Psychology Creativity at Work
Kristina Potočnik
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0250


Creativity at work is the process of generating novel and useful ideas to either introduce new products, processes, or services in the workplace or improve the existing ones. As such, creativity at work has been considered essential for improving organizational performance and making businesses flourish. Importantly, creativity at work has to be distinguished from workplace innovation. Oftentimes both terms are used interchangeably, although innovation in the workplace also covers the process of implementation of novel and useful ideas (as opposed to only production of such ideas). The most straightforward way of distinguishing between both concepts is to employ adequate measures to operationalize creativity and innovation at work. Based on the premise that the more creativity that is produced at work the better, the existing research has drawn on different theoretical approaches to tease out what individual and contextual factors enhance creativity at work (or at least do not inhibit it). There is also vast research on how creativity is produced and managed in context of work teams in order to understand how groups of employees work together to generate novel and useful ideas for organizational improvement. In sum, creativity at work is about producing novel and useful ideas, which constitutes the first stage of the innovation process. This can be developed and managed by drawing upon individual employee characteristics that are conducive to creativity as well as designing the work context in a way that enhances creativity. This piece is organized around these topics and aims to provide a guide to some of the key texts in the field.

General Overviews

The research on creativity at work has been synthesized and integrated in several books, book chapters, and review articles. Zhou and Shalley 2008, one of the first books on creativity at work, is a collection of cutting-edge research from top scholars in the field. Mumford 2012 is also an excellent book on organizational creativity, structuring different chapters at the individual, group, and organizational levels. As such, this book is one of the first that clearly outlines the multi-level nature of the creativity phenomenon. Anderson, et al. 2014 is a comprehensive state of the art narrative review and integration of both organizational creativity and innovation research at individual, team, and organizational levels of analysis. It concludes with a call for a more critical view of this field, suggesting that there is also a dark side to organizational creativity and innovation. Anderson, et al. 2018 is a comprehensive summary of narrative reviews in this field with key future directions outlined in each review. Comprehensive overviews of workplace creativity are also offered in Hennessey and Amabile 2010 and Zhou and Hoever 2014. In the first piece, the authors focus particularly on reviewing the literature on creativity at multiple levels, whereas in the second piece the authors focus particularly on the interactionist approach to studying creativity at work focusing simultaneously on both individual employee or actor-centered factors and contextual factors, respectively. Montag, et al. 2012 synthesizes the research on individual-level creativity in particular and calls for more research on multiple categories of employee creative performance behaviors and their impact on creative outcome effectiveness. In one of the most recent reviews in the field, Acar, et al. 2019 provides an integrative synthesis of how different constraints such as unavailability of resources and the use of rules and regulations either foster or hinder creativity at work. For an overview of different concepts that share considerable conceptual overlaps with creativity at work see Potočnik and Anderson 2016.

  • Acar, O. A., M. Tarakci, and D. van Knippenberg. 2019. Creativity and innovation under constraints: A cross-disciplinary integrative review. Journal of Management 45: 96–121.

    DOI: 10.1177/0149206318805832

    A review article that integrates the research evidence on constraints that either foster or hinder workplace creativity.

  • Anderson, N., K. Potočnik, and J. Zhou. 2014. Innovation and creativity in organizations. Journal of Management 40: 1297–1333.

    DOI: 10.1177/0149206314527128

    A review article that integrates the research evidence on innovation and creativity at the individual, team, and organizational levels of analyses. It also provides a number of directions for future research, particularly calling for more studies that would look into the potentially dysfunctional side of workplace creativity and innovation (i.e., the dark side).

  • Anderson, N., K. Potočnik, R. Bledow, U. R. Hülsheger, and K. Rosing. 2018. Innovation and creativity in organizations. In The SAGE handbook of industrial, work & organizational psychology. Edited by D. S. Ones, N. Anderson, C. Viswesvaran, and H. K. Sinangil, 161–186. London: SAGE.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781473914964.n9

    A book chapter that provides a comprehensive review of organizational innovation and creativity research, along with the summary of key definitions of both concepts, foci of recent narrative reviews, and meta-directions for future research based on these narrative reviews.

  • Hennessey B. A., and T. M. Amabile. 2010. Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology 61: 569–698.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100416

    A review article that offers an integration of the creativity literature at different levels of analysis. It concludes that the future research on creativity has to take on the systems perspective requiring interdisciplinary research in order to deal with interrelated factors shaping creativity at multiple levels simultaneously.

  • Montag, T., C. P. Maertz, and M. Baer. 2012. A critical analysis of the workplace creativity space. Journal of Management 38: 1362–1386.

    DOI: 10.1177/0149206312441835

    A review article that integrates the research evidence on individual-workplace creativity and suggests different concepts of creative performance behaviors and creative outcome effectiveness.

  • Mumford, M. D., ed. 2012. Handbook of organizational creativity. New York: Elsevier.

    Edited book that includes twenty-eight chapters by top experts in the field of workplace creativity. The book covers individual, group, and organizational antecedents of creativity at work.

  • Potočnik, K., and N. Anderson. 2016. A critical review of change management and innovation related concepts in management studies: Toward conceptual and operational clarity. European Journal of Work and organizational Psychology 25: 481–494.

    DOI: 10.1080/1359432X.2016.1176022

    This piece reviews and clarifies the nomological network of different concepts that share conceptual similarities with workplace creativity, such as showing personal initiative, job crafting, and submitting suggestions for improvement. The article includes a summary of key definitions of these concepts as well as key similarities and differences between them.

  • Zhou, J., and C. E. Shalley, eds. 2008. Handbook of organizational creativity. Hillsdale, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Edited book that includes fifteen chapters by top experts in the field of workplace creativity. The book covers the historical context of creativity research, distinctive contributions from different angles, including the role of leadership and organizational culture and climate in fostering creativity, practical implications of creativity, and directions for future research.

  • Zhou, J., and I. J. Hoever. 2014. Research on workplace creativity: A review and redirection. The Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior 1: 333–359.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-031413-091226

    A review article that integrates research evidence on workplace creativity. Based on this, the article stresses the need to take on the interactionist approach to study workplace creativity by focusing on individual employee or actor characteristics as well as contextual factors. They put forward a typology that can further explain how the interaction effects between actor and context shape creativity at work.

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