Emotional adaptability can help boost creativity at work

By developing creative employees, organisations can help boost business productivity in more conventional roles like accounting and data analytics.
By: | November 24, 2022

Employees who look at emotional situations in a different light can be trained to be creative, found a recent study.

Conventional thinkers who rank low on openness to new ideas and experiences came up with more creative ideas than their peers after they practised “emotional reappraisal”, which means viewing a situation through another emotional lens, such as trying to see an anger-inducing event as one that is neutral or hopeful.

“One of the study’s implications is that creativity is not something that’s only accessible to people we think of as ‘creatives’,” said lead author Lily Zhu, assistant professor in Washington State University’s Carson College of Business, whose study was published in the journal Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes.

“Whenever we break away from our existing perspective and try to think about something that’s different from our initial reaction, there’s a creative element to it. If we can practise or train that flexible-thinking muscle, it may help us be more creative over time”, Zhu said.

The findings have implications for improving business productivity as it appears possible to tap the knowledge and experience of more employees by encouraging their creativity, which could apply to those in conventional roles like accounting, insurance adjustment or data analytics, said the researchers.

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Recommending that managers develop training sessions to cultivate creative thinking skills in employees, Zhu added, “Negative emotions are inevitable in the workplace. The question is: how can we better deal with them in a productive, healthy way? Part of the implications of this study is that we can use negative emotions in our everyday life as opportunities to practise flexible thinking.”