Three essays on power dynamics and group creativity
Date of Issue2014
College of Business (Nanyang Business School)
Creativity is critical to the success of individuals, groups, and organizations. The prevalence of groups as work units in modern organizations has inspired plenty of research to identify the facilitators and inhibitors of group creativity. Despite the extensive research on the benefits and costs of power on individual creativity, previous research has remained silent on how power influences group creativity performance. Besides, idea generation and idea selection are two qualitatively distinct stages of creativity with different task goals and cognitive requirements. Idea generation is defined as a task to produce as many creative ideas as possible and idea selection aims at choosing the best idea(s) for further development and commercialization. Despite these differences in the two stages of creativity, power equality, by facilitating open expression and enhancing information exchange, may have positive effects on the production of creative outputs at both two stages. Nonetheless, no known research has empirically examined the roles power distribution plays at the idea generation and selection stages of creativity. Furthermore, the presence of inconsistent findings pertinent to cross-cultural differences in creativity highlights the need for a theoretical framework that organizes existing findings and explicates the underlying mechanisms of these cultural differences. This dissertation aims to fill in the research gaps mentioned above through two empirical studies and the proposal of a theoretical model. The present dissertation consists of three interrelated essays on power and group creativity. In the first essay, I examined how equal power distribution within the group, an important aspect of power dynamics in teams, predicts creativity performance through the mediation of constructive controversy in student teams. I hypothesized that equal power distribution facilitates creative performance through supporting open-minded discussion of diverse opinions within the group. Aside from power distribution, the study also explored whether empowerment and collaboration also promote constructive controversy, which in turn enhances group creativity. The research further examined whether empowerment and collaboration can further strengthen the relationship between equal power distribution and constructive controversy. I conducted a survey study with student project teams to test my hypotheses. The results showed that equal power distribution, together with group empowerment and collaboration, positively predict group creativity through the mediation of constructive controversy. The interaction effects of empowerment and collaboration with equal power distribution on constructive controversy were not significant. The focus of the second essay is on the role of equal power distribution in the idea generation and selection stages of team creativity. I hypothesize that equal power distribution predicts higher group originality at both idea generation and idea selection stages, but through different mechanisms. These hypotheses received partial support from a lab experiment, in which college students worked together in teams to generate or select ideas in a design task. Egalitarian groups tended to select more original ideas. However, both the facilitative (indirect effect through the mediation of information volume) and inhibitive effects of power equality on originality were found at the idea generation stage. Equal power distribution enhances group originality of ideas generated by licensing free expression; but also dilutes the average level of originality in the ideas generated by the group, possibly because equal power distribution encourages ideational explorations without due consideration for the originality of ideas generated. In the third essay, I reviewed the pertinent literature on culture and team creativity and proposed a framework to unpack the effects of culture on group creativity. I argue that cultural differences in creative performance arise from adherence to perceived norms of creativity in the presence of the group. People from different cultures hold different shared beliefs about what constitute creativity as well as how to achieve creativity in the group. I propose that the effects of these shared beliefs on group creativity are particularly pronounced in the idea selection stage because people are more likely to tune behaviors toward perceived norms when members of the culture are required to reach consensus on what ideas will be selected for further development. General discussion on how to manage group creativity is offered in the final chapter of the dissertation. Contributions of this dissertation are multifold. First, this dissertation demonstrates the effects of equal power distribution on group creativity as well as their roles at the stages of idea generation and selection. The findings add to the literature on constructive controversy by examining several of its group level antecedents. My study also provides directions for future research on creativity as a multiple stage process. Finally, the framework of cultural effects on group creativity provides new insights into the normative processes underlying cultural differences in creativity performance. Future empirical investigation into the interplay of culture, power and creativity is strongly encouraged.