A new study examining creativity has found that while some cultures are faster at producing ideas than others, this doesn’t necessarily translate to better ideas. Research published in the Journal of Business Research by Gad Saad, a professor at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business, graduate student Louis Ho, and Mark Cleveland from the University of Western Ontario, examines how culture impacts creativity.
Individualist societies, like those in the West, tend to place a greater emphasis on out-of-the box thinking, the authors hypothesized. They reasoned that collective societies, which value conformity, would limit creativity. The authors organized a study of nearly 300 people and then, using a number of criteria, assessed groups in Canada and Taiwan while they brainstormed ideas. The researchers found that, while the Canadians had more ideas than the Taiwanese, they were also quicker to disagree with each other. They also found that the Taiwanese came up with about as many high quality ideas as Canadians.
“The study largely supported our hypotheses,” Saad said. “We found that the individualists came up with many more ideas. They also uttered more negative statements—and those statements were more strongly negative. The Canadian group also displayed greater overconfidence than their Taiwanese counterparts.”
However, there’s an up-side to the Taiwanese approach, too: “This is in line with another important cultural trait that some collectivist societies are known to possess—namely being more reflective as compared to action-oriented, having the reflex to think hard prior to committing to a course of action.”
The point then, is not that one approach is better or worse than the other, but that managers and collaborators across the cultures need to understand the differences and try to accommodate both types of styles:
“To maximize the productivity of their international teams, global firms need to understand important cultural differences between Western and Eastern mindsets,” Saad says. “Brainstorming, a technique often used to generate novel ideas such as new product innovations, might not be equally effective across cultural settings. Even though individuals from collectivistic societies might be coming up with fewer creative ideas, the quality of those ideas tends to be just as good as or marginally better than those of their individualistic counterparts. Employers need to recognize that.”