Fitting Square Pegs into Round Holes: About Solitude and Creativity

Fitting Square Pegs into Round Holes: About Solitude and Creativity

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Article and Author Information

Swati Sarupria (MSLOC 2013) wrote this article in December 2013 for the Master of Science in Learning and Organizational Change Capstone Analysis and Interpretation course. This executive summary is the culmination of a nine-month capstone research project. Swati currently works at PwC as a Senior Associate in the People and Change Practice.  As an MSLOC student, Swati interned with Aon Hewitt as a Talent Development Intern and was selected to compete in the National MBA Human Capital Case Competition on behalf of the Northwestern University team. Swati has worked  in the areas of talent management, change management and HR program design across a wide range of industries including manufacturing, technology, financial services and professional services.

Abstract

Creativity is a complex, interpersonal construct (Haner, 2005) impacted by individual variables and the sociocultural context (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). This study explores the correlation between intrinsic motivation and the degree of individual-environment fit on individual's preferences for solitude and polychronicity for individuals who work in creative jobs. Drawing from Amabile's Intrinsic Motivation Principle of Creativity, this study is based on well-grounded research understanding that intrinsic motivation is a strong predictor of creative performance (Amabile, 1998). Based on Amabile's principle, the study assumes that if the individual-environment fit on preferences for solitude and polychronicity are positively correlated to intrinsic motivation then this fit should also positively impact creativity. Findings of the study revealed that individuals whose preferences for solitude were supported by the environment reported higher levels of intrinsic motivation. However, no such significant correlation was found for individual's preferences for polychronicity.

Introduction

"The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind."- Albert Einstein

Creativity is the production of novel, useful ideas (Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, & Herron, 1996). Innovation is a broad process that includes generation and implementation of ideas (Hammond, Neff, Farr, Schwall, & Zhao, 2011). For at least the past decade, the Holy Grail for companies has been innovation (Sutton, 2001). In the current dynamic environment of global competition and economic pressures, organizations are trying to use employee creativity as a potential resource for change, innovation, and survival (Madjar, Greenberg, & Chen, 2011; Shalley, Zhou, & Oldham, 2004; Bharadwaj & Menon, 2000). Hence, it is important to study factors that could be leveraged to realize the creative potential of employees. Research has explored individual and environmental factors that foster creativity. Many studies examining personality suggest that personality may not have a direct relationship with innovative performance, but rather interact with environmental factors (Hammond, Neff, Farr, Schwall, & Zhao, 2011; Zhou, 2003; Zhou & Oldham, 2001). This study advances the understanding of the interplay between personality and environmental factors by exploring the fit between an individual and his/her environment on the individual's preferences for solitude and polychronicity (Polychronicity refers to a person's preference for multi-tasking).

The findings of this study have significant implications on the demands made on managerial styles, workplace design and work practices. The recent trends in open source technologies, open online learning communities and technology-enabled networks have set high expectations for collaboration. Collaboration is considered to be a key driver for innovation. Organizations are rethinking office spaces and work practices to allow for greater collaboration. The researcher of this study takes a critical view of this trend to identify why collaboration might not always be most effective in efforts to innovate. The findings highlight that a single-minded focus on collaboration in organizations could stifle the creative genius of some individuals. This is because some personalities might find more comfort in relatively greater solitude to realize their full creative potential. The researcher suggests more moderated managerial approaches and work practices that are governed by work demands and personality preferences.

Theoretical Background

(Note: Refer to Appendix V for a glossary of key theories, concepts and definitions used in the study.)

Figure 2

In studying the impact of individual-environment fit on creativity, the conceptual framework for individual creativity used in this study (refer Figure 1) rests upon two critical constructs of intrinsic motivation and work autonomy. Intrinsic motivation is the motivation to engage in work primarily for its own sake, because the work itself is interesting, engaging, or in some way satisfying (Amabile, Hill, Hennessey, & Tighe, 1994). Amabile proposed the Intrinsic Motivation Principle of Creativity which states that people will be most creative when they feel intrinsically motivated without any external pressures contributing to their motivation (Amabile, 1998). Intrinsic motivation can be increased considerably by even subtle changes in the organization's environment (Amabile, 1998). The Interactionist Model of Organizational Creativity also emphasizes upon the role of intrinsic motivation in creativity (Woodman, Sawyer, & Griffin, 1993). It states that intrinsic motivation is one of the factors related to the individual that influences individual creativity. The model highlights that an individual's intrinsic motivation is influenced by and influences social and contextual factors (Woodman et al., 1993). Therefore, intrinsic motivation (which strongly influences creativity) is an important factor to study in the literature of creativity and innovation. The underlying understanding is that anything that influences intrinsic motivation could potentially impact individual creativity.

