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Creativity Across Cultures. February 2, 2005. Class Overview. Last week we considered the effect of organizational culture on creativity. This week we consider culture outside the organization by focusing on individualism vs. collectivism.

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Creativity Across Cultures

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Creativity Across Cultures

February 2, 2005

Class Overview

  • Last week we considered the effect of organizational culture on creativity.

  • This week we consider culture outside the organization by focusing on individualism vs. collectivism.

  • Conclude by discussing how research on culture and creativity can move forward.

Individualism vs. Collectivism

  • Collectivism: Groups bind and mutually obligate individuals.

  • Individualism: People are independent and self- determining (Oyserman,, 2002)

  • Collectivistic values are beneficial:

    • Collectivism promotes cooperation and reduces social loafing(Wagner, 1995)

    • Collectivism promotes identification with the organization (Chatman, Polzer, Barsade & Neale, 1998)

Shift Toward Collectivism

  • Organizations shifting toward collectivistic work practices (Ilgen, et. al., 1993)

    • Quality circles & autonomous work teams

      (Nonaka, et. al., 1985)

  • Shift toward collectivistic forms of social control such as the motivating potential of shared norms and values (O’Reilly, 1989).

Research Questions

Question 1:

  • Can collectivism have a downside?

    • Does collectivism stifle creativity?

      Question 2:

  • Can this barrier be overcome by simply instructing collectivistic groups to be creative?

Hypothesis 1: Individualistic groups will have higher performance than collectivistic groups on creativity tasks.

  • People in collectivistic cultures are more conforming.(Bond & Smith, 1996)

    • Given that creative ideas are initially deviant increasing conformity pressure will limit creativity (Moscovici, 1985; Nemeth & Staw, 1989).

  • Willingness to “stand out” from the group and to confront differences will promote creativity in individualistic groups.

    (Stasser, 1987; Nemeth, et al, 2001)

Counter-argument: Collectivism and creative norms

  • Collectivistic groups may also be creative if they are “instructed” to do so.(Flynn & Chatman, 2001).

  • Norms are easily manipulated

    (Chatman & Barsade, 1995; Sutton & Hargadon, 1996)

  • ADVANTAGE: All the benefits of a cohesive group with collectivistic values without any of the destructive conflict and opportunism associated with individualistic groups.

From Conformity to Creativity?

  • Hypothesis 2: There will be an interactive effect of task objectives and group culture on creative performance.


    Hypothesis 2: Collectivistic groups instructed to be creative will be more creative than individualistic groups instructed to be creative.

Unleashing Creativity: Where conformists can’t follow

  • Creative capabilities in individualistic groups may be unleashed when such groups are instructed to be creative.

    Competing Hypothesis:

  • Hypothesis 3: Group culture and objectives will have an interactive effect on creativity, such that the advantages of an individualistic (as opposed to collectivistic) culture will be strongest when groups are instructed to be creative.


  • Subjects: Undergraduate students in Business Administration

  • Groups of 3 randomly assigned to one of four conditions.


  • N = 68 groups (17 groups per condition)

How is individualism-collectivism typically studied?

  • Nationality as proxy (i.e. Chinese vs. Americans/European Americans)

    • Differences are assumed, not explicitly measured.

  • Disadvantages:

    • Within Country Differences: Ethnic groups (Freeberg & Stein, 1996)

    • Between Country Differences: Japan vs. US vs. Korea (Oyserman, et al)

Culture manipulation

INDIVIDUALISM: Write 3 statements:

A. Describing yourself.

  • About why you think you are not like most other people.

  • About why you think it might be advantageous to “stand out” from other people.

    COLLECTIVISM: Write 3 statements

  • Describing the groups to which you belong.

  • About why you think you are like most other people.

  • About why you think it might be advantageous to “blend in” with other people.

Creativity Task

  • PHASE 1: Idea Generation (15 minutes)


    • The campus restaurant is being shutdown.

    • The administration now has an empty space.

    • Generate as many (CREATIVE/PRACTICAL) ideas as possible.

  • PHASE 2: Idea Selection (10 minutes)

    • As a group, select the most (CREATIVE/PRACTICAL) idea.

Dependent Variables (Phase 1)

  • Idea generation: Sheer number of ideas.

  • Divergent thinking:

    • Proportion of restaurant ideas.

    • Diversity of ideas.

  • Subjective rating of creativity

    • 5 = extremely creative, 1 = very un-creative

Dependent Variables (Phase 2)

  • Creativity of selected idea

    • 5 = extremely creative, 1 = very un-creative

  • Number of facets

    • “Ideas can sometimes be multi-faceted. How many different elements are represented within the final idea selected by each group?”

    • E.g. Café with live music and a bookstore

Results: Number of Ideas

Results: Proportion of restaurant ideas

Results: Diversity of ideas

  • Lower score = greater novelty

Results: Creativity by condition

Results: Creativity of selected idea

  • Culture main effect: F (1, 63) = 6.13, p < .05

Multi-faceted ideas

  • Culture main effect: F (1, 63) = 7.03, p < .05

  • Number of facets positively correlated with subjective creativity rating: r = .64, p < .01

Summary of results

  • Instructions to “be creative” stimulate greater creativity in individualistic groups than collectivistic groups (H3).

    • More ideas, more diverse ideas, more creative ideas.

  • Individualistic groups are more creative even at the selection stage which is a “convergent task” (H1).

    • Selected ideas more creative and multi-faceted.

  • Notion that collectivistic groups can be more creative than individualistic groups when instructed to be was not supported.

Study Conclusions

  • Shift toward collectivistic work practices may have unintended negative consequences.

  • Different cultures may have different effects on creativity.

  • Not easy to capitalize on the benefits of collectivism without incurring costs.

Remaining Questions

  • We know that many innovations originate in countries that are collectivistic? How can we explain this discrepancy?

  • Is it possible that people define creativity differently in different cultures?

Next Week

  • Return Innovation Papers.

  • Tuesday: Discuss leadership, entrepreneurship and creativity.

  • Thursday: Guest lecture by founder and C.E.O of TerraCyle

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