The International Manager’s Creativity Formula 2/2

Kevyn Yong, Dean of ESSEC Asia-Pacific, Professor of Management and expert of entrepreneurship, shares Part 2 of his research into how creativity differs across cultures and provides a framework for how managers working internationally can boost creativity and innovation.    

We draw on Teresa Amabile’s componential theory of creativity that identifies four theoretical drivers of creativity, each of which must be present for creativity to be achieved. Our research suggests that these components are the key to facilitating or fostering creativity across cultures. The key is to identify the creativity component that complements the social normative expectations of a given culture.

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Enhancing creativity across the board: novelty and usefulness

Managers can’t change the social normative expectations imposed by their country’s culture. They can, however, develop or trigger the creativity component that complements their culture. In other words, since each culture may place importance on one part of the equation by default, creativity can be achieved in any culture by triggering the component that relates to the other part of the equation:

Creativity = novelty x usefulness

We argue that different cultures will emphasize each component of creativity to a greater or lesser extent depending on social normative expectations. For instance, according to the social normative perspective, cultures that are individualistic, low in uncertainty avoidance, low in power distance, masculine, and culturally loose will pay by default a greater emphasis on the novelty part of the equation. Conversely, cultures that are collectivistic, uncertainty avoidant, power distant, feminine, and culturally tight will by default pay a greater emphasis on the usefulness part of the equation. Each component’s effect on creativity will be maximized when they complement the social normative emphasis on either novelty or usefulness imposed by the country’s culture. For instance, the research to date seems to suggest that task motivation, creativity-relevant skills, and the work environment is relatively more likely to affect novelty whereas domain-relevant skills is relatively more likely to affect usefulness. Hence, our idea – in equation terms – is as follows:

Creativity = (task motivation x creativity relevant skills x work environment) x (collectivistic, uncertainty avoidant, power distant, feminine, and culturally tight) 


Creativity = (individualistic, low uncertainty avoidant, low power distant, masculine, and culturally loose) x (domain relevant skills)

Limitations notwithstanding, our idea presents several useful insights for practice. Managers tasked with enhancing creativity in their organization should be cognizant of the creative strengths and weakness of their organization’s cultural setting. However, instead of the conventional wisdom of reducing or eradicating cultural biases that inhibit creativity, we recommend that managers will do better by working towards improving the dimension of creativity that is not emphasized by the culture of the country they are working in. For instance, managers in individualistic cultural settings like the US and Israel should focus their efforts on improving the domain-relevant skills of their employees with training and development. In contrast, managers in collectivistic cultural setting like China and Japan should focus their efforts on fostering task motivations amongst their employees with appropriate incentive systems and supportive work environments.

The role of culture has been – and continues to be – one of the most interesting factors in the study of creativity in organizations. Even so, empirical studies have been designed primarily to test the hypothesis that some cultures are inherently more conducive to creativity than other cultures. In contrast, we provide insight into how organizations can attain superior levels of creative performance in any country.

Read Part 1 of this article

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