The self-determination theory (SDT) proposes that natural processes like intrinsic motivation are sustained only when factors like competence, autonomy and relatedness are immediately present in an individual's environment or if the individual has inner resources to find and construct these factors (Deci & Ryan, 2000). According to SDT, competence refers to drive motivation - a propensity to have an effect on the environment as well as to attain valued outcomes within it. Relatedness refers to the desire to feel connected to others. Autonomy refers to volition - the organismic desire to self-organize experience and behavior. Deci and Ryan (1985) suggest that feelings of competence will not enhance intrinsic motivation unless accompanied by autonomy, which provides a sense of control. Researchers have found that employees become more creative in an autonomy-supportive environment that incorporates employees' perspectives, recognizes their feelings, provides job-related choices and information, and minimizes the use of pressure and demands (Liu, Chen, & Yao, 2011; Ryan & Deci, 2000). Thus, autonomy at work plays a very critical role in creative pursuits and on intrinsic motivation. To summarize, the current literature provides support to the positive correlations between creativity, intrinsic motivation and autonomy. This study leverages upon this web of relationships to explore if solitude and polychronicity influence feelings of autonomy at work and intrinsic motivation. It is subsumed that if they do, then these factors would also foster creativity. The study relies upon the construct and scale of work autonomy as developed by Breaugh (1985) to measure autonomy at work. According to Breaugh (1985), work autonomy refers to the degree of control or discretion an employee is able to exercise with respect to work method, work scheduling and work criteria.

Solitude is the disengagement from the immediate demands of other people - a state of reduced social inhibition and increased freedom to select one's mental or physical activities (Long & Averill, 2003). Researchers have found that time alone can allow for valuable self-reflection, creative insights and a restoration period between social encounters (Burger, 1995). Freedom is often considered a prerequisite for creative activity (Long & Averill, 2003; Amabile, 1983). The freedom resulting from solitude provides choices or volition and therefore, could increase one's sense of control and autonomy in the environment. There are several contextual and personal factors that tend to promote autonomy and those that tend to control autonomy (Deci & Ryan, 1987). This study explores whether an individual-environment fit on preferences for solitude promotes feelings of work autonomy and intrinsic motivation, which are both strong indicators of creative performance. Individual-environment fit refers to the degree of match between an individual's preference and the environmental conditions that support the preference.

Polychronicity is the preference for doing several tasks simultaneously (or preference for multi-tasking), whereas monochronicity is the preference for working on tasks in a sequential manner (König & Waller, 2010; Hall, 1959). Employees in many contemporary organizations are no longer assigned single tasks, but instead are asked to complete multiple tasks and to rotate through these tasks on a regular basis (Madjar & Oldham, 2006; Gittleman, Horrigan, & Joice, 1998; Lawler, 2000; Malinski, 2002; Ortega, 2001; Osterman, 1994, 2000). Polychronicity is a temporal (related to time) variable (Hecht & Allen, 2005). Individuals differ in their temporal orientations to information processing and activity (Bluedorn & Denhardt, 1988). In a study conducted by Madjar & Oldham (2006), participants exhibited higher creativity in the task condition that matched their individual preference. This study further explores the link between preferences for polychronicity and creativity by correlating the individual-environment on preferences for polychronicity with autonomy and intrinsic motivation.

Research Question

This study explores the individual-environment fit on preferences for solitude and polychronicity to evaluate if they are correlated with work autonomy and intrinsic motivation. More specifically, it helps to answer the question - Do work autonomy and intrinsic motivation moderate the effects of preferences for solitude and polychronicity on individual creativity?

The research hypotheses are:

  1. Preference for solitude that is supported by its corresponding individual-environment fit for the preference would be positively correlated to work autonomy and intrinsic motivation.
  2. Preference for polychronicity that is supported by its corresponding individual-environment fit for the preference would be positively correlated to work autonomy and intrinsic motivation.
  3. Extraversion will be negatively correlated to preference for solitude and positively correlated to preference for polychronicity.
  4. Majority of respondents will report higher scores on the Productivity during Solitude subscale as compared to Need for Solitude and Enjoyment during Solitude Subscale in the larger Preference for Solitude scale.

Research Methodology

Study Design

The research was conducted using a quantitative, self-reported web-based survey. Over a period of 11 weeks, snowballing sampling method was used to request responses via e-mail and various social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. A total of 154 responses were received. Responses were filtered for relevance based on the completeness of the respondent's responses and the expected creative output at work (as self-reported by the respondent). Only 88 respondents, whose job roles required them to be highly creative, were considered and included in the final study.

The survey instrument contained validated and custom items. Validated scales were used to measure work autonomy (Breaugh, 1985), preferences for solitude (Burger, 1995), preference for polychronicity (Hecht & Allen, 2005), environmental fit on preference for solitude (Hecht & Allen, 2005) and introversion-extraversion (Revelle & Wilt, 2009). Custom items were developed for measuring environmental fit on preference for solitude. The items used to measure intrinsic motivation were a mix of validated items (Dewett, 2007) and custom created items.

The participants were also asked two qualitative questions that were designed to understand what hindered the participants' ability to be creative and how did they feel about their work when they were able to perform creatively.

