Sub-theme 20: Shedding Light on the Dark Sides of Creativity and Innovation

Oliver Ibert
Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space, Germany
Birke Otto
European University Viadrina, Germany
Elke Schüßler
Johannes Kepler University, Austria

Call for Papers

The age of enlightenment set the basis of what today is termed the knowledge society, driven by the expectation of continuous innovation. Given this widespread creative imperative, the activity of creating novel and valuable ideas has become an issue of purposeful organizing and carefully coordinated collaboration (e.g. Perry-Smith & Shalley, 2003). While it is generally assumed that the modern ideals of openness, transparency, and knowledge sharing are conducive for creative processes, much organizing is in fact opaque and invisible (Connelly et al., 2012; Costas & Grey, 2016; Parker, 2016). Often, ideas are considered as emerging in black boxes (Cohendet & Simon, 2015), secret zones (Courpasson & Younes, 2017), or as the outcome of a messy process that is difficult to illuminate.
Ulrich Beck was among the first to acknowledge that, at a societal level, the reflective organization of creativity not only sheds light onto the realm of the unknown, but at the same time also casts new and often deeper shadows elsewhere. As seen in Einstein’s regret to encourage research on the creation of a nuclear bomb or more recent fears of the uncontrollable effects of algorithmic power, creative projects can have uncontainable and lamentable consequences. Irrationality, ignorance, and uncertainty have thus not become extinct in the course of the rise of reason and scientific rationality, but rather accompany every creative force.
The darker side-effects of creativity have long been observed in the association between creativity and psychological illness (e.g. Rushton, 1990). Recent studies have also shown that creative ideas can emerge as outcome of dissatisfaction, conflict or tension at work (e.g. Binnewies & Wörnlein, 2011). Conversely, the imperative to be creative can cause high levels of stress among employees (George, 2007), suggesting that the constant pressure to (re)invent comes at a personal, social and institutional price. What is particularly striking is the ambivalent nature of many of these darker sides of creativity: time pressure, uncertainty, ignorance, secrecy and other kinds of constraints have been found to both positively and negatively influence creativity – depending on certain contextual conditions.
Our aim in this sub-theme is to explore the dialectics of lightness and darkness when organizing for creativity. In our understanding, the dark sides of creativity should not only be regarded as threatening obstacles, but also as enabling assets (Gross, 2010; Brinks et al., 2018). Further, we seek to go beyond the prevalent way of resolving their ambivalence in the form of a curvilinear relationship (e.g. Baer & Oldham, 2006; Nohria & Gulati, 1996) towards better capturing the potentially unresolvable tensions and paradoxes inherent in modern “creative” organizations. We also hope to provide more balance to the current “creativity hype” by highlighting its dysfunctional, ineffective and costly aspects (Bilton, 2014).
Papers may address issues related (but not limited) to the following topics:

  • How do the dialectics and tensions between social inclusion and exclusion, presence and absence, trust and distrust, egalitarianism and elitism, openly sharing ideas and unequally distributing rewards play out in in creative collaboration? How are the provocative, frightening and intimidating aspects of creative forces negotiated and managed in organizations?

  • How are uncertainty, ignorance, non-knowledge or ambiguity harnessed as productive resources in processes of organized creativity (e.g. McGoey, 2012)? How are these concepts defined and how are they related to each other? What are the threatening as well as enabling effects of failure, and the inhibiting and facilitating effects of routinization on creativity?What are new examples for complex organizational choreographies of setting constraints (Ortmann and Sydow, 2017), encouraging ‘creative deviance’ (Mainemelis, 2010) or tolerating ‘creative chaos’ (Chen, 2009), beyond the frequently cited exemplars of “Silicon Valley”-typed companies?

  • How do creative individuals and groups deal with idea rejection, negative feedback, stigmatization, frustration, social dismissal or conflict in creative processes? What are the social, personal, and institutional costs of the creativity imperative and the constant pressure to (re)invent?

  • What are the effects of secrecy, taboos and hidden knowledge in creative processes? What happens in the discretionary spaces of secret labs or skunk works? What are the productive aspects of slack, boredom or idleness for creativity? How do organizations deal with the misappropriation of organizational resources for creative purposes?

  • How do ‘creators’ and organizations deal with undesirable outcomes of their processes, artefacts and solutions?

  • How can these dark sides empirically be studied given that they are typically not easily accessible?



