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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Approach versus Avoidant Orientated Creative Individuals in the Workplace



Creative individuals are considered an asset to organizations that seek to develop new ideas and market approaches. Such creativity encourages higher performing artists and scientists when compared to average colleagues that do not have the same level of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996).  Such people simply perform at a higher level and are able to come up with more unique solutions that their counterparts cannot.

Organizations face all types of environmental events in a global market and will need to capitalize on such creativity in order to overcome these challenges. Research indicates that creative individuals are better able to solve complex problems and manage social situations (De Dreu & Nijstad, 2008). This means that their abilities give them unique advantages in the world of work and life. 

New research has come to light that helps us understand why between two creative individuals one will perform at a high level and the other will not. The research conducted by Roskes, De Drue and Nijstad helps organizational leaders understand the differences between approach and avoidant type creative individuals and how this impacts their output. It also further discusses how approach type creative people are more focused on goals and use less energy in achieving them.

Creativity can be defined as the generation of ideas, understandings and solutions that have useful outcomes (Hennessey & Amabile, 2010).  Creative people use goals in order to keep their focus and creative energy in an effort to attain particular outcomes (Austin & Vancouver, 1996). It is through the generation of new approaches and desired results that motivates creative individuals to achieve their goals.

A predictor of creativity in the workplace is the desire to use approach motivation, versus avoidance motivation, to engage potential positive outcomes (Mehta & Zhu, 2009). The duel-pathway model to creativity indicates that such people engage in both cognitive flexibility as well as cognitive persistence. This means that creative people are more willing to engage potential outcomes and use both flexibility and persistence to achieve their goals. 

The use of fluid, divergent, and flexible approaches that leads to higher levels of creative outcomes (Oppenheimer, 2008). Such creative people often focus on the positive outcomes and seek multiple paths from many perspectives in order to find appropriate connections of relevant information to determine a potential solution. It is through this higher level of processing that creative people can develop additional solutions that outperform their colleagues. 

A study conducted by Roskes, De Drue and Nijstad (2012). attempted to determine avoidance and approach orientated mental processes of creativity. A series of five different studies were conducted on students and further helped to determine the overall costs and benefits of each style. The research helps highlight some key findings that are beneficial in innovative markets:

-Avoidance motivated individuals used much more energy when compared to approach motivated people. 

-Approach motivated individuals found tasks easier than avoidance motivated individuals.

-Approach motivated individuals maintained their effort with near goal completion feedback while avoidance motivated people reduced their effort.

-Approach motivated individuals engaged more in the process of being creative while avoidance-motivated individuals focused more on the achievement of the goal. 

-Avoidance motivated individuals suffer more from cognitive loads in their working memory than approach motivated people. 

The results helps leaders understand the creative individuals that have learned to approach problems and the potential outcomes tackle problems using all of their abilities. This means that they not only do not shy away from challenge but have more mental faculties and approaches to finding solutions. Such individuals are also able to have higher levels of energetic performance because they use less energy in their mental faculties. They are persistent, efficient, flexible, and competent.


Austin, J. & Vancouver, J. (1996). Goal constructs in psychology: Structure, process, and content. Psychological Bulletin, 120, 338–375.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity, flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Hennessey, B. , & Amabile, T. (2010). Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 569–598.

Mehta, R., & Zhu, R. (2009, February 5). Blue or red? Exploring the effect of color on cognitive task performances. Science, 323, 1226–1229.

Oppenheimer, D.  (2008). The secret life of fluency. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12, 237–241.

Roskes, M., De Drew, C. & Nijstad, B. (2012) Necessity Is the Mother of Invention: Avoidance Motivation Stimulates Creativity Through Cognitive Effort. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103 (2).

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