Demographic Description of Data Set

Figure 3

  • Age: Majority of respondents (84.09%) were between 18-35 years of age.
  • Gender: Data set demonstrated a fair representation of males (52.3%, n=46) and females (46.6%, n=41).
  • Employment 64.8% of respondents (n=57) were employed with a for-profit organization in the private sector. The remaining respondents were either self-employed (n=13), employed with a for-profit organization in the public sector (n=8), employed with a not-for-profit organization (n=5). The remaining (n=5) were either unemployed, employed in alternate ways or chose to not respond.
  • Industry: Majority of respondents were from media & advertising (n=27), consulting (n=13) or IT (n=12).
  • Country of employment: Most of the respondent were either working in US (47.7%, n=42) or India (39.8%, n=35).

Data Analysis

Figure 4

Quantitative analysis of the gathered responses was conducted using SPSS. The data was analyzed by using correlations and descriptive statistics measures. Inter-item reliability test was conducted for all the measures and a meta-variable was created wherever alpha score was found to be greater than 0.7. Correlations were also done by studying the interaction effect between preference for solitude / polychronicity with the corresponding variable of individual-environment fit to test the hypotheses.

Responses to qualitative questions were investigated by doing a thematic analysis and categorizing the themes across larger categories (Refer to Appendix I and II for an overview of responses and identified themes / categories for the responses to the qualitative questions.)

Findings and Discussion

Hypothesis 1: Preference for solitude that is supported by an individual-environment fit for the preference would be positively correlated to work autonomy and intrinsic motivation.

Research supported the hypothesis that when preference for solitude is supported by an individual-environment fit for the preference, it is positively correlated to work autonomy and intrinsic motivation (refer Graph 2). The correlation coefficients were 0.245 (p=0.05) and 0.252 (p=0.05) respectively. This implies that individuals who have a high preference for solitude and their work environment supported their need to work in solitude reported higher levels of feelings of autonomy and intrinsic motivation.

Figure 5

The findings of this study lend support to Amabile's Intrinsic Motivation Principle of Creativity. Intrinsic motivation was found to be positively correlated to creativity as measured by self-satisfaction with one's creative outputs (refer Figure 2). Additionally, work autonomy was found to be positively correlated to not only intrinsic motivation (in concurrence with Deci & Ryan's Self-Determination Theory) but also to creativity as measured by self-satisfaction with one's creative outputs. Figure 2 summarizes these correlations. These variables - work autonomy, intrinsic motivation and creativity form the structural framework for this study. A variable that is correlated with either work autonomy or intrinsic motivation would most likely also be correlated with creativity. As stated in the hypothesis, this study found that environmental fit on preference for solitude was one such variable that was positively correlated with work autonomy and intrinsic motivation. Based on these correlations, this study concludes that work autonomy and intrinsic motivation would moderate the effect of individual-environment fit on preference for solitude to positively impact creativity.

Figure 6

Solitude & Work Autonomy

Work autonomy is the degree of control or discretion that an employee is able to exercise while at work (Breaugh, 1985). This includes discretion in choosing the performance goals (work criteria autonomy), the methods of work (work method autonomy) and the scheduling of work-related activities (work scheduling autonomy). Discretion is essentially 'power of free decision or latitude of choice' (Merriam-Webster, 2013). Solitude provides increased freedom to choose one's mental and physical activities (Long & Averill, 2003). Thus, by providing such choices and the power to act on these choices, solitude awards discretion. Therefore, this study suggests that solitude could influence feelings of autonomy by increasing one's control over one's mental and physical activities. The environment might appear controlling (acting against one's wishes and preferences) when there is absence of solitude support from the environment for someone with a high preference for the same. This could possibly explain the significantly positive correlation between individual-environment fit on preference for solitude and work autonomy as represented in Graph 2. On the basis of this finding, the researcher recommends a qualitative study to understand the feelings and attitudes of individuals when their preferences for solitude are supported (or not) by the environment. Such a qualitative study might help to validate the suggested explanation with regards to perception of control.

Solitude & Creativity

Freedom is often considered a prerequisite for creative activity (Long & Averill, 2003; Amabile, 1983). To the extent, then, that solitude provides freedom, it should also facilitate creativity (Long & Averill, 2003). The findings of the study lend credibility to this presumed role of solitude in fostering creativity. The study showed that individuals whose need for solitude was met by the environment reported positive feelings of work autonomy. Such autonomy possibly provides people the freedom to engage in creative activities as per their desires. The study also highlights the relationship of solitude with intrinsic motivation which is highly correlated with creativity. The results of the study demonstrate how individual factors (preference for solitude and intrinsic motivation) and environmental factors (work autonomy and environmental support for solitude) possibly interact to influence creative outcomes.

It is also important to highlight that while individual-environment fit on preferences for solitude was found to be positive correlated to work autonomy and intrinsic motivation; it was not found to be significantly correlated to the respondent's self-satisfaction with creative outputs (refer Figure 3). This indicates that a fit on preferences for solitude does not necessarily impact creativity. Work autonomy and intrinsic motivation could act as moderating factors that positively influence the relationship between fit on preferences for solitude and creativity as measured by self-satisfaction with creative outcomes.

