Even Sherlock needs a Dr. Watson: A theory of creativity catalysts
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In this dissertation I seek to answer the research question of who are those people that have the ability and motivation to facilitate other people’s creative thinking. Actors who are in the creator’s social environment, such as her coworkers and family members, can potentially enhance the creator’s level of creativity. Although these contacts can be active collaborators of the creator’s thinking processes and can eventually have a significant impact on organizational creativity, so far their role in organizational life has been overlooked by researchers. Consequently, in my dissertation I develop a theory of “creativity catalysts”, and define a creativity catalyst as an employee who helps to improve the usefulness and novelty (i.e. creativity) of the ideas and products produced by another employee (i.e. the creator) through direct interpersonal interaction with the creator. I examine two aspects of serving as a catalyst to another’s creativity: the intensity of a creativity catalyst’s contribution and the span of a creativity catalyst’s contribution. Intensity of contribution is conceptualized as the extent to which the creativity catalyst can improve the output generated by the creators to be more novel and useful. Span on the other hand, is the number of people that perceive an individual as a catalyst for her own creative performance. To answer the research question, I develop and empirically test a theory of creativity catalysts by integrating a social capital theory lens (i.e. structural social capital and relational social capital) with a stable motivational orientation (i.e., learning goal orientation). First, I argue that a catalyst’s relational social capital (i.e., quality of relationships with her coworkers) in the organizational communication network determines her motivation to take the role of a creativity catalyst. Second, I argue that the catalyst’s structural social capital (i.e., the extent to which she can connect with the disconnected others in her network structure) underlines her ability to contribute to others’ creativity. Integrating these two arguments, I hypothesize that the catalyst’s relational social capital (i.e., the motivation to become a creativity catalyst) interacts with her structural social capital (i.e., the ability of a creativity catalyst) in predicting both the intensity and span of the catalyst’s contribution to her coworkers’ creativity. Second, I hypothesized that learning goal orientation, a stable motivational orientation, interacts with the situational motivational characteristic of relational social capital in predicting both the span and intensity of a catalyst’s contribution to her coworkers’ creativity. To test my hypotheses, I first ran a pilot study on a sample of full-time MBA students in order to validate the creativity catalyst measure; and then tested my hypothesized model on employees from two companies, using multiple data sources over multiple phases of data collection. Consequently, I found support for both of these interaction hypotheses on the intensity and span of a creativity catalyst’s contribution to her coworkers’ creativity. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings, and future research directions are discussed.