Organizational creativity and the Top Management Team (TMT): an interactionist perspective.

Author:Ruppel, Cynthia P.


In the global economy there is increasing recognition that a creative workforce is a competitive advantage (Agars, Kaufman, Deane, & Smith, 2012). It is increasingly important for a business to create unique products, services and use innovative processes to gain competitive advantages (Gates, 2010; Ford, 1999). "Rising complexity leads CEOs from around the world to cite creativity as a way to capitalize on the future of business" (Nancherla, 2010, p. 26). Creativity is a driving and a constraining force facing businesses today given economic conditions. "Yet, past history also shows that the greatest innovation can come during periods of severe economic stress" (Jaruzelski & Holmes, 2009, p. 2). Executives must be able to develop creative approaches to meet the strategic and operational demands to ensure the viability of the firm. Organizations feel increasing pressure to be creative and innovative on an ongoing basis to gain a competitive advantage and ensure their long-term survival. According to Munroe (2011), "there is a wide agreement that innovation is the best way to sustain economic prosperity. innovation increases productivity, and productivity increases the possibility of higher income, higher profits, new jobs, new products, and a prosperous economy. Once you open the curtains to the world economy, you see the sunlight. It's not all cloudy. We need to transform smart ideas that tackle and address real problems into products and services that everybody wants." (para 23)

From a business perspective linking the two constructs of creativity and innovation together makes sense as "creativity for its own sake has minimal value (Agars et al., 2012).

It is a priority for an organization to encourage creativity and by extension innovation as keys to long-term success. Creativity or the ability to encourage and recognize creativity as a leadership quality is stressed across geographic locations and industries (Gumusluoglu and Ilsev, 2009). Leadership provides a solid foundation to influence creativity and innovative leaders behave differently (Dyer, Gregersen, & Christensen, 2009). However, predicting creativity at the organization level is a complex topic that psychologists and organizational scientists have studied for years. Researchers have approached the topic from multiple viewpoints i.e., differences in individual cognitive ability, personality, motivation and social perspectives (Guilford, 1967; McCrae, 1987; Amabile, 1983; Perry-Smith & Shalley, 2003). Amabile's (1988) componential theory looked at the influences on creativity--three within-individual components: domain-relevant skills, creativity-relevant processes (cognitive and personality processes conducive to novel thinking), and task motivation; one outside the individual component, the surrounding environment also called the social environment. Amabile (2012) specifies that creativity requires a confluence of all components. Creativity is highest when an intrinsically motivated person with high domain expertise and high skill in creative thinking works in an environment that supports creativity (Amabile, 2012). It remains a challenge to identify which definitions and which lessons are appropriate to apply from the general creativity literature to the business setting (Agars et al., 2012).


The purpose of the study is to examine the personalities and traits of the top management team (TMT), the context of the social environment, and explores how individual level personality traits impact and foster group and organization level creativity. This study was conducted in the natural organizational setting of one gaming company, a top performing multinational company producing game content, technology, customized programs, and managed casinos. Barron and Harrington (1981) noted the need for but recognized the difficulty of gathering "rich psychological data on creative individuals" (p. 466). This study provides such data concerning the TMT at the individual and group level, as well as the organizational context they provide in an organization recognized as a creative company. "Although the experimental research is important in establishing causal connections between the social environment, motivation and creativity, the most directly relevant information comes from interview and survey studies within corporations" (Amabile, 1997, p. 46).

Research Questions

This study examines the premise of organizational creativity as a complex interaction of the creativity of the individual, group, and larger organization levels with an emphasis on the personality of the TMT. This work addresses previous calls for research into the dynamic interaction of individual characteristics, group characteristics, and organizational characteristics, creative behaviors, and creative situations to better explain creativity in the business setting. Personality is one of the elements that can explain some aspects of creativity. Such individual characteristics influence creativity at the group level. Special qualities include curiosity, ambition, and risk orientation (Amabile, 1988; Woodman, Sawyer, & Griffin, 1993).

Research Question One

Among the members of the TMT what individual level leadership personality traits and behaviors foster creativity?

Creativity is enhanced in an environment that promotes free exchange of ideas and information where risk taking is encouraged and supported. Influence processes used by group leaders can influence creativity (Amabile, 1988; Woodman et al., 1993).

Research Question Two

What qualities of the TMT enhance creativity at the group level?

The creative performance of an organization is influenced by the creative performance of its constituent groups which enhance creativity. Creativity relevant personality and behavior characteristics are the foundation for the interactionist and componential model of creativity stating the each level of creativity is needed for creativity to be produced at the organizational level (Amabile, 1988).

Research Question Three

Does creativity at the individual and TMT level contribute to creative performance outcomes at the organizational level?


The interactionist model proposed by Woodman et al. (1993) of the conceptual links among creative persons, processes, situations, and products serves as the framework for analysis and discussion with the emphasis on the personality of the TMT. An integrative definition of creativity was applied while conducting this study. Woodman et al. (1993) define organizational creativity as the "creation of a valuable, useful new product, service, idea, procedure, or process by individuals working together in a complex social system" (p. 293). Furthermore, they frame organizational creativity as a "subset" of innovation and both as processes that are a part of organizational change and adaptation (p. 293).

Creative performance is commonly defined as the generation of novel and useful ideas, processes and products (Simmons & Sower, 2012; Gumusluoglu & Ilsev, 2009; Shalley, Zhou, & Oldham, 2004). These ideas can range from incremental changes to radical changes which also may have varying degrees of usefulness. There is a common underlying assumption that the "newer" or more "radical" an idea and the more "useful" it is: the more it will improve performance.

As a multi-step process, for creativity, an individual level variable, to effectively impact performance, it must progress from the idea stage to the implementation stage. Innovation, generally an organizational level variable, is defined as the successful implementation of creative outcomes (Simmons and Sower, 2012; Gumusluoglu and Ilsev, 2009). Innovation begins with creative ideas that are translated into inventions, services, processes, and methods (Gallo, 2011). It has been noted that the most important antecedent of innovation is creativity (Amabile, Schatzel, Moneta, & Kramer, 2004; Zhou & George, 2003; Shin & Zhou, 2003).


Personality and Creativity

Amabile (1988) viewed the individual's creativity as the "raw material for organizational innovation and, therefore must be central to the organizational model" (p. 150). Woodman et al. (1993) proposed a theoretical framework, interactionist in nature, for organizational creativity in complex environments. Their conceptual framework identified the individual, group and organizational characteristics that create the appropriate conditions for creativity to emerge in the greater organization. Of particular interest to this research is their discussion of individual creativity which they postulated as "a function of antecedent conditions, cognitive styles and abilities, personality, motivational factors and knowledge" (Woodman et al., 1993, p. 310). According to Woodman et al. (1993) individual factors "both are influenced by and influence social and contextual factors. The group in which the individual creativity occurs establishes the immediate social influences on individual creativity" (p. 301).


Barron and Harrington (1981) described 15 years of work on the relationship between creativity and personality as leading to the emergence of certain "core characteristics (e.g. high valuation of esthetic qualities in experience, broad interests, attraction to complexity, high energy, independence of judgment, autonomy, intuition, self-confidence ... finally a firm sense of self as creative) (p. 452)."

After conducting three large-scale studies Amabile (1988) proposed a componential theory of individual creativity that encompassed "various personality traits" and "special qualities of the problem-solver, including persistence, curiosity, energy, and intellectual honesty". In addition, "self-motivation " or "being driven, excited by the work itself, enthusiastic, attracted by the challenge of the problem" was noted. "Special cognitive abilities, risk...

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