The study also evaluated if environmental fit on preference for solitude was positively related to any of the specific sub-scales of work autonomy i.e. work criteria autonomy, work method autonomy and work scheduling autonomy. While the initial research hypothesis suggested that it might be positively correlated to work method autonomy, it was found to be positively correlated to work scheduling autonomy. This difference could be due to chance factors as the three sub-scales were found to be positively correlated to each other. In terms of relevance of the findings, the researcher concludes that preferences for solitude interact with environmental factors to influence feelings of work autonomy and intrinsic motivation. These preferences merit attention in managerial practices to foster employee creativity.

Hypothesis 2: Preference for polychronicity that is supported by an individual-environment fit for the preference would be positively correlated to work autonomy and intrinsic motivation.

Figure 7

Polychronicity is a temporal variable (Hecht & Allen, 2005). Individuals differ in their temporal orientations to information processing and activity (Bluedorn & Denhardt, 1988). Hall (1983) observed that monochronics in a polychronic environment and polychronics in a monochronic environment find it equally difficult to deal with their situations (Hecht & Allen, 2005). Madjar & Oldham (2006), through their experiment, demonstrated that polychronicity is an individual-difference variable. Participants exhibited higher creativity in the task condition that matched their individual preference, and perceived time pressure mediated these effects. Individuals perceived lower time pressure in conditions that matched their preference, which then contributed to higher levels of creativity (Madjar & Oldham, 2006). Hence, this study suggests that individual-environment fit on preferences for polychronicity should be important for individuals to function creatively.

Figure 8

Time personalities are composed of four dimensions-one of which is polychronicity (Hecht & Allen, 2005). Kaufman et al. (1991) hypothesized that individuals should experience higher levels of wellness, motivation, intrinsic satisfaction, and quality of life when their preferred and experienced "time personalities" (p. 80) fit with one another. It was hypothesized that when an individual's preferences for polychronicity were supported by the environment, the individual would experience high levels of intrinsic motivation.

Work scheduling autonomy - a subscale of work autonomy is a temporal factor. The study hypothesized that fit on preferences for polychronicity would be perceived as a greater control over one's time and scheduling of activities. Hence, it was proposed that work scheduling autonomy and fit on preferences for polychronicity would be positively correlated. Thus, in studying the correlation between individual-environment fit for polychronicity with work autonomy and intrinsic motivation, this hypothesis also draws upon the structural framework of autonomy, intrinsic motivation and creativity (refer Figure 2).

The findings of the study did not support the hypothesis. There was no significant correlation found between individual-environment fit on preferences for polychronicity and intrinsic motivation or work autonomy (including work scheduling autonomy). These findings could have been influenced by the sample characteristics. Graphically, the sample showed a more normal distribution for preference for polychronicity (refer Graph 3). On the other hand, the distribution for the work environment for polychronicity was found to be skewed towards being more polychronicity-supportive (refer Graph 4). This is congruent with the idea that employees in many contemporary organizations are no longer assigned single tasks, but instead are asked to complete multiple tasks and to rotate through these tasks on a regular basis (Madjar & Oldham, 2006; Gittleman, Horrigan, & Joice, 1998; Lawler, 2000; Malinski, 2002; Ortega, 2001; Osterman, 1994, 2000).

A possible reason for the skewed distribution could be that the sample was not randomly selected. The respondents were filtered on the basis of how creative they were expected to be in their workplace. As a result, the responses were biased towards more closely representing industries known to be creative like media and advertising or information technology. The work environment of such industries is likely to be different from those of other industries like accounting or pure manufacturing which have more standardized job responsibilities. The researcher recommends that future studies in this field could do a comparative analysis of the preferences, expectations and environmental support for multi-tasking across industries. The hypotheses for polychronicity could then be tested by doing a cross-industry analysis.

Hypothesis 3: Extraversion will be negatively correlated to preference for solitude and positively correlated to preference for polychronicity.

Data supported the hypothesis that introverts tend to have a greater preference for solitude than extraverts. The correlation coefficient was 0.275 and was significant at 0.01 level of confidence. This result supports a study conducted by Burger (1995) who found that people with a high preference for solitude tended to be introverted (Burger, 1995). Eysenck (1967) has explained the difference between introverts and extraverts in terms of cortical arousal. The introvert has a low arousal threshold (i.e. gets easily aroused) and can function without the need for high levels of external stimulation (Hills & Argyle, 2001). In contrast, the extravert is not easily aroused and, in compensation, seeks stimulation in the company of many people (Hills & Argyle, 2001).

