Who is most creative at work?

I just read an interesting new study published in The Academy of Management Journal by Christina Shalley, Lucy L. Gilson, and Terry C. Blum.* They were looking for variables that predicted creative performance at work. A lot of previous studies have found that creative personalities score higher on creative work performance (no surprise) and that having a supervisor and work environment that foster creativity leads to more creative work performance (again, no surprise there). Shalley and her colleagues were looking for something more subtle:  They examined a personality characteristic they called “growth need strength,” the desire to grow and develop in your job.

They did a massive telephone survey with 1,465 people, and got three results:

1. When you control for other aspects of the creative personality, growth need strength predicts additional variance in creative work performance.

2. The relationship is stronger in more supportive work contexts.

3. When job complexity is high, relationships (1) and (2) are even stronger.

The bottom line: the most creative workers have a high need to grow at work, have a supportive work context, and are given challenging, complex tasks.

* Shalley, Gilson, & Blum (2009). “Interactive effects of growth need strength, work context, and job complexity on self-reported creative performance.” Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 52, No. 3, pp. 489-505.

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