their most creative when they were under a normal amount of time pressure.  Conversely, for those with lower levels of autonomy time pressure did not seem to have any effect on their level of creativity.

So what can we take away from this?  I think there are two major practical implications:

  1. If we need staff to have high levels of creative performance on any given day we need to foster positive affect, that is, positive emotional experience.  I’d suggest thinking what would better your employees’ moods in the morning.  How about surprising them with something nice?
  2. Lastly, the findings regarding time pressure and job control highlight the importance of effective work design.  Increasing job control and keeping time pressures at a normal level are seemingly crucial; well at least on days you need your staff to think outside that proverbial square.

Binnerwies, C. &Wornlein, S.C.  (2011).  What makes a creative day?  A diary study on the interplay between affect, job stressors, and job control. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32, 589-607.


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