Does who you know matter for how creative you are?
Martha Topete, Nathan Betancourt, Zuzana Sasovova, Flore BridouxAlthough research into the relationship between power and creativity has shown that power may be beneficial for individual creativity, recent empirical work has shown that this positive effect of power does not aggregate linearly at the dyad level as interactions between power-holders lead to less joint creative outcomes. To achieve a better understanding of when power stimulates workplace creativity, we focus on power asymmetry, as interactions between individuals who differ in power are an ubiquitous feature of organizational life.
We argue that power asymmetry enhances joint creative performance because it facilitates the deployment of the creativity-relevant resources that high-power individuals possess. Inequality in power provides clear lines of direction and deference between co-workers, which fosters coordination and enables the emergence of complementary behaviors, such as the exchange of information, that are beneficial for a joint creative performance. In sum, a hierarchical social order emerges within power asymmetric interactions that allows individuals to better organize their creative efforts than is the case in power symmetric interactions.
In firms, in addition to the hierarchical social order derived from differences in formal power, we expect to find informal social relations with an egalitarian social order such as individuals who are interconnected via Simmelian friendship ties (i.e., a tie embedded in three-person friendship cliques). We expect that these informal social relationships will moderate the impact of power asymmetric interactions on joint creative performance. Simmelian friendship ties establish an egalitarian social order as these cohesive ties are characterized by reduced bargaining power, reduced individuality, and enhanced conflict resolution. Prior research has shown that dyads embedded in triads (relative to dyadic relations in general) are more stable and durable relations that develop their own social norms and individuals suppress their interests for those of the larger group. The affective and structural aspects of Simmelian ties promote collaboration among their members which leads them to a higher creative performance. However, we argue that the duality of hierarchical and egalitarian social orders in a dyad likely diminishes the benefits of power asymmetry on creative performance.
We found support for these hypotheses in two firms, a market research company (N=650 dyadic relationships) and a consultancy organization (N= 3,906 dyadic relationships). We measured power asymmetry with differences in formal rank in a dyad (binary) and creative performance with supervisory ratings. In our analyzes, we found that the relationship of power asymmetry and joint creative performance was negatively moderated by the number of Simmelian friendship ties, while the direct effect of Simmelian friendship ties and power asymmetry was positive.