  • Baer, M., & Oldham, G.R. (2006): “The curvilinear relation between experienced creative time pressure and creativity: Moderating effects of openness to experience and support for creativity.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 963–970.
  • Bilton, C. (2014): “Uncreativity: The shadow side of creativity.” International Journal of Cultural Policy, 21 (2), 153–167.
  • Binnewies, C., & Wörnlein, S.C. (2011): “What makes a creative day? A diary study on the interplay between affect, job stressors, and job control.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32 (4), 589–607.
  • Brinks, V., Ibert, O., Müller, F.C., & Schmidt, S. (2018): “From ignorance to innovation: Serendipitous and purposeful mobility in creative processes – The cases of biotechnology, legal services and board games.” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, first published online on February 23, 2018,
  • Chen, K.K. (2009): Enabling Creative Chaos: The Organization behind the Burning Man Event. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Cohendet, P., & Simon, L. (2015): “Introduction to the Special Issue on Creativity in Innovation.” Technology Innovation Management Review, 5 (7), 5–13.
  • Connelly, C.E., Zweig, D., Webster, J., & Trougakos, J.P. (2012): “Knowledge hiding in organizations.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33 (1), 64–88.
  • Costas, J., & Grey, C. (2016): Secrecy at Work: The Hidden Architecture of Organizational Life. Stanford: Stanford Business Books.
  • Courpasson, D., & Younes, D. (2017): “Double or quits: Understanding the links between secrecy and creativity in a project development process.” Organization Studies, 39 (2-3), 271–295.
  • George, J.M. (2007): “Creativity in organizations.” Academy of Management Annals, 1 (1), 439–477.
  • Gross, M. (2010): Ignorance and Surprise. Science, Society and Ecological Design. Harvard: MIT Press.
  • Mainemelis, C. (2010): “Stealing fire: Creative deviance in the evolution of new ideas.” Academy of Management Review, 35 (4), 558–578.
  • McGoey, L. (2012): “The logic of strategic ignorance: The logic of strategic ignorance.” The British Journal of Sociology, 63 (3), 533–576.
  • Nohria, N., & Gulati, R. (1996): “Is slack good or bad for innovation?” Academy of Management Journal, 39 (5), 1245–1264.
  • Parker, M. (2016): “Secret societies: Intimations of organization.” Organization Studies, 37 (1), 99–113.
  • Perry-Smith, J.E., & Shalley, C.E. (2003): “The social side of creativity: A static and dynamic social network perspective.” Academy of Management Review, 28 (1), 8–106.
  • Rushton, J.P. (1990): “Creativity, intelligence, and psychoticism.” Personality and Individual Differences, 1, 1291–1298.
  • Ortmann, G., & Sydow, J. (2017): “Dancing in chains: Creative practices in/of organizations.” Organization Studies, 39 (7), 899–921.

Oliver Ibert is Head of the research department “Dynamics of Economic Spaces” at the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space in Erkner (near Berlin), and Professor of Economic Geography at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. Oliver’s research interests range from the governance of creative collaboration to the time-spatial analysis of innovation and creative processes, temporary organizations, communities of practice, social networks, creative careers and the role of scientific advice in managing crises. He has published widely on these issues in journals like ‘Research Policy’, ‘Journal of Economic Geography’, ‘Economic Geography’, ‘Regional Studies’, ‘Environment and Planning A’, and ‘Geoforum’.
Birke Otto is a post-doctoral researcher at the European University Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder, Germany; and visiting fellow at the Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy at the Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. As a member of the research unit ‘Organized Creativity’ funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), she currently studies the various roles of secrecy as a mundane organizational practice in idea generation processes. Birke’s previous research included organizational ethnographies of non-governmental organizations as well as understanding the role of governance, transparency and social accountability in local community organizing. She is an editorial member of the open source journal ‘ephemera. Theory and Politics in Organization’.
Elke Schüßler is Professor of Business Administration and Head of the Institute of Organization Science at Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria. She studies questions of organizational and institutional change and innovation both in relation to sustainability issues and in the context of creative industries. Elke’s current research revolves particularly around the role of temporary copresence, e.g. at field-configuring events, and other kinds of events as a driver for innovation and change. She is also interested in how digital technology affects creative processes. Her work is published in journals such as the ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Industrial and Corporate Change or Creativity’, and ‘Innovation Management’.