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What I love about my work is the creative side. If you're going to move science and knowledge forward, you've got to be creative, you've got to be innovative. 

Creativity [1] is the production of novel and useful ideas by an individual or small group of individuals that work together. These individually produced creative ideas form the basis of innovation. Organizational innovation [1] refers to the successful implementation of creative ideas within an organization.

What do we mean by creativity and innovation?


There are many different theories of creativity. One of the key ones focuses on four components that lead to creative endeavours [2]: domain-relevant skills [2], creativity-relevant processes [2] (that something “extra), and intrinsic task motivation [3]. These are complemented by the social environment in which the individual works. This theory suggests creativity will be highest for employees who are intrinsically motivated, with strong expertise in their domain, strong skills in creative thinking, and who work in an environment that supports creativity. When someone who is intrinsically motivated with high domain expertise and high skill in creative thinking, works in an environment that supports creativity.

Another perspective on creativity [4] suggests that it originates from interactions between individuals, their teams, and their organization. Each level is characterized by the following [5]:

  • Individual creativity
    Biographical variables, cognitive style and ability, motivation, social and contextual influences.

  • Team creativity
    Individual creative behaviour, group composition, group characteristics, team processes, contextual influences.

  • Organizational creativity
    Both individual and team (or group) creativity.


Figure 1. The interaction perspective of creativity


Other theoretical perspectives and models of creativity focus on different aspects of the individual and workplace. For example, the model of individual creative action [6] suggests individual creativity arises from the combined influence of sense making processes, motivation, and knowledge and skills. The our-factor theory of team climate for innovation [7] instead focuses on team climate, suggesting that vision, participative safety, task orientation, and support for innovation are necessary team components for creativity. Last, the dual-pathway model of creativity [8] takes the approach of creativity as cognitive flexibility (e.g., switching to a different approach) and cognitive persistence (e.g., degree of sustained and focused task-directed cognitive effort), and dispositional/situational variables.


Overall, then, the research suggests this: creativity may be driven by individual differences between people, but it is facilitated by their social environment in the workplace.

From Creativity to Innovation


Creativity can be considered as an idea journey consisting of four phases:

1. Idea generation

(focus: creativity)

is the process of generating a novel and useful idea

2. Idea


is the process of systematically evaluating a novel idea’s potential and further clarifying and developing it.



(i.e., emotional support, constructive feedback and suggestions)

3. Idea


is the active promotion of a novel idea aimed at obtaining at approval of idea.


Influence and Legitimacy

4. Idea implementation

(focus: innovation)

consists of two phases: Production [9] and

Impact [9]


Shared vision [9] and understanding

However, there are other factors that can impact on creativity and innovation. A 2009 meta-analysis [10] emphasizes the importance of an incubation period in problem-solving; that is, the time during which a problem is set aside prior to further attempts to solve it. This rest period can enhance creative problem-solving ability.


However, creativity may depend on other individual characteristics. A 2014 study [11] found that intelligence moderated in the relationship between creative activities and creative achievement. In other words, intelligence is necessary to turn activity into outcomes. Openness to experience, too, can contribute to creativity. Open people are curious and actively seek out new activities, leading them to engage in different creative activities, which develops into a strong foundation of creative experience and knowledge.

Workplace Creativity

Workplace creativity refers to producing novel and useful ideas for organizational products, services, or processes. It is important is to distinguish between creative performance behaviours [12] – that is, generating ideas –and creative outcome effectiveness [12] which instead refers to the evaluation of those behaviours. Types of creative performance behaviours include:

  • Problem definition behaviours
    Identification or formulation of problem or opportunity, which requires an unknown resolution.

  • Information gathering behaviours
    Active effort to search for and acquire new information.

  • Idea generating behaviours
    Creation of new mental connections that are relevant to the task or problem.

  • Idea evaluation behaviours
    Judgments of utility of an idea by forecasting the implementation of the idea.

These types of creative performance behaviours are sometimes expected to be performed on the job, driven by external rewards or punishments. However, some creative behaviours are unexpected; that is, they are performed without any external drivers and are predominantly initiated by the employee’s internal drive for creativity.

Doing Creative Research

Vitae Innovate [13] interviewed postdocs and principal investigators to develop a creativity guide for postdoctoral researchers. They pinpoint research culture, communication, and making time and space for creativity as critical components:


A positive research culture

  • In order to undertake creative research, researchers must have the confidence to act out, take risks, and make mistakes.
    A supportive research environment can facilitate this. Steps to build a positive research culture include:

  • Evaluate: consider the current lab culture and ways it could be improved.

  • Ask: think about what you and your colleagues would like to change about the current culture. talk with your colleagues

  • Act: talk with your principal investigator, colleagues, and institution to determine how best to create a positive culture and what resources are available.



  • Informal communication can take place both in or outside of the workplace. For example, informal chats can occur over coffee or while playing for a departmental sports team. Formal communication takes place in research groups, seminars and meetings, talks, conferences, and more. You can make your research culture more communicative by doing the following:

  • Get to know people in your team or department. You can improve the quality of your informal communication by getting out of the office and catching up over a meal or drinks. Or you could organise an away day to spend time with your colleagues in a social setting.

  • Organise a postdoc poster day or symposium to learn more about what other early career academics are working on
    in your department. 

  • Change the way you communicate in group meetings. For example, creating a democratic structure can ensure everyone is heard and contributions are encouraged.