Similarly, data also supported the hypothesis that extraverts tend to have a greater preference for polychronicity than introverts. The correlation coefficient for this relationship was 0.221 and was significant at 0.05 level of confidence. This is reflective of the findings of another study by König & Waller (2010). They have reported a weak but consistently positive relationship between extraversion and polychronicity across five different studies. Conte and colleagues (Conte & Gintoft, 2005; Conte & Jacobs, 2003) explain this by referring to Hall (1983), who described polychronic people as more relationship oriented. However, this explanation remains to be tested (König & Waller, 2010).

There were no differences found in the orientation for introversion or extraversion based on differences in gender and country of work (to be generalized only across India and USA) (refer to Appendix III and IV).

Hypothesis 4: Majority of respondents will report higher scores on the Productivity during Solitude sub-scale as compared to Need for Solitude and Enjoyment during Solitude Subscale in the larger Preference for Solitude scale.

This hypothesis suggests that the mean score would be higher for items measuring Productivity during Solitude as compared to the mean score for items measuring Need for Solitude or Enjoyment during Solitude. Table 2 shows the mean scores of respondents across the six items of Preference for Solitude scale. Results show that the mean scores are significantly higher for each - items measuring Enjoyment during Solitude and items measuring Productivity during Solitude as compared to the mean score for items measuring Need for Solitude. Hence, the findings partially prove the hypothesis. This implies that even if people might not have a higher need for solitude they do enjoy solitude and feel more productive. More than fifty percent of respondents marked Agree / Strongly Agree on the items measuring Enjoyment and Productivity during solitude. The same percentage was less than fifty for Need for Solitude. Table 2 captures the relevant percentages in its last column.

Figure 9

Responses for Enjoyment during Solitude could have been impacted by the ambiguity of its measures. When alpha reliability test was conducted for the two items measuring Enjoyment during Solitude, the value of Cronbach's alpha was found to be 0.536 and was deemed to be insignificant. Hence, these two items were not combined to develop a meta-variable for Enjoyment during Solitude. As seen in the values of standard deviation of these two items in Table 2, both the items show relatively higher variability in their responses. A review of the two items indicates some degree of ambiguity and therefore possibly differential understanding of its meaning by the respondents. For instance, the response to the item, 'If I were to take a several-hour plane trip, I would like to spend the time quietly' would depend on how respondents define several hours. For some, several hours could mean four hours and for some it could mean fourteen hours. This factor needs to be controlled for in designing the item. Similarly respondents could also interpret the time component in the item, 'I enjoy being by myself' differently. Some could perceive it to be two minutes and some could perceive it to be two hours. Both might respond positively to the item. However, it is evident that the former has a greater preference for solitude than the latter. The scale item needs to account for this difference in perception by controlling for the perception of length of time.

Figure 10

The higher scores on the Productivity during Solitude sub-scale can be explained by Haner (2005). According to Haner (2005), everybody needs some degree of private time in the course of their creative pursuits due to the very nature of creativity and innovation processes. Haner (2005) proposes that creativity and innovation require a blend of convergent and divergent thinking behaviors. Some of these behaviors like brainstorming (divergent) and decision-making (convergent) are required at a team level, whereas others like browsing (divergent) and analyzing (convergent) are required at an individual level. In view of Haner's proposition, this study suggested that all individuals engaged in creative pursuits will feel productive during times of solitude as it will allow them to explore new ideas and analyze. This hypothesize was validated through the findings. Productivity during Solitude subscale may represent the adaptive, restorative and creative benefits derived from social isolation (solitude) (Cramer & Lake, 1998). In view of the findings of this study, it might be helpful to conduct a qualitative study to explore what people do that makes them feel more productive when experiencing solitude. This might help validate Haner's (2005) earlier mentioned proposition.

There was no difference found across gender and country of work (India and USA only) on the Productivity during Solitude sub-scale (refer Appendix III and IV). However, aping the trend of the larger Preference for Solitude Scale with Introversion-Extraversion, Productivity during Solitude was found to negatively correlated to Extraversion (refer Table 3).

Summary of Key Findings from Quantitative Analysis

Figure 3 provides a snapshot of the significant correlations found in this study. The correlations that were critical from the point of view of this study have been highlighted in red.

Figure 11

Based on these correlations, the researcher concludes that preference for solitude would be an important factor for consideration in fostering creativity because -

  1. Individual-environment fit on preference for solitude was found to be significantly positively correlated to work autonomy and intrinsic motivation.
  2. The three factors - self-satisfaction with creativity, work autonomy and intrinsic motivation were found to be significantly, positively correlated in this study. Specifically, the findings substantiate the critical role of intrinsic motivation in creativity. In terms of the absolute values of the strength of the correlations, the relationship between work autonomy and intrinsic motivation was found to be the strongest.
  3. Lastly, per the findings of first hypothesis, individual-environment fit on preferences for solitude was not found to be correlated to one's self-satisfaction with creative outputs. This implies that work autonomy and intrinsic motivation could act as moderating factors to positively influence the effects of individual-environment fit of preferences for solitude on creativity.

