Sub-theme 35: Creativity: Moving Through and Beyond the Unexpected

Christina E. Shalley
Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA
Barbara Imperatori
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy
Rita Bissola
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy

Call for Papers

The unexpected is the essence of creativity, and it can cause the unforeseen to occur within organizations. Creativity enables original ideas to arise, and it is the core competence that can lead to innovation (Liu et al., 2017). Creativity allows team members to glimpse novel solutions from the integration of different perspectives (Hargadon & Bechky, 2006; Shalley & Perry-Smith, 2008).
This unexpected essence of creativity can engender surprise within and outside an organization. Surprise can cause positive individual states and emotions such as passion, energy, and engagement, but also lead to negative states such as shock, confusion, and burn out. At the organizational level, surprise can support continuous innovation, organizational learning, and knowledge creation, but it can also lead to the loss of efficiency, constraints in scaling, and failures in strategy execution (James & Taylor, 2010).
The journey to the unexpected can be more or less surprising depending on the industries examined. On the one hand, there are industries where the unexpected is embedded in creativity and produces more radical innovations or paradigm shifts (e.g. Alessi teapot which moved from being viewed as a kitchen tool to a design object) and a change in competitive logics (e.g. competition among companies vs. open innovation and a shared economy). On the other hand, there are other industries where bringing the unexpected and being surprising are minimum requirements for the organizations’ survival (e.g. industries such as media and entertainment, and fashion design).
Creativity research has been focused on how organizations can facilitate and support the unexpected so that creativity becomes an individual, team, and organizational capability (Anderson et al., 2014; Madjar et al., 2011). In this sense, organizations deliberately design activities, internal contexts, managerial and HR practices, as well as organizational structures and climate to enhance creativity, thus, it often is the expected and unsurprising result of organizing (Shalley et al., 2004).
To support individual, team, and organizational creativity, organizations will design jobs and adopt rules, routines, leadership styles, and coordination mechanisms in order to obtain the unexpected from the more traditional organizational receipts (Gilson et al., 2005; Bissola et al., 2014). In other cases, less conventional processes such as bricolage, improvisation, and design thinking can enable surprising organizational outcomes (Barrett, 1998; Elsbach & Hargadon, 2006; Johansson-Sköldberg et al., 2013; Martin, 2009; Vera & Crossan, 2005).
A further research avenue is the unexpected consequences of creativity for individuals, teams, and organizations. While creativity has been mainly considered as a driver of positive individual, team, and organizational outcomes, more recently, it has been associated with a wide range of counterproductive and unexpected issues (Baucus et al., 2008). For example, research has indicated that creative people can experience negative moods, are usually lower on the tolerance of conventionality and boredom, and tend to be more narcissistic (Mumford et al., 2002). Recently, creativity also has been associated with dishonesty (Gino & Arieli, 2012; Gino & Wiltermuth, 2014). At the organizational level, creative organizations are often exposed to highly risky conditions; they can be undisciplined and difficult to manage, and at times creativity is directed toward negative ends (Boon et al., 2009).
Contributors to this sub-theme are encouraged to discuss alternative perspectives about how surprise can lead to challenging the creativity domain: What are the unexpected consequences of creativity? Is the surprise implied in creativity always positive? Does design thinking and improvisation lead to enhanced creative performance? What lessons can be learned from cases of unforeseen creativity? How can surprise and the unexpected occur in the creativity research domain?
Rigorous conceptual and empirical research that are relevant to organizational settings is called for. Papers submitted may include, but are not restricted to, the following themes:
The unexpected essence of creativity:

  • Surprised people and creativity

  • Types of creativity and creative industries

  • Designing the unexpected

  • Letting the unexpected emerge

  • The power of surprise

  • Journey to creativity

The unexpected outcomes of creativity:

  • Creativity and ethics

  • Creative organizations and sustainability

  • Co-creation, unexpected creativity and open innovation

  • Creative momentum and creative outcomes

  • The dark side of creativity

  • Creativity and burn out

  • Creativity as an organizational constraint



  • 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.
  • Barrett, F.J. (1998): “Coda – creativity and improvisation in jazz and organizations: Implications for organizational learning.” Organization Science, 9 (5), 605–622.
  • Baucus, M.S., Norton, W.I., Baucus, D.A., & Human, S.E. (2008): “Fostering creativity and innovation without encouraging unethical behavior.” Journal of Business Ethics, 81, 97–115.
  • Bissola, R., Imperatori, B., & Trinca Colonel, R. (2014): “Enhancing the creative performance of new product teams: an organizational configurational approach.” Journal of Product Innovation Management, 31 (2), 375–391.
  • Boon, B., Jones, D., & Curnow, B. (2009): “Out of the blue: The dark side of creative enterprise.” Culture and Organization, 15, 361–377.
  • Elsbach, K.D., & Hargadon, A.B. (2006): “Enhancing creativity through ‘mindless’ work: A framework of workday design.” Organization Science, 17 (4), 470–483.
  • Gilson, L.L., Mathieu, J.E., Shalley, C.E., & Ruddy, T.M. (2005): “Creativity and standardization: Complementary or conflicting drivers of team effectiveness?” Academy of Management Journal, 48 (3), 521–531.
  • Gino, F., & Ariely, D. (2012): “The dark side of creativity: original thinkers can be more dishonest.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102 (3), 445–459.
  • Gino, F., & Wiltermuth, S.S. (2014): “Evil genius? How dishonesty can lead to greater creativity.” Psychological Science, 4, 973–981.
  • Hargadon, A.B., & Bechky, B.A. (2006): “When Collections of Creatives Become Creative Collectives: A Field Study of Problem Solving at Work.” Organization Science, 17, 484–500.
  • James, K., & Taylor, A. (2010): “Positive creativity and negative creativity (and unintended consequences).” In: D.H. Cropley, A.J. Cropley, J.C. Kaufman & M.A. Runco (eds.): The Dark Side of Creativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 33–56.
  • Johansson-Sköldberg, U., Woodilla, J., & Çetinkaya, M. (2013): “Design thinking: past, present and possible futures.” Creativity and Innovation Management, 22 (2), 121–146.
  • Liu, D., Gong, Y., Zhou, J., & Huang, J.C. (2017): “Human Resource Systems, Employee Creativity, and Firm Innovation: The Moderating Role of Firm Ownership.” Academy of Management Journal, 60 (3), 1164–1188.
  • Madjar, N., Greenberg, E., & Chen, Z. (2011): “Factors for radical creativity, incremental creativity, and routine, noncreative performance.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 96 (4), 730–743.
  • Martin, R. (2009): The Design of Business. Brighton, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.
  • Mumford, M.D., Scott, G.M., Gaddis, B., & Strange, J.M. (2002): “Leading creative people: Orchestrating expertise and relationships.” The Leadership Quarterly, 13 (6), 705–750.
  • Shalley, C.E., & Perry-Smith, J.E. (2008): “The emergence of team creative cognition: the role of diverse outside ties, socio-cognitive network centrality, and team evolution.” Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 2 (1), 23–41.
  • Shalley, C.E., Zhou, J., & Oldham, G.R. (2004): “The effects of personal and contextual characteristics on creativity: Where should we go from here?” Journal of Management, 30 (6), 933–958.
  • Vera, D., & Crossan, M. (2005): “Improvisation and innovative performance in teams.” Organization Science, 16 (3), 203–224.


Christina E. Shalley is the Sharon R. and Matthew Price Chair, Professor of Organizational Behavior, Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA. Her research interests focus on both individual and team level creativity, and in particular examines the contextual and personal factors that contribute to creativity. Her contributions have been published in national and international journals. She also is a co-editor of two research volumes, “Handbook of Organizational Creativity” and “The Oxford Handbook of Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship”.
Barbara Imperatori is an Associate Professor of Organization Design and Organizational Behaviour, Department of Economic Sciences and Business Management, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, 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 an Associate Professor of Organization Design and Organizational Behaviour at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Department of Economic Sciences and Business Management, 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.