Creativity from Constraint? How Political Correctness Influences Creativity in Mixed-Sex Work Groups
Administrative Science Quarterly, 60 (1): 1-30.
47 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2014 Last revised: 16 Mar 2015
Date Written: August 18, 2014
Most group creativity research is premised on the assumption that creativity is unleashed by removing normative constraints. As work organizations become increasingly diverse in terms of gender, however, this assumption needs to be reconsidered since mixed-sex interactions carry a high risk of offense. Departing from the assumption that normative constraints necessarily stifle creativity, we develop a theoretical perspective in which creativity in mixed-sex groups is enhanced by imposing a norