Better to Give Than to Receive (or Seek) Help? The Interpersonal Dynamics of Maintaining a Reputation for Creativity


Author Information : Joel B. Carnevale (Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management)
Lei Huang (Raymond J. Harbert College of Business at Auburn University)
Lynne C. Vincent (Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management)
Steven Farmer (Wichita State University)
Lin Wang (National Sun Yat-sen University)

Year of Publication : Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 2021

Summary of Findings : Creative employees can become overly concerned about maintaining their reputation as creative and, as a result, interact with their colleagues in ways detrimental to the development of creative outcomes.

Research Questions : 1. What anxieties do today's creative employees face as they seek to be seen as a source of novel ideas?
2. How are such anxieties affecting their sharing and exchanging of ideas with others?

What we know : Creative idea generation involves the coupling of information and concepts in ways that are useful and novel. Seeking out and gathering diverse viewpoints and perspectives is therefore crucial to the creative process. Research, for example, has shown that asking others for needed help facilitates idea generation thus contributing to higher levels of creativity. Consequently, the give-and-take dynamics that arise when individuals interact interpersonally with one another at work are vastly important for the development of creativity.

Novel Findings : Among some of the most creative people we studied, however, they actively avoided asking for help on their creative work, even when such help would have benefited their ideas. For such creatives, the prospect of tarnishing their reputation by asking for help is not worth the risk, as asking for help could make it seem like their creative ability is beginning to wane. One silver lining we found, however, is that these creatives typically went out of their way to give help to their colleagues on their creative work, likely because it allowed them to flex their creative prowess in front of others.

These findings are important as it can inform potential flections in creative talent over time. In particular, if creative employees are unwilling to ask for needed help but instead devote their time and energy to being a source of ideas and information for others' creative work, such creative stars may start to fade over time while propelling those in their orbit up the creative hierarchy.

Novel Methodology : Managers should educate their creative employees on the benefits of asking for help. Although people often think asking for help makes you look weak, research actually shows that help-givers tend to look favorably on help-seekers, viewing them as more competent and wise than those who refuse to ask for help.

Managers should also be sure to regularly validate their employees' creative achievements. Part of the reason creative employees refrain from seeking help is that they are worried about losing their image as creative. Consistent validation may, however, make them feel psychologically safe to take risks, such as by being honest about when they need help from others on their creative work.

Full Citations : Carnevale, J. B., Huang, L., Vincent, L. C., Farmer, S., & Wang, L. (2021). Better to give than to receive (or seek) help? The interpersonal dynamics of maintaining a reputation for creativity. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 167, 144-156.

Abstract : Prior research suggests that the broader social environment in which employees develop, refine, and share their ideas is crucial in promoting creativity. But employees might not always be willing to interact with their coworkers in ways conducive to the development of creative outcomes, particularly if they become overly concerned about establishing and preserving others’ perceptions of their creative ability. Using both field and experimental studies, we integrate the impression management framework and the creativity-relevant helping literature to investigate the psychological pressures and calculative interpersonal behaviors that stem from employees’ engagement in creative work. Results across three studies provide converging evidence that, due to the arousal of creative reputation maintenance concerns (CRMC), creative individuals (relative to their less creative counterparts) engage in less creativity help-seeking and more creativity help-giving, and these effects are strengthened when individuals have previously received help from others. We discuss the implications and limitations of this work and provide future research directions.

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Joel Carnevale

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