Sub-theme 36: Creativity in Doubtful Times: Exploring Challenges and Threats to Creativity

Jill Perry-Smith
Goizueta Business School, Emory University, Atlanta, USA
Barbara Imperatori
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy
Rita Bissola
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy

Call for Papers

Scholars of managerial disciplines increasingly have studied creativity and its role in contributing to a company's competitive advantage. Success stories suggest that creativity plays a crucial role in the ability to find business opportunities and increase economic success, particularly in uncertain and unsettled times (e.g. Continuum, IDEO, Alessi, Apple, Ferrari, as for creative successful companies; Nokia, Sony, Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, with regard to declining firms). This encourages on-going research to discover how creativity can specifically shape and support companies in the current unsettled times. That is, shaking organizational basics and their foundations (e.g. fast continuous changes, long-lasting instability, unpredictable risks).

The academic debate among organizational scholars has revealed important evidence that can nurture prospective research directions in the creativity domain. This work at the individual, group and organizational levels has provided a variety of enduring and provocative approaches to understanding creativity within firms. However, current macro-economic trends suggest new challenges to the creativity domain. First, they offer the opportunity to consolidate previous research evidence and reflect on the state-of-the-art of the creativity literature. Secondly, they advocate new research directions, consistent with new managerial and economic issues.

A variety of challenges and concerns arise from the new world landscape. Contemporary critical concerns suggest novel topics, such as environmental sustainability, but also old ones, such as ethics and financial constraints, that could be interpreted either as hampering creative development or as creativity launch pads. Economic crisis, for example, impose a deep reflection about globalization, which implies cultural challenges and diversity as inescapable facts (Tsui, 2007). Research is still scarce on how to use creativity to cope with these varied issues or how these issues affect creative pursuits.

Certainly resolving the effect of contemporary challenges is complex, since in a number of cases the effects may seem contradictory or call for opposing approaches. For example, resource scarcity and the imperative of efficiency are two other issues that suggest relevant and unexplored research avenues for creativity studies. They compel a 'bricoleur approach' (Bechky & Okhuysen, 2011) both for theory and practice – a mix of lateral thinking, improvisation, and operative approach, that is strictly related to creative competences for individuals, teams and organizations. In addition, the instability and uncertainty related to processes, roles, and relationships often lead to the ability to create and continuously re-create solutions, identities, and practices, but can also choke people and infuse anxiety and panic (Dewett, 2006). Therefore, these examples suggest new proposition and new learning paradigms.

The participants of this sub-theme are urged to critically challenge the traditional "it either works or doesn't work" dualism and "one size fits for all" doctrines to organizational creativity as well as to reflectively ask questions such as: what is organizational creativity in the current uncertain horizon? How do new socio-economic trends impact creativity research? What should be the role of creativity in these unsettled times?

Contributors of the sub-theme are encouraged to discuss alternative perspectives about how creativity researchers can cope with the present unsettled times and how the unsettled times can challenge the creativity domain. Rigorous conceptual and empirical research at all levels (including the individual and group) with relevance to organizational settings is called for. Papers submitted to the sub-theme may include, but are not restricted to, the following themes:

  • What are the consequences for creativity in organizations during unsettled times?
  • What is the role of creativity in these times?
  • Does creativity really lead to economic positive results for the organizations?
  • What are the consequences of globalization for organizational scholars of creativity?
  • How do various aspects of unsettled times influence creativity among employees and organizations more broadly?
  • What are the more effective organizational solutions 'to squeeze creativity' from organizations?
  • How does creativity spark imagination in dynamic organizations?
  • How is creativity influenced by stable versus unstable organizational processes, relationships and roles?



Bechky, Beth A. & Gerardo A. Okhuysen (2011): 'Expecting the unexpected? How SWAT officers and film crews handle surprises.' Academy of Management Journal, 54 (2), pp. 239–261.
Dewett, Ted (2006): 'Exploring the Role of Risk in Employee Creativity.' The Journal of Creative Behavior, 40 (1), pp. 27–45.
Tsui, Anne S. (2007): 'From homogenization to pluralism: international management research in the Academy and beyond.' Academy of Management Journal, 50 (6), pp. 1353–1364.


Jill Perry-Smith is Associate Professor of Organization and Management in the Goizueta Business School at Emory University, USA. Her research emphasizes creativity as a social process, and in particular investigates the effect of social networks on individual and team creativity. Her research appears in leading organizational journals and edited books.
Barbara Imperatori is Associate Professor of Organization Design and Organizational Behaviour, Dept. of Economics & Business Administration, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy. Her research interests are collective creativity; SHRM; employment relationships and new employment arrangements; organizational wellbeing and social enterprises. Her contributions have been published in international and national journals and books.
Rita Bissola is Assistant Professor of Organization Design and Organizational Behaviour at the Department of Economics & Business Administration, Università Cattolica of Milan, Italy. Her research interests include creativity in teams and the collective creative process, innovation and HRM challenges. She has published articles and contributions on these topics both in international as well as national journals and books.