Thus, people who have a high preference for solitude would benefit from an environment that supports this need in their creative endeavors. Similar, people with a low preference for solitude would benefit from a more collaborative work environment in their creative endeavors. High levels of autonomy in the environment can allow people to exercise practices that support their preferences.

These findings also contribute to the field of study of the interaction of individual and environmental factors in fostering creativity. Personality specific and more enduring individual traits like preferences for solitude interact with environmental factors like work autonomy as well as relatively dynamic individual factors like intrinsic motivation to impact individual output in the form of creativity.

Based on the demographic data, this research can be generalized across gender and the US and the Indian cultures between the age group 18-35 years. There were no differences found in individual personality traits like preferences for solitude, preferences for polychronicity or introversion-extraversion across both the genders and the two cultures. (Refer Appendix III and IV).

Qualitative Analysis

Figure 12

Figure 13

Figure 14

This study solicited responses to two open-ended questions to explore if any factors related to solitude, time, autonomy or intrinsic motivation would emerge. These questions are -

  1. What hinders your ability to be creative?
  2. How do you feel about your work when you are able to come up with good, creative ideas?

An analysis of the responses to the qualitative question - 'What hinders your ability to be creative?' revealed that the major factors that affected an individual's ability to be creative were related to the self or constraints from the environment (refer Graph 5 and Graph 6). It should be noted that any constraint would limit the choices that an individual might have in a situation. This limitation could manifest itself as feelings of reduced control or autonomy. Appendix I provides a summary of responses that were consolidated to define the response categories formulated in Graphs 5 and 6.

Time constraints and creativity

While the findings of this study were inconclusive in determining the role of polychronicity (a temporal factor) in creativity, the qualitative analysis revealed that constraints in the form of time pressures was the most recurring factor that hindered employee creativity (refer Graph 5, Graph 6 and Appendix I). A study by Madjar & Oldham (2006) found that while participants exhibited higher creativity in the task condition that matched their individual preference for polychronicity, perceived time pressure mediated these effects. Individuals perceived lower time pressure in conditions that matched their preference, which then contributed to higher levels of creativity (Madjar & Oldham, 2006). Thus, by adapting the work environment to individual's preferences, managers can help reduce some of the time pressure that individuals perceive .

Self-efficacy and creativity

The qualitative analysis shows that feelings of low self-efficacy hindered employee creativity. The factor of self-efficacy was used to categorize responses where respondents expressed inadequate knowledge or expertise to produce creative outputs. (For more description of these response categories, refer to Appendix I). The results of the study by Hecht & Allen, (2005) suggested that person-job fit on the dimension of polychronicity is positively correlated to self-efficacy. This further warrants the need to more fully explore the role of polychronicity. Time pressures and self-efficacy have emerged as the two largest factors that hindered employee creativity in this qualitative analysis. It could be that lack of fit on polychronicity preferences was influencing both - time pressures and self-efficacy.

Responses to the second qualitative question - 'How do you feel about your work when you are able to come up with good, creative ideas?' builds a case for differentiating between creativity and innovation in practice. Graph 7 provides a summary of the common themes that emerged in response to this question. Appendix II provides a summary of responses that were consolidated to define the themes formulated in Graph 7.

Intrinsic motivation and creativity

The strong relationship between intrinsic motivation and creativity was not only supported by the quantitative analysis but also by qualitative findings. Analysis of the question - 'How do you feel about your work when you are able to come up with good, creative ideas?' suggests that people felt satisfied, motivated and committed with regards to their work. It also impacted their feelings of self-efficacy. Thus, it is interesting to note that creativity and intrinsic motivation feed into each other. Organizations should leverage upon the existing research that suggests how intrinsic motivation can be fostered by impacting feelings of competence, autonomy and relatedness (Deci & Ryan, 2000) to fuel this symbiotic relationship between intrinsic motivation and creativity.

Positivity and creativity

Graph 7 highlights that creativity produces high levels of positive emotions and energy in individuals. This can be channelized towards more creative pursuits. The researcher recommends that organizations draw distinctions between creative and innovative outputs. Employee performance should be recognized on the basis of the employee's ability to come up with creative ideas even if they do not get implemented. This might help harness the positivity generated from creative pursuits. Though the number of negative concerns after the generations of creative ideas is very low (2%) and take the form of concerns regarding implementation challenges (refer Graph 7), it might be worth exploring how such concerns impacted creative behaviors for implementation. It is likely that implementation concerns could dampen the momentum and energy generated in the process of creative ideation. A qualitative study can help to more specifically identify the feelings and attitudes of people as they move from ideation to implementation phase. This would help guide managerial practices to minimize any negativity that employees might feel to ensure more effective implementation.

