Creativite collaborations: the interplay of sructure and agency

Joobin Ordoobody


In this paper, I investigate the interplay of individual-level factors in shaping project level creativity. Functional knowledge and specialized expertise are two distinct aspects of individuals’ background that fundamentally influence creativity. In addition, role consolidation within a project is known to benefit the creativity of individuals. Likewise, configurations of ego-networks, such as brokerage, are known to stimulate the generation of new ideas. However, recent research reveals that the very same factors may impair the creativity of the focal individual’s collaborators or undermine their support. The outcome of the interplay between these competing mechanisms at the project level has remained unclear. With these in mind, I study the American film industry with a focus on movie titles distributed by major studios in the 90s and early 2000s, to answer the following research question: “how does collaboration of individuals with diverse backgrounds and different levels of creativity contribute to creativity at the project level?”. I approach the study in three steps. Firstly, I conduct Stochastic Actor Oriented Modelling (SAOM) to distinguish between two fundamental processes: creative individuals selecting into similar projects vs. individuals attaining creativity due to collaboration with creative individuals. Secondly, I estimate whether fundamental facets of individuals’ background, such as functional knowledge and specialized expertise, anticipate their collaboration with or influence on each other. Lastly, I address the coevolution of individual level mechanisms to explain creativity at the project level, using a two-mode network of film projects and affiliated individuals. Furthermore, to complement individual mechanisms with team level influence, projects are contrasted by varying levels of role-consolidation that reflects interpersonal dynamics of collaboration. While recent studies on creativity have focused on the effect of individual background by exclusively looking at knowledge or experience, the present study separates mechanisms that involve distinct dimensions of individual background such as functional knowledge and specialized expertise. Moreover, this study distinguishes among the mechanisms that reside within the individuals and their ego-network. By using SAOM to examine creativity as the result of the interplay between agency and structure, the study departs from purely structural explanations of creativity that posit a deterministic view. Concurrently, I complement the power of SAOM by maintaining the history of individuals’ focus in terms of functional domains of knowledge and specialized areas of expertise. The findings of this study indicate whether collaborators with diverse backgrounds and ego-network configurations succeed or fail in providing contributions that advance a creative project.

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