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The Art of Recognizing Creativity in Business

Datum:18 januari 2018
Auteur:Yingjie Yuan
The Art of Recognizing Creativity in Business
The Art of Recognizing Creativity in Business

Novel ideas are never really in short supply, in this era of information overload. In the process of generating creative products, services, and business solutions, the challenge is often more about recognizing creative ideas in the creative process than about generating them. Stories of creative ideas being rejected or postponed are prevalent, from the development of liquid nail polish (ca. 1917), e-readers (ca. 1949), to Airbnb (2007) and many other novel business inventions. Failing to recognize the creative values of ideas, or to actualize them immediately, would not only miss the best timing to reap its business advantages, but also frustrate employees from further developing novel ideas. The question is: Why do we succeed/fail to recognize creativity? And how can we improve this process?

The recognition of creative ideas is subjective. People often favor their own ideas or similar ones over others. Therefore, judges easily color the selection decisions with their own cognitive abilities and preferences. For example, judges with open mindsets tend to make more similar selections of creative ideas to experts. Other individual characteristics such as convergence abilities including ambition, persistence, precision, and critical sense also drive better choices of novel ideas. Studies also pointed out that people with idealistic and artistic identities are more likely to refuse others’ ideas. This indicates possible “big-ego” problems in recognizing creativity.

Besides the cognitive influence of judges, how an idea is presented also matter to its recognition. For example, ideas that are expressed in passionate and dramatic manners are more likely to receive higher ratings of creativity. People were found to pay more attention to and also give higher ratings to ideas that appear in a group than alone, and to ideas that stay longer in the judge’s view. This can be explained by the impression management theory, which points out that how perceptions and judgements can be shaped by evoking resonance and avoiding discordant through impression management techniques. For instance, pitching ideas in a passionate but unpolished manner will evoke the implicit impression of geeks or artists and therefore leads to higher ratings.

Another line of factors shaping the recognition of creative ideas lies in the structural aspects of idea recognition activities. In particular, should organizations rely on individual or collective selections? In fact, Psychologists found that the quality of idea selection does not differ between individual selection and team selection. How should managers embed the recognition task in the creative task is also an important debate. Whereas some scholars showed that people are more likely to select creative ideas after experiencing the idea generation process individually, other studies suggested that this structure does not differ from having members collaborate on both idea generation and idea selection.

Such insights into why people succeed or fail to recognize creative ideas from these three different aspects—how judges think, how presentations work, what work structure is most effective can be translated into managerial practices that help manage and maximize chances of successful identifying creative ideas in business. When assigning the right staff to select creative ideas, managers are advised to take into account judges’ cognitive preferences and biases in cognitive diagnoses. It is also vital to prescribe standard procedures of idea recognition in order to prevent inflated ratings or impression manipulations caused by the presentation of ideas. For example, such standardized procedure may include established formats of idea presentation and prescribed interviews. As to the setup of proper work structure, we may only conclude from current findings that the structure of relevant activities does not seem to matter to the recognition result of creative ideas.

Despite its significance in business practices, the recognition of creative ideas has not yet received sufficient empirical attention in creativity research. There is still a lot unclear on how organizations could boost the effectiveness of idea recognition from corporate strategies, HR practices and team dynamics. In my recent research, I aim to present an integrative view to examine how cognitive structures and team dynamics jointly affect idea recognition.

Yingjie Yuan ( is Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Economics and Business of the University of Groningen. Her expertise is on: Team creativity/innovation, Social networks, Team compositions, and Team information processing.