Research Implications and Recommendations

Figure 15

The findings of this study have major implications on how we shape work environments for fostering creativity. The researcher recommends the following organizational practices to tap into individual creativity:

  1. Put flexible structures and processes in place that is mindful of individual preferences
  2. Allow for individual reflection as well as team collaboration to foster innovation
  3. Celebrate ideas
  4. Fuel the cycle of intrinsic motivation and creativity

1. Put flexible structures and processes in place that is mindful of individual preferences

According to McKinsey (2012), a company's ability to innovate has become the core driver of growth, performance and valuation (Steelcase, 2013). This focus on innovation has become a strong driver for promoting collaboration. According to the report by Steelcase (2009), 'happily together' is exactly the way Generation Y prefers to work, and their pervasive influence on knowledge work is being embraced by workers of all generations, creating a whole new set of requirements for companies that want to compete and lead. Steelcase/Corenet surveyed over 200 corporate real estate practitioners and found that innovation processes are established within most organizations. 75% say that the responsibility for innovation is spread throughout their organization versus residing within a focused team or department, and 60% say their organization's overall work process is more collaborative than individual. Another report by Economist found that knowledge management and collaboration systems top the list of tools that will play a key role in the interplay between organizational agility and superior innovation (Glenn, 2009). However, in view of the findings of this study on the relationship between individual-environment fit of preferences for solitude, work autonomy and intrinsic motivation, this increasing focus on collaboration could potentially dampen individual creativity.

Human creativity has always been and still is the bedrock of innovation (Steelcase, 2013). The role of individual creativity, as a personality trait, in generating innovative outcomes has been recognized by Amabile (1996) and Woodman et al. (1993) in their research. Hence, organizations need to address any contextual factors that could adversely impact individual creativity. Based on the findings of this paper, an individual who has a high preference for solitude but does not get sufficient support from the work environment to work in solitude might experience lower creativity. In view of these findings, this study makes an appeal to the leadership, learning and development practitioners and corporate real estate practitioners to be cognizant of individual personality needs as they design work spaces and practices in order to successfully tap into an individual's creativity potential. Dul, Ceylan, & Jaspers (2011) found that creative personality, the social-organizational work environment, and the physical work environment-are all positively and significantly related to creative performance.

The participants of this study worked in creative jobs and a significant proportion expressed a greater preference for solitude. Hence, it would be important to establish the right balance between emphasizing individual and collaborative work through managerial practices, workplace designs and performance expectations. While it is not easy to identify whether a person has a high or low preference for solitude, it is relatively easier to identify a person's orientation on introversion-extraversion. This study has established that introverts have a greater preference for solitude. Industry practitioners should use this finding to better understand the needs of their individual employees for creativity. Even Larey & Paulus (1999) have found that brainstorming groups performed better when their members were assigned to the groups based on their preferences for working and interacting in groups (Hennessey & Amabile, 2010).

2. Allow for individual reflection as well as team collaboration to foster innovation

This study found that, comparatively, respondents felt more productive and tended to enjoy solitude even if their need for solitude was not that high. These findings can be explained by Haner (2005) who draws attention to the creativity and innovation processes. While creativity might be an individual or group level outcome, an innovation is almost always a group outcome supported by contextual variables. He has suggested that creativity- and innovation-specific behaviors like browsing, brainstorming, decision-making and analyzing require a mix of individual and team level efforts. This further presses upon the need for organizations to provide opportunities for individual and collaborative work. Individuals should be given the autonomy to choose their work-style and should also be informed of the nature of creativity and innovation processes. This will encourage individuals to stretch beyond their preferences to meet the slated objectives. Team members should also be made aware of the differences in preferences for individual work style so that they continue to provide support to their colleagues. Again, this requires leadership and organizational development practitioners to design workspaces and practices that provide time and space for individual reflection as well as collaboration. The current focus on collaboration in managerial practices could undermine the importance of individual work, which would be detrimental to realizing innovative outcomes.

3. Celebrate ideas

Innovation and creativity are separate processes and constructs. Innovation is often an outcome of implementation of creative ideas. Findings from qualitative analysis highlighted that creativity breeds positivity and high levels of energy. However, this energy could be potentially dampened by concerns related to implementation for innovation. Very often, it is the innovation that helps determine the value provided to the organizational bottom-line. As a result, innovation might get rewarded and recognized but not creativity. To leverage on the energy released after creative outcomes, creativity should be recognized and rewarded for its own sake - with or without implementation. This will drive employees to persist in their creative pursuits with equal or more zest and energy.

Another application of celebrating creative ideas based on these findings is in facilitating change. Any change saps the energy out of the employees and the organization. If change agents can design programs and activities that allow employees to tap into their creativity in times of change, it would help to generate energy that can be channelized to accelerate the pace of change.

4. Fuel the cycle of intrinsic motivation and creativity

Qualitative analysis also highlights that creative outcomes lead to an increase in the levels of motivation, engagement and commitment. Such motivation is a huge driver for realizing more creative outcomes. Drawing from the tenets of the Self Determination theory, feelings of autonomy, competence and relatedness also help foster intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Organizations should have relatively flexible structures that give individuals autonomy for planning their work activities. Additionally, to nurture feelings of competence, organizations should focus on learning and growth coupled with adequate reward and recognition programs might help increase employee self-efficacy with regards to creativity. Lastly, relatedness comes from not only being connected with people but also to a larger cause that the individual believes in. Organizations can establish coaching practices to help people identify their larger purpose. Several organizations already host a lot of initiatives related to corporate social responsibility or communities that allow people to pursue their hobbies and interests. Such programs should be widely publicized and employees should be incentivized to participate. This would help foster feelings of relatedness with a bigger purpose.

