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Why negative emotions can spark creativity

May 3, 2017 Business News No Comments Email Email

There has been a lot of research into emotions and how they influence someone’s creativity. It’s no surprise that having a happy workforce can do wonders for the productivity and creativity of an organisation.

However, according to Michael Parke, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, sometimes negative emotions can actually help spark creativity: “There’s been a lot of research into emotions and how they affect someone’s creativity. Positive feelings such as enthusiasm and excitement can encourage people to be more creative, but negative emotions such as worry, anxiety and frustration can also increase creativity. Negative emotions work through different means as they identify problems and make people more critical, which may result in a better outcome.”

According to Dr Parke, the way feelings influence team creativity depends on which of the two emotional climates is found within a business:

The positive vs. authentic climate

The first is the “positive experiential climate”, in which employees are encouraged to cultivate and share their positive feelings in order to establish a more productive, innovative and creative environment. “In these environments, leaders pay careful attention to people’s emotions and make sure that the disruptive effects of anger and frustration don’t take hold,” Dr Parke says. 

The second is the “authentic experiential climate”, where leaders aim to help channel someone’s feelings – whether positive or negative – into their work in order to achieve the best results. “If someone clearly thinks they’ve done a good job, the leader may say, ‘Now, how can we get better?’ They regulate positive emotions to make sure people don’t get too satisfied or content with the current results,” Dr Parke explains.

Channelling emotions to achieve better results 

Based on his research, Dr Parke believes that an authentic experiential climate is highly conducive for sparking creativity. He suggests that tempering people’s sense of satisfaction after they complete a project successfully can spark their creativity and motivate them to do better next time. The research also suggests that negative emotions such as frustration and anxiety can focus the mind and signal issues, making someone more attentive to identifying problems.

Getting it right

Achieving the right balance is tricky. Although emotions can improve work, they can also detract. For example, generally speaking, unhappy workers are expected to feel demotivated or complacent. But upbeat employees may stop trying to improve when, in their mind, work is going really well. But leaders in an authentic experiential climates who can judge when to cheer people up and give positive feedback or when to give constructive criticism are likely to see more creativity and productivity from their staff.

Dr Parke also believes that organisations with workers who feel comfortable and safe enough about expressing their true feelings tend to be more productive, innovative and creative.

The lesson leaders can take from this is simple: an authentic emotion climate pays dividends.

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