Sub-theme 59: Paradoxes, Practices, and Potential of Creatives in Organizational Innovation

Barbara Slavich
IÉSEG School of Management, France
Giulia Calabretta
Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands
Natalja Laurey
Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands

Call for Papers

In the past years, the rise of digital technologies and the urgency of addressing societal grand challenges have generated opportunities for creatives to play a role in processes of organizational change and innovation (Calabretta & Kleinsmann, 2017; Jones, Lorenzen & Sapsed, 2015; Pedersen, Slavich & Khaire, 2019; Svejenova, Slavich & Abdel Gawad, 2015). Creatives include a broad category of professionals, such as architects (Jones et al., 2012), designers (Fayard, Stigliani & Bechky, 2017), video game developers (Cohendet & Simon, 2016), chefs (Slavich et al., 2020; Slavich & Castellucci, 2020), artists (Sgourev, 2013) and in some cases entrepreneurs (Svejenova, Slavich & Abdel Gawad, 2015). What these actors have in common is that they are comfortable in ambiguous realms (Lingo & O’Mahony, 2010), have the skills to translate abstract ideas into some sort of materiality (Stigliani & Ravasi, 2012) and are accustomed to use their imagination to think out of the box and identify new business directions (Stigliani & Ravasi, 2012).
While organizations generally recognize the importance of creatives for innovation, they often find it hard to kickstart and embed creative processes in their way of operating. This might be due to a legacy of organizational values, processes, and logics anchoring innovation to a more analytical and linear approach (Choi et al., 2011) where imagination and intuition are only used to a certain extent and/or diluted along the process. For example, it is common among creatives not to know the output of their work beforehand and as such their processes are riddled with inherent unknowability (Jones et al., 2015). Therefore, creative processes require a degree of experimentation and openness, and can perish in too close monitoring (Harrison & Rouse, 2014). While the unpredictability associated with creatives’ work is embedded in the functioning of creative contexts, it is different in business, in which work is often structured around certainty, or at least efforts to reduce unpredictability and manage risk (Townley, Beech & McKinlay, 2009).
Furthermore, in helping organizations to embrace creativity, creative professionals might face the challenge of translating creativity-related individual abilities into organizational capabilities. For example, they should be able to transfer their ability to balance intuition and rationality to the level of organizational practices (Calabretta, Gemser & Wijnberg, 2016). They should also make sure that people do not only feel comfortable with ambiguity on an individual level, but are able to deal with such openness on an organizational level (Laurey et al., 2017). Finally, they should transform their individual curiosity and appetite for innovation into an organizational characteristic.
This triggers the question of how we can better understand the role and value of creatives in organizational innovation. In answering this question, taking a practice-perspective is useful. A focus on work practices or ‘what people actually do’ (Strauss, 1988) can offer a complex and detailed picture of one particular type of work, including the role of interactions with materiality, technology and people in shaping work (Nicolini, 2012). Further, the practice perspective allows to contextualize work activities and shed light on the larger organizational structures, such as organizational logics (Eikhof & Haunschild, 2007), in which a particular work is embedded (Bechky, 2011). Together this allows for a deeper understanding and opportunities for theorizing not only the work of creatives but also for the relationship between work, identity and occupation in the specific context of organizational innovation.
This sub-theme aims at discussing the potential of this stream of research and advancing the discussion on the role of creatives in creativity and innovation processes more in general. Questions that may be addressed include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • What work practices allow creatives to navigate the tensions between creative and business cultures, legacies and processes, logics and cultures while innovating in organizational settings?

  • What strategies do creatives use to stimulate the translation of individual creative abilities to the organizational level, and by doing so contributing to organizational learning?

  • How can creatives leverage old and new forms of materiality (e.g., virtual and augmented reality, digital manufacturing) to help organizations manage the legacy/novelty tension when innovating?

  • How can creative work practices help employees at different levels to engage with innovation and processes of change while still leveraging organizational legacy?

  • What strategies do creatives develop to communicate and enhance the value of their work in organizational settings?

  • How do creatives promote new forms of collaborations within and beyond organizational boundaries in order to steer innovation efforts towards societal wellbeing?

  • How do the work practices of creatives shift when stimulating organizational innovation? How do shifts in work practices trigger larger changes in the occupations of creatives?

  • How can creative practices support organizations in integrating disruptive technologies in their innovation processes and outcomes?

  • How can creatives support organizations in balancing the tension between business and societal goals in their innovation strategy?