Limitations of the Study

This study was exploratory in its nature. It lacked the experimental research rigor in terms of control for confounding variables like differences in organizational culture which would impact autonomy. It might be helpful to replicate this research by partnering with an organization to ensure there are minimal differences in the culture and resulting autonomy at the workplace. So the responses received would help highlight if participants' feelings of autonomy was influenced by their individual preferences

Given that this study was conducted for the purposes of an academic requirement, time and resources were a constraint for the researcher. As a result, the volume of data collected didn't allow for comparison between people in creative and non-creative roles. The findings of this study can only be applied for people in creative jobs where they need to demonstrate creativity more than 50% of the time. As a result, the differences in the needs of creative and non-creative jobs are uncertain. The researcher believes that because the human mind would not work very differently, the findings with regards to autonomy and intrinsic motivation can be generalized to a wider population. However, the outcomes resulting from high levels of intrinsic motivation could manifest themselves in different ways like creativity, commitment, agility, and engagement in an organizational setting. However, this line of research needs to be explored.

The creativity measure used in this study was uni-dimensional. The respondents were asked to rate their self-satisfaction with their own creative outputs. In such a situation, people might have given more biased responses. It might have been more effective to also get the ratings on the respondent's creative outputs from his/her supervisor. A mean of the two scores (self and supervisor) would have provided a more accurate picture of the respondents creative productivity.

The researcher sought participants by reaching out within the researcher's network. As a result, despite the confidentiality caveat, the resulting familiarity might have prompted some participants to provide more socially desirable responses. The ordering of questions might have played a role in the nature of responses received to the two qualitative questions due to priming effects. The quantitative questions were asked before the two qualitative questions. The survey items contained words like - driven, fulfilling, accomplishment, productive and quiet which also came up as factors in the analysis of the qualitative questions. Hence, to avoid priming effects, it might be helpful to ask the qualitative questions before the quantitative questions.

Scope for Further Research

The findings of this study suggest that preference for solitude plays a role in fostering creativity from the perspective of providing the individual-environment fit. There might be several other factors which could be important. Hence, it is suggested that future research focused on creating an alignment between individual needs and socio-environmental enablers should conduct a qualitative study to identify a comprehensive list of factors for which the individual-environment fit is important in the process of creative pursuits.

From the point of view of closing the gaps in this study and addressing its limitations, it is important to reassert the reliability of the preference for solitude subscales. This study didn't find the subscales measuring Enjoyment during Solitude to be reliable. The nature of the items on the larger Preference for Solitude scale was at times, ambiguous. This increased the possibility of having different respondents interpret the data differently. There is a need for research to develop a validated scale measuring intrinsic motivation. There is a scarcity of available measures of intrinsic motivation in the organizational literature (Dewett, 2007). As a result, this study relied on items used by Dewett (2007) and some self-constructed items. While the items were tested for reliability they were not tested for validity. The order of items in the survey questionnaire also needs to be restructured with qualitative items coming before the quantitative items. Creativity needs to be measured from an additional perspective of the supervisor to provide a more accurate picture.

Lastly, this study was limited to respondents working in a creative job. However, the current environment is making demands for frequent changes in organizations. This requires all employees to understand the environmental complexity and interrelatedness and then keep innovating in their respective jobs. It might be helpful to explore if the needs for creativity are different in a job which is deemed to be creative versus one which is not. An example of a job which might require relatively lower levels of creativity is that of an assembly line worker or an accountant. These professionals are expected to follow established processes and guidelines. However, they are also required to be alert and think creatively when errors are highlighted or bottlenecks crop up. So are their needs for creativity any different from those in more creative roles like user-interface designer or copywriter? Would their needs for solitude based on their job be any different? It might be possible that because accountants deal with volumes of data, they might need more quiet and solitude to focus on their work. Such findings might require leadership to design work differently not only based on individual preferences but also job functions. Additionally the leadership would need to think about how to keep an accountant with a low preference for solitude engaged at work through collaboration. Thus, future studies on solitude and creativity could do a comparison of solitude needs across industries and job functions based on individual needs and job demands.

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Appendix

I. Overview of responses and response categories to the open-ended question - 'What hinders your ability to be creative?'

Appendix 1

II. Overview of responses to the open-ended question - 'How do you feel about your work when you are able to come up with good, creative ideas?'

Appendix 2

III. Comparison of preferences for solitude and polychronicity, and introversion-extraversion orientation across countries

Appendix 3

IV. Comparison of preferences for solitude and polychronicity, and introversion-extraversion orientation across gender

Appendix 4

V. Glossary of key concepts, theories and definitions

Appendix 5

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