Sub-theme 34: Organizational creativity: The overlooked, understudied, and much missed

Daved Barry, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal
Tomi J. Kallio, Turku School of Economics, Finland
Erika Sauer, University of Tampere, Finland

Call for Papers

During the past 50 plus years creativity has become a major focus in the social sciences. According to Styhre and Sundgren (2005) creativity has been examined from four distinct perspectives: (i) the creative processes, (ii) the creative person, (iii) creative products, and (iv) the creative environment, with a predominant focus on individually-centered psychometric perspectives. Much less studied are the social settings and organizational structures where creativity takes place. Styhre and Sundgren (2005) state that what is especially lacking is 'organizational creativity'. The authors argue that organizational creativity is a 'precursor' to innovation, noting that while a search in Social Science Citation Index (from 1975 to 2003) gave 10,011 hits to 'creativity', there were no more than 21 matches for 'organizational creativity', thus indicating the underdevelopment of this line of academic inquiry.

This is not only a limitation in organizational theory but might also have important consequences for everyday work in organizations, as suggested by Teresa M. Amabile, one of the figureheads of studies in organizational creativity:

"When I consider all the organizations I have studied and worked with over the past 22 years, there can be no doubt: creativity gets killed much more often than it gets supported. For the most part, this isn't because managers have a vendetta against creativity. On the contrary, most believe in the value of new and useful ideas. However, creativity is undermined unintentionally every day in work environments that were established – for entirely good reasons – to maximize business imperatives such as coordination, productivity, and control. Managers cannot be expected to ignore business imperatives, of course. But in working toward these imperatives, they may be inadvertently designing organizations that systematically crush creativity." (Amabile 1998, 77)

When analyzing the extant studies on organizational creativity, perspectives of leadership and team work have clearly dominated the discourse. At the same time there are multiple silenced voices within organizations that might turn out to be highly important for creativity: e.g., practices in accounting and other neglected functions, as well as other phenomena, not so often tied to organizations, such as emotions, aesthetics and identities.

Of special interest are the everyday organizational practices and mundane interaction (Ropo and Parviainen, 2001). What is the position and place of creativity in these practices and in discussion? What is understood with the word 'creativity'? Who is considered as 'creative'? What is the right time and space for creativity? In the research it is suggested that a wide scope of emotional expressiveness mediates creativity. Besides trust and empathy, also expressiveness of negative feelings is important. Rhythm of work has to allow leeway for creativity to take place. The architecture and design of work space are also considered as critical for creativity. Emotional expressiveness, rhythm of work and spatial dimensions are all in relation to corporeality. Human body and its capabilities and limitations become central through these overlooked approaches within organization studies. Rigorous conceptual and empirical research within organizational setting is called for.

Contributors of the sub-theme are asked to discuss alternative perspectives and silenced voices of organizational creativity. Papers submitted to the sub-theme may include, but are not restricted to following:

  • Neglected functions (e.g. accounting and shop-floor level production) and organizational creativity
  • Structures preventing organizational innovation

  • Organizational forums for reflection and co-configuration, including social, physical, and virtual spheres

  • Organizations as constructors for creative identities

  • Leadership of emotions which enhance/prohibit organizational creativity

  • Organizational aesthetics in giving voice to creativity

  • Corporeality of creative work

  • Methods for unveiling hidden voices


Amabile, T.M. (1998): "How to Kill Creativity." Harvard Business Review, 76, 77–87.

Ropo, A. and J. Parviainen (2001): "Leadership and bodily knowledge in expert organizations. Epistemological rethinking." Scandinavian Journal of Management, 17 (1), 1–18.

Styhre, A. and M. Sundgren (2005): Managing Creativity in Organizations: Critique and Practices. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Daved Barry 
Tomi J. Kallio 
Erika Sauer