  • Try brainstorming techniques with your research group to spark ideas, share knowledge, and problem solve.

  • Become part of a wider research community – look outside your immediate team for inspiration, support, and networking.

  • Be persistent – changing a team culture can take a long time.


Make time and space for creativity

  • Take the time to go for walks e.g., in your local park

  • Keep a notebook and pencil handy to jot down new ideas

  • Aim to manage your workload effectively to keep ahead of your work (see Managing time and workload)

  • Talk and negotiate with your principal investigator about the amount of time and space you currently have to work on creative ideas

  • Keep an eye out for new, creative directions, and seek support for ideas that you want to pursue.

  • Make it a policy to share exciting parts of your research as well as frustrating/problematic aspects with your principal investigator.

Professor Patrick Dunleavy identified the following strategies that can foster innovative and creative thinking [14] :

  1. Take the risk of trying to think innovatively, rather than choosing a safe path.

  2. Critically evaluate accepted ideas to identify interesting anomalies or paradoxes (i.e., thing that are accepted but perhaps should not be)

  3. Look widely – not just in peer reviewed journals, but domains that are more current and cutting edge e.g., academic blogs, Twitter, XArchiv, conference papers, other disciplines.

  4. Keep your practice under review – jot down your thoughts, however insignificant, to encourage your growth beyond your mental constraints.

  5. Be a constructive self-critic: evaluate and critique your own ideas, but only after immersing yourself in a topic and giving your ideas time to develop.

  6. Expect innovation to be an up-and-down process – remember that psychological security is necessary for innovation, so push the boundaries but be aware of your own risk tolerance.

Developing Innovation Leadership


“Leadership makes the difference when it comes to innovation” according to the Center for Creative Leadership. As innovation is a key factor in business growth, it is important for leaders to understand how to foster creativity and fuel innovation. The CCL identifies and recommends five practices that individuals can use to develop innovation leadership, which are [15]:

  1. Learn how roles and capabilities needed for innovation vary by level

  2. Focus on an innovation process

  3. Identify and leverage different contributions to innovation

  4. Work across boundaries

  5. Embrace polarities

In the table below we distinguish between business thinking and innovative thinking. You can see other innovative thinking skills that are needed to allow organizations to create something new and useful. 

Business thinking versus innovative thinking

Distinctive behaviours of an innovative leader that have been identified are [16]:

Inspire and motivate through action

Excel at stretching

set goals


Put faith in a culture that magnifies upward communication

Display excellent strategic vision

Suggested videos

See full reference list
Anchor 1
  1. Amabile, T. M. (1988). A model of creativity and innovation in organizations. In B. M. Staw & L. L. Cummings (Eds.), Research in Organizational Behavior, 10(1), 123-167.

  2. Amabile, T. M. (2012). The componential theory of creativity (Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 12-096).

  3. Isaksen, S. G., Murdock, M. C., Firestien, R. L., & Treffinger, D. J. (1993). Understanding and recognizing creativity: The emergence of a discipline. Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing Company.

  4. Woodman, R. W., Sawyer, J. E., & Griffin, R. W. 1993. Toward a theory of organizational creativity. Academy of Management Review, 18(2), 293-321. doi: 10.5465/AMR.1993.3997517

  5. Anderson, N., Potočnik, K., & Zhou, J. (2014). Innovation and creativity in organizations: A state-of-the-science review, prospective commentary, and guiding framework. Journal of Management, 40(5), 1297-1333. doi:10.1177/0149206314527128

  6. Ford, C. M. (1996). A theory of individual creative action in multiple social domains. Academy of Management Review, 21(4), 1112-1142. doi:10.2307/259166

  7. West, M. A. (1990). The social psychology of innovation in groups. In M. A. West & J. L. Farr (Eds.), Innovation and creativity at work: Psychological and organizational strategies (pp. 309-333). Chichester, England: Wiley.

  8. Nijstad, B. A., De Dreu, C. K., Rietzschel, E. F., & Baas, M. (2010). The dual pathway to creativity model: Creative ideation as a function of flexibility and persistence. European Review of Social Psychology, 21(1), 34-77. doi:10.1080/10463281003765323

  9. Perry-Smith, J. E., & Mannucci, P. V. (2017). From creativity to innovation: The social network drivers of the four phases of the idea journey. Academy of Management Review, 42(1), 53-79. doi:10.5465/amr.2014.0462

  10. Sio, U. N., & Ormerod, T. C. (2009). Does incubation enhance problem solving? A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 135(1), 94-120. doi:10.1037/a0014212

  11. Jauk, E., Benedek, M., & Neubauer, A. C. (2014). The road to creative achievement: A latent variable model of ability and personality predictors. European Journal of Personality, 28(1), 95-105. doi:10.1002/per.1941

  12. Montag, T., Maertz Jr, C. P., & Baer, M. (2012). A critical analysis of the workplace creativity criterion space. Journal of Management, 38(4), 1362-1386. doi:10.1177/0149206312441835

  13. Anders, K., Elvidge, L., & Walsch, E. (2009). Doing creative research: A good practice guide for postdocs in STEM disciplines. Graduate School, Imperial College London. Retrieved from

  14. Dunleavy, P. (2015). Becoming more creative in academic work: A menu of suggestions. Medium. Retrieved from

  15. Horth, D. M., & Verhar, J. (2015). Innovation: How leadership makes the difference. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

  16. InnoWork (2016). Towards a more innovative workplace. Retrieved from

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