Culture Influences Creativity; How Creative You Are Depends On Where You Came From

One won’t mind spending money on joining creative class, but that is just one of the ways of many businesses trying to generate revenue on imagination and innovation. A study at Concordia University suggests that culture impacts creativity and when it comes to creative juices, some societies have a faster flow than others.

Results obtained from comparing nearly 300 individuals from Taiwan, a collectivist society, and Canada, a more individualistic country, show that those from individualist societies are more creative compared to their collectivist counterparts. The study was led by Gad Saad, a professor at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business along with his team and it was published in The Journal of Business Research.

They theorized that where a country falls on the individualism vs. collectivism continuum would affect the creative juices that might be “permitted” to flow from members of a particular culture.

Brainstorming tasks were also conducted using culturally neutral stimuli in Taiwan and in Canada. Brainstorming often serves as a proxy for creativity.

According to the researchers, members of an individualistic society would perform exceptionally well in a task that promotes out-of-the-box thinking such as coming up with the proverbial million-dollar idea and those from collectivist society wouldn’t be willing to do so because they don’t want to stand out of the group. Thus, from this alone, we can settle that members from individualistic society show higher signs of creativity.

By recruiting students from two universities in Taipei and Montreal, the researchers collected data on five measures that will be familiar to anyone who has had to brainstorm in a group:

  1. The number of generated ideas,
  2. The quality of the ideas, as evaluated by independent judges,
  3. The number of uttered negative statements within the brainstorming groups, such as “This is a dumb idea that will fail.”
  4. The valence of the negative statements — “This is the all-time dumbest idea” has a stronger negative connotation than “This idea is rather banal.”
  5. The confidence level exhibited by group members when asked to evaluate their performance in comparison to other teams.

The team also found that the individualists came up with many more ideas. They also uttered more negative statements and showed over-confidence than their collectivist counterparts, and when it came to the quality of ideas produced, the collectivists scored marginally higher than the individualists.

“This is in line with another important cultural trait that some collectivist societies are known to possess — namely being more reflective as compared to action-oriented, having the reflex to think hard prior to committing to a course of action,” Saad says.

Studies like this one are instrumental in understanding cultural differences that increasingly arise as the globe’s economic centre of gravity shifts towards East Asia.

“To maximize the productivity of their international teams, global firms need to understand important cultural differences between Western and Eastern mindsets,” Saad says.

“Brainstorming, a technique often used to generate novel ideas such as new product innovations, might not be equally effective across cultural settings. Even though individuals from collectivistic societies might be coming up with fewer creative ideas, the quality of those ideas tends to be just as good as or marginally better than those of their individualistic counterparts. Employers need to recognize that.” [Concordia University; Image via iStock]

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