KSAOs/Individual Differences

Two Ways to Activate Employee Creativity

Creative thinking is valued across occupations and industries. Even in the most simple of jobs, creative ideas are necessary to solve novel problems that arise. For some occupations, creativity is a bona fide requirement. Creativity is also crucial for organizational growth and long-term success as companies must develop new ideas to stay competitive within their respective industries. When ideas and products can be easily mimicked by competitors, an organization’s best bet is to distinguish itself by consistently presenting fresh and original work. So how can organizations increase the level of creativity in their workforces? Evidence shows that creativity can be increased by influencing moods and emotions of employees. Before going into how emotions affect creativity, though, creativity should first be defined.

How is Creativity Defined?

Creativity involves:
  • The number of ideas someone can generate (called fluency)
  • The uniqueness of the ideas (i.e., originality)
Having a strong command of one of these dimensions does not mean someone will be particularly effective at the other. For example, a person can be fluent and produce many ideas, none of which are particularly original, while another person may only come up with a few ideas which are all highly unique. On the other hand, there are those people who are able to come up with many ideas, several of which are very original.

The Influence of Emotions

Moods and emotions are known to influence creativity, although in a more complicated way than people may realize. Conventional thought holds that to boost creativity, positive moods and emotions should be increased while negative moods and emotions should be decreased. However, beyond being positive or negative, affective states can also be characterized as activating or deactivating. Activating states increase arousal while deactivating states decrease arousal. This distinction appears to affect creativity levels. Specifically, activating emotions increase creative behavior while deactivating emotions do not. The table below categorizes different emotions depending on whether they are positive or negative and activating or deactivating:




Happy, Elated, ExcitedCalm, Relaxed


Angry, Fearful, WorriedDrained, Discouraged
Emotions under the “activating” column are more likely to increase creativity while emotions under the “deactivating” column are more likely to decrease creativity.

Paths to Creativity

Both positive and negative activating emotions lead to increased creativity, but they do so in different ways. Happiness and excitement increase a person’s cognitive flexibility, which can increase both fluency and originality. Cognitive flexibility involves creating ideas that span several different categories or perspectives. Negative activating emotions such as fear may increase persistence and focus, which can lead to more creative ideas but at a cost of longer time spent on trying to be creative.

Implications for Practice

These results suggest that a workplace climate that promotes activating emotions may lead to increased creativity. Some steps that can be taken to promote these types of emotions include:
  • Increase employee engagement and satisfaction at work by such actions as giving employees more voice in procedures and making jobs feel meaningful to them.
  • Promote trusting and cooperative work relationships through teamwork, mentoring, and developing a positive workplace culture.
  • Utilize negative activating emotions when necessary by promoting persistent effort to meet difficult organizational and work goals.
  • Encourage a sense of urgency to promote excitement by emphasizing the immediate nature of and energy required for completing a project.
  • Reduce organizational constraints that can discourage employees, such as inadequate communication, unnecessary paperwork, or overly restrictive procedures that interfere with work and motivation.
  • Aim for increasing positive rather than negative activating emotional states when creative ideas are needed quickly.
In work situations when fear, anxiety, or even anger are normal emotional reactions (e.g., during a recession or when facing an impending deadline), experiencing some level of negative activating emotions is not necessarily detrimental. Feelings of fear can help focus thoughts on coming up with creative solutions when needed. There are different ways that emotions affect how one comes up with creative ideas. Which emotions to encourage at a particular time will depend on the nature of the work and the context in which creativity is needed.

Interpretation by:

Don Johnson

DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: De Dreu, C. K. W., Baas, M., & Nijstad, B. A. (2008). Hedonic tone and activation level in the mood-creativity link: Toward a dual pathway to creativity model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 739-756.