There are many definitions of creativity, and there are various related and contending concepts as well, such as “innovation”, “inspiration”, “ingenuity” and “imagination”. I found that creativity and innovation where the most frequently used in the literature, with originality as a common denominator in their definitions (Answers.com, 2015a, 2015c). I will understand their interrelationship by applying the integrated approach put forth by Anderson et al. (2014), in which creativity refers to idea generation, while innovation refers to subsequent implementation. Put another way, “creativity is the seed of innovation” (Joo et al., 2013, p. 394). New ideas are not necessarily earthshattering game changers, with some being more incremental and logical developments of preexisting ideas. Case in point, novel ideas such as the internet and evolutionary theory had various precursors and alternatives developed in parallel whom few have even heard of (Cantor, Christie, Hodge, & Olby, 2006).
Positioning the Team Level in a Multilevel Framework
While there are various minor and some overlapping directions, we can identify six distinct theoretical perspectives in the literature: componential, interactionist, the model of individual creative action, cultural explanations, the four-factor theory, and the ambidexterity theory (Anderson et al., 2014). General systems theory is central in the multilevel research program, and differs due to its goal of identifying principles that work across levels of analysis (Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006; Kozlowski & Klein, 2000). As atoms form molecules, individuals form teams.
The call for a more multilevel understanding of creativity has been around for a while, yet has not taken on commensurate steam until recently. Woodman et al. (1993) suggested that realistic theories of creativity should take into account the creative process, product, situation, person(s), and map out the interaction between them. There are various multilevel typologies, with some distinguishing between micro, meso and macro, or use the terms individual, group, organization (Anderson et al., 2014; Kozlowski & Klein, 2000). I will also apply the separation Kozlowski and Klein (2000) draws between top-down, temporal and emergent processes.
The challenge we face when studying creativity, is that bottom-up and top-down factors crisscross, which has tempted scientists to limit themselves to a specific level of analysis. The team level is interesting since it is contingent on both individual attributes (micro) and complex contextual (macro) forces (Montag, Maertz, & Baer, 2012). As such, a team’s creative product is synergistic, with no single individual with the prerequisites needed to produce it (Kurtzberg & Amabile, 2001). Apple is not necessarily the story of Steve Jobs, but how a top-tier network around him made it all happen, with him as primary catalyst (Finkle & Mallin, 2010).
Top-down contextual processes
These kinds of processes have a more broad impact on underlying phenomena (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000). Scope differs widely between top-down processes, in that some can be international, national, industrial or organizational in nature. Case in point, a meta-analysis of SMEs found that the firms age, cultural context and type of innovation had an impact on the performance/innovation relationship (Rosenbusch, Brinckmann, & Bausch, 2011).
An industrial change event, such as the invention of the internet, precipitated an explosion in creativity which turned into such a frenzy that it created the dot-com bubble of 2000 (Jungqvist & Wilhelm, 2003). Demonstrative of how organizational factors affect creativity, is the finding that an unsupportive work environment can reduce it markedly (Jin Nam, Anderson, & Veillette, 2009). The notion that nation-level cultural factors matters is supported, since there are cross-national findings establishing a link between developmental factors, such as the rise of individualism, and succeeding boost in creativity (Rinne, Steel, & Fairweather, 2013).
Whether a phenomenon is considered as originating from a higher or lower level is also contingent on time (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000). The cycle of events can transform e.g. an emergent dynamic team culture into a top-down formalized modus operandi for an entire organization. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have been very open about how “culture fit” has been a very important part of recruitment since the company’s origins. As such, one could argue the “ghost” of the dynamic between Page and Brin permeates throughout Google to this day. Same goes with other organizations whom embody the key opinion makers.
Time is something that we should heed in theory and model development, and use it to demarcate the boundaries of their validity. Temporal reference points are necessary for others to replicate the phenomena. A bottom-up emergent process needs more time to spread throughout the organization, while a process with solid top-down catalysts effect lower levels much quicker (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000).
Bottom-up emergent processes
A composition process is isomorphic and emerge upward across levels as identical lower-level properties, which coalesce into a higher-level property that is equivalent to its parts (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000). On the other hand, compilation is a discontinuous process in which they are distinctively different yet functionally equivalent. There are further ways to sub-categorize this dichotomy, but the central point is that these lower-level properties take on aggregate characteristics. For composition, team performance is more the sum-average of individual team members, while it for compilation is more like a pattern of differential contributions. To illustrate, let us say a visionary inventor observes a problem and has an idea of how to solve it, yet has absolutely no understanding of the engineering needed to create the product. Still, together with a team of engineers, marketers etc. they are able to realize something none could individually.
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Music: “Trnaquility” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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Science for entire HRM-series: http://cybloom.blogg.no/1450207334_why_creativity_is_ess.html