  • Becky, B.A. (2011): “Making organizational theory work: Institutions, occupations, and negotiated orders.” Organization Science, 22 (5), 1157–1167.
  • Calabretta, G., Gemser, G., & Wijnberg, N.M. (2017): “The interplay between intuition and rationality in strategic decision making: A paradox perspective.” Organization Studies, 38 (3–4), 365–401.
  • Calabretta, G., & Kleinsmann, M. (2017): “Technology-driven evolution of design practices: envisioning the role of design in the digital era.” Journal of Marketing Management, 33 (3–4), 292–304.
  • Cohendet, P.S., & Simon, L.O. (2016): “Always playable: Recombining routines for creative efficiency at Ubisoft Montreal’s video game studio.” Organization Science, 27 (3), 614–632.
  • Choi, J.N., Sung, S.Y., Lee, K., & Cho, D.S. (2011): “Balancing cognition and emotion: Innovation implementation as a function of cognitive appraisal and emotional reactions toward innovation.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32 (1), 107–124.
  • Eikhof, D.R., & Haunschild, A. (2007): “For art's sake! Artistic and economic logics in creative production.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 28 (5), 523–538.
  • Fayard, A.L., Stigliani, I., & Bechky, B.A. (2017): “How nascent occupations construct a mandate: The case of service designers’ ethos.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 62 (2), 270–303.
  • Harrison, S.H., & Rouse, E.D. (2014): “Let's dance! Elastic coordination in creative group work: A qualitative study of modern dancers.” Academy of Management Journal, 57 (5), 1256–1283.
  • Jones, C., Lorenzen, M., & Sapsed, J. (2015): “Creative industries.” In C. Jones, M. Lorenzen, J. Sapsed (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Creative Industries. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 3–32.
  • Jones, C., Maoret, M., Massa, F.G., & Svejenova, S. (2012): “Rebels with a cause: Formation, contestation, and expansion of the de novo category ‘modern architecture’, 1870–1975.” Organization Science, 23 (6), 1523–1545.
  • Laurey, N., Berends, H., & Huysman, M. (2017): “Creativity as a service: how creative agents foster a liminal experience.” Academy of Management Proceedings, 1,
  • Lingo, E.L., & O'Mahony, S. (2010): “Nexus work: Brokerage on creative projects.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 55 (1), 47–81.
  • Nicolini, D. (2012): Practice Theory, Work, and Organization. An Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Pedersen, J.S., Slavich, B., & Khaire, M. (eds.) (2020): Technology and Creativity: Production, Mediation and Evaluation in the Digital Age. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Sgourev, S.V. (2013): “How Paris gave rise to Cubism (and Picasso): Ambiguity and fragmentation in radical innovation.” Organization Science, 24 (6), 1601–1617.
  • Slavich, B., & Castellucci, F. (2020): “Stir it up: How master–apprentice relationships affect product offerings’ similarity in high-end restaurants.” Industrial and Corporate Change, 29 (2), 459–483.
  • Slavich, B., Svejenova, S., Opazo, M.P., & Patriotta, G. (2020): “Politics of meaning in categorizing innovation: How chefs advanced molecular gastronomy by resisting the label.” Organization Studies, 41 (2), 267–290.
  • Svejenova, S., Slavich, B., & Abdel Gawad, S.G. (2015): “Creative entrepreneurs.” In: C. Jones, M. Lorenzen & J. Sapsed (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Creative Industries. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 184–199.
  • Stigliani, I., & Ravasi, D. (2012): “Organizing thoughts and connecting brains: Material practices and the transition from individual to group-level prospective sensemaking.” Academy of Management Journal, 55 (5), 1232–1259.
  • Strauss, A. (1988): “The articulation of project work: An organizational process.” Sociological Quarterly, 29 (2), 163–178.
  • Townley, B., Beech, N., & McKinlay, A. (2009): “Managing in the creative industries: Managing the motley crew.” Human Relations, 62 (7), 939–962.
Barbara Slavich is Full Professor at IÉSEG School of Management, France. Her research focuses on the emergence and dynamics of new categories; organizing for creativity and innovation; intangible assets and audiences’ evaluations; creative industries. Barbara’s work has been published in several academic journals, including ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Industrial and Corporate Change’, ‘European Management Review’, ‘Research in the Sociology of Organizations’, ‘European Management Journal’, and ‘Journal of Business Research’.
Giulia Calabretta works as an Associate Professor in Strategic Value of Design at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands. Her research explores the intersection of (strategic) design, management, and innovation, and focuses on understanding how design practices can be permanently integrated in the innovation strategy of companies. Giulia’s work has been published in several academic journals, including ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Journal of Product Innovation Management’, and ‘Journal of Business Ethics’.
Natalja Laurey is an Assistant Professor in Anthropology of Design, Organization & Work at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands. Her research focuses on identity, occupation and work of creatives, and is particularly looking at the constantly evolving occupation of design in organizations.