Culture Influences Creativity: How Creative You Are Depends On Where You Came From

A study shows culture impacts creativity. Members from individualistic society show higher signs of creativity compared to those from collectivist society.

Culture Influences Creativity; How Creative You Are Depends On Where You Came From

One won’t mind spending money on joining creative class, but that is just one of the ways of many businesses trying to generate revenue on imagination and innovation. A study at Concordia University suggests that culture impacts creativity and when it comes to creative juices, some societies have a faster flow than others.

Results obtained from comparing nearly 300 individuals from Taiwan, a collectivist society, and Canada, a more individualistic country, show that those from individualist societies are more creative compared to their collectivist counterparts. The study was led by Gad Saad, a professor at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business along with his team and it was published in The Journal of Business Research.

They theorized that where a country falls on the individualism vs. collectivism continuum would affect the creative juices that might be “permitted” to flow from members of a particular culture.

Brainstorming tasks were also conducted using culturally neutral stimuli in Taiwan and in Canada. Brainstorming often serves as a proxy for creativity.

According to the researchers, members of an individualistic society would perform exceptionally well in a task that promotes out-of-the-box thinking such as coming up with the proverbial million-dollar idea and those from collectivist society wouldn’t be willing to do so because they don’t want to stand out of the group. Thus, from this alone, we can settle that members from individualistic society show higher signs of creativity.

By recruiting students from two universities in Taipei and Montreal, the researchers collected data on five measures that will be familiar to anyone who has had to brainstorm in a group:

  1. The number of generated ideas,
  2. The quality of the ideas, as evaluated by independent judges,
  3. The number of uttered negative statements within the brainstorming groups, such as “This is a dumb idea that will fail.”
  4. The valence of the negative statements — “This is the all-time dumbest idea” has a stronger negative connotation than “This idea is rather banal.”
  5. The confidence level exhibited by group members when asked to evaluate their performance in comparison to other teams.

The team also found that the individualists came up with many more ideas. They also uttered more negative statements and showed over-confidence than their collectivist counterparts, and when it came to the quality of ideas produced, the collectivists scored marginally higher than the individualists.

“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,” Saad says.

Studies like this one are instrumental in understanding cultural differences that increasingly arise as the globe’s economic centre of gravity shifts towards East Asia.

“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.” [Concordia University; Image via iStock]

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  1. I agree that “environment” can stifle or stimulate creativity–including one’s family. I have watched people who had uncreative parents who did not encourage their children in this area — regardless of the child’s abilities or desires. They grew up to be uncreative themselves.

    Thankfully, I was not one of them and I married a guy who was also creative. We fostered a creative homelife and encouraged our children to express their creativity, to try new things. I think fear of failure or fear of embarrassment holds many people back. I struggle with it myself, but as I head towards the “senior” years I am still learning and creating everyday. My wish is that others would experience the joy that can be found in using and nurturing the creativity they have within themselves.

  2. I think both types of thinking are important. I mean, you need those risk takers from individualistic thinkers. You also need people who are highly specialized in mathematical formulas to carry out all these crazy ideas for new technology.
    In this global economy all types are welcome.

    1. And people take that for granted often without first thinking that within some cultures socialization does not abide to the same structure.

      Within a collectivist society brainstorming applies only to work for example industrialists however within the private sector it very seldom occurs unless the culture has been exposed to individualistic views at some point in its history.

      This being said “Think Tanks” are a byproduct of individualistic society, it is not a collectivist concept unless the whole can benefit from it.

  3. It’s interesting that we here more about the creative successes of individuals in language that emphasizes and celebrates their individuals. The study implies that collectivist cultures produce better individuals?

    1. Asian cultures share the collectivist mindset;

      1) Family is everything.(Family shelters their children well into their adult lives if need be.)

      2) work is everything.(Often to the OCD extent.)

      3) Don’t rock the boat(This may appear as passiveness in confrontation, however because of this there is never any reform).

      4) Selective Mutism(The silent treatment – In confrontation will smile or laugh to suppress anger as emotion is a sign of weakness).

      Although Western/European cultures tend to be individualistic it does not imply that everyone are individuals. Rather the norm would be to gravitate towards cultures or ideas of one’s choosing for instance a diversity in lifestyles, hobbies and beliefs rather than being set into a specific cultural mindset lifelong without once questioning to change their habits.

      Give or take some exceptions like Japan or Thailand both cultures having been exposed to Westernization during the end of the 19th century onward.

      I can speak for this being born of immigrants and having lived overseas prior to my upbringing in the states. Most East Asians are like stone but they simply cannot help it.

  4. I’ve taught students from collectivist cultures who were very “stay within the lines”-minded at first, though not uncreative. But with a little prodding, they became as innovative and expressive as my Western students.

    1. Being someone who comes from a collectivistic culture but value individual thinking, I can understand. I did need a few prods too but those weren’t from any teacher, it was from experiencing drawbacks of being a part of collectivistic culture. So, I think individualistic culture is much better for both the well being of people and a society.

  5. Living in a collectivist country, I can see this in several facets of everyday life. Compared with the Western society I grew up with, there are fewer amazing accomplishments, but there are also fewer massive fuckups.

    1. Well, I think individualistic cultures have another advantage. They make more mistakes and I think its mistakes which teaches them to come up with a different ideas and abandon the one which hasn’t worked. Of course, without taking such risks, learning would be slower but after taking the risk they know what to try and what not to try so they can form an idea with higher quality.

  6. Culture tends to be treated like the air we breathe; normally taken for granted, but essential. There’s a reason the winners of scientific Nobel prizes tend to come from the same countries.

    1. Agree. I think on average cultures that promote individualistic thinking, bring out and value everybody’s creative potential are much advanced economically and scientifically.

  7. Fascinating read. It would be interesting to know if the students were all male, or how many were female. It seems to me there’s potential for a larger study…and more research needs to be done on the subject.

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