How to Predict & Promote Creative Performance

In his 2020 paper, What Is Creativity and Why It Is So Important?, Yousra Mazeh says:

Creativity and resourcefulness come through genuine determination, constant hours of hard work, adequate training, high-level objectives and months of practical experiences. It requires many things: intellectual abilities, knowledge, styles of thinking, personality, motivation, and environment.

Creativity has moved from a subject of art to a subject of business. When talking about creative performance, we’re looking at how people use creativity to problem solve. And for our purposes, we’ll look at how this applies to the workplace.

This article is a wrap up of lots of good material out on the web. We’ve provided links throughout to more information about creative performance and creativity in the workplace that we hope you’ll explore.

What is Creative Performance?

According to IGI Global, creative performance is defined as:

A high level of capability in an idea or solution, applied to solve a problem in an imaginative way, resulting in effective action. Environmental factors such as autonomy and freedom, challenge, clear direction, diversity/flexibility/tension, support for creativity, trust, and participative safety directly affect the creative performance within work teams.

Creativity flows from gathering information and inspiration, looking at what’s been done in the past and how successful it was, then applying all we’ve learned to the current problem or opportunity to create something new that solves the problem or exploits the opportunity.

Creative performance as a discipline looks at the social, environmental and cognitive factors that determine how well we do at producing novel solutions and ideas.

History and Research

Psychology researchers have studied creative performance for decades. The focus of that research has morphed over time, from personalities in the 50s and 60s, to cognitive approaches to creativity in the 70s and 80s, to modern studies that focus on team dynamics. Today, there’s more importance given to social and cultural contexts and how they affect creativity.

One of the pioneers in studying creativity is Teresa Amabile. She is the author of The Progress PrincipleCreativity in Context, and Growing Up Creative, as well as over 150 scholarly papers, chapters, case studies and presentations. She now studies how everyday life inside organizations can influence people and their performance.

In her 2012 paper, Componential Theory of Creativity, she lists two assumptions:

  1. There is a continuum from low, ordinary levels of creativity found in everyday life to the highest levels of creativity found in historically significant inventions, performances, scientific discoveries, and works of art.
  2. There are degrees of creativity in the work of any single individual, even within one domain. The level of creativity that a person produces at any given point in time is a function of the creativity components operating, at that time, within and around that person.

In other words, everyone is creative, but there are different levels of creativity within us. And those levels of creativity are a result of how creative our environment is at the time. When it comes to creative performance in a work setting, the environment is crucial.

Creative Performance in the Workplace

In the workplace, hiring has gradually placed more and more emphasis on creativity when looking at potential employees. What once was relegated to marketing and design hires is now considered essential for problem solving in all areas of business. The shift to team dynamics is largely due to the recognition that without creativity within and across teams, productivity and innovation lag.

It’s also important to note that just being creative isn’t usually helpful to an organization. Ideas have to be actionable, useful and relevant to the challenge at hand. Creativity isn’t valuable if it doesn’t offer solutions that either fit within or further our business strategies.

In her article How to Kill Creativity, Amabile says:

“When I consider all the organizations I have studied and worked with over the past 22 years, there can be no doubt: creativity gets killed much more often than it gets supported. For the most part, this isn’t because managers have a vendetta against creativity. On the contrary, most believe in the value of new and useful ideas. However, creativity is undermined unintentionally every day in work environments that were established—for entirely good reasons—to maximize business imperatives such as coordination, productivity, and control.”

Creative individuals approach situations with a different mindset that’s often tied to personality, how they think and their work style. Amabile notes that while thinking imaginatively is one part of creativity, expertise and motivation are also essential.

Usually, creative performance will be limited if a person or team doesn’t have knowledge or experience in the area they’re considering. You might get a very creative solution, but without expertise, the odds of that solution being successful (actionable and useful) are small.

Motivation hugely affects creative performance, and both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators play a roll. If a person has an interest or passion for a subject, or enjoys a task, they’ll be more likely to be creative while doing it. Although intrinsic, organizations can still support these motivations by pairing individuals and teams to challenges that they’ll find interesting.

Of course, extrinsic motivations can be tied to output and performance using perks, benefits and recognition. Organizations can also promote creative mindsets with brainstorming and problem solving exercises, and bolster experience through skills and knowledge training.

If you’re looking to boost creativity for yourself or your existing teams, consider these steps from Amabile that are summarized in a great article by Willemijn Brouwer:

  1. Take a step back, rearrange your elements, see what you have, and define the most important elements.
  2. Start with the value of an idea and not with how realistic it is. This will come later.
  3. Use concentrated work sessions rather than distribution work sessions and warm-up before idea generation.
  4. Try something counterintuitive.
  5. Make the familiar strange and the strange familiar.
  6. Experiment & play.

To improve creative performance, management and teammates need to foster a culture of collaboration and reinforce the value of creative thinking on a consistent basis. This is a mindset change for the whole organization, not just a cash bonus or shout-out on a digital sign.

Predicting Creative Performance

Organizations are always trying new hiring practices, interview formats and personality tests to see if they can predict how someone will fit into their culture and company. While the veracity of these methods is mixed, some studies have shown some basic predictors of whether someone will be a creative thinker at work.

Innovation Management conducted a study that found multiple predictors of creative performance in the workplace. The top six covered in their article are:

  • Openness to experience: an inclination to seek out and appreciate new experiences
  • Creative self-efficacy: a person’s confidence in their ability to think creatively
  • Resilience: a person’s psychological ability to deal with stressful situation.
  • Confidence in intuition: preference for intuitive versus analytical thinking, and confidence in the accuracy of intuitive decisions
  • Tolerance of ambiguity: how people react to problem solving tasks where the information provided is vague, incomplete or inconsistent, and where the solution and path to get to the solution are not immediately clear
  • Cross application of experiences: when a person draws on experiences from seemingly unrelated parts of their life to solve problems at work

Consider how you could incorporate these into your own recruiting processes. It’s best to work with trained professionals and assessment systems who can fold these into your hiring workflows, since forming a way to collect and analyze these traits can be complicated.