Hacking Creativity by Jessica Amortegui

A piece of a puzzle

 Join our Hacking Creativity Webinar on September 24 at noon EST.  Register here.

I believe everyone has the potential to be creative when given the time, freedom, and autonomy. And, combined witha subtle dose of inspiration,  that creativity may turn into full-blown innovation.

In business, creativity used to be reserved for the designers, marketers, and artistic talent that represented the antidote to buttoned-up organizational cultures. In today’s  increasingly ubiquitous “VUCA” environments, where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity have seeped across industry verticals, creativity is no longer reserved solely for the hip folk clad in skinny jeans.  The ability to innovate across the corporate value chain – from strategy formulation to go-to-market execution – is a pre-requisite for market competitiveness. Those who do it best relish an ascent up the corporate ladder with increased reputational capital: they are the leadership game-changers.

IMG00066Armed with this insight, a group of six students from the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program sought to collide the frontier of positive psychology—or the scientific study of human flourishing—with the science of creativity. The mash-up was an interdisciplinary take on two emergent fields that are garnering increased popularity in the corporate world.   The team learned that at the intersection of positive psychology and creativity emerged some interesting insights that are both actionable and accessible.

For example, consider  Adam Grant’s (2013) research in the best-selling book,  Give and Take.  Grant’s research displays a strong link between collaboration and creative character. A recent study conducted by Baer (2012) found more of the same, suggesting that creativity and implementation are regulated by people’s ability to network and the number of strong relationships they hold. Lucky for the team, collaboration – or rather, relationships at large – is shown to be one of the most important contributors to one’s overall happiness. Here we begin to see a picture emerge where positive psychology and creativity can, indeed, tango together. And this is just the beginning – many more insights continued to unfold, illuminating the commonality between these seemingly disparate fields.

In fact, another example near and dear to a positive psychologists heart is positive emotional states. Fredrickson’s (1998) ground-breaking broaden and build theory posits that positive emotions contribute to an upward spiral of more positive emotions, open-mindedness, increased scope of attention, out-of-the-box thinking, and increased problem solving.  And yet, the plot actually thickens when creativity is examined  further. Negative emotions also have the power to boost creativity. One study of 161 employees found that creativity increased when both positive and negative emotions were running high (George & Zhou, 2007). In short, they appeared to be using the drama in the workplace positively. It turns out that finding ways to turn negative moods from creativity foes to allies can be a deceptively simple strategy: don’t resist the resistance. There is no need to turn that frown upside down after all.

As we stumbled across findings such as these we went right to the creativity core. We coupled the time-tested definition of creativity—the generation of novel and useful ideas (Amabile, 1988; Oldham & Cummings, 1996)—with Einstein’s famous quip that we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Putting the two together, and making sure to stay true to the big “A” in MAPP (application),  a sixty- minute webinar was designed, “Hacking Creativity,” that explores the intersection of these fields in an intriguing, insightful, and all together imaginative way.


Amabile, T. M. (1996). Creativity in context. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Baer, M. (2012). Putting creativity to work: the implementation of creative ideas in organizations. Academy of Management Journal55(5), 1102-1119.

Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions?Review of General Psychology, 2, 300-319.

Grant, M. (2013). Give and take: A revolutionary approach to success. New York: Viking Press.

George, J. M., & Zhou, J. (2007). Dual tuning in a supportive context: Joint contributions of positive mood, negative mood, and supervisory behaviors to employee creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 50(3), 605-622.

Oldham, G. R., & Cummings, A. (1996). Employee creativity: Personal and contextual factors at work. Academy of management journal, 39(3), 607-634.


If you are interested in learning what the team discovered, and howto leverage it against creativity-starved challenge, come join us on September 24th at noon EST.  We look forward to sharing the result of our efforts to concoct a distinctive creativity and happiness tonic.  Go here to register:  https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/119275815.

Jessica Amortegui works in leadership development at VMware and is a recent graduate of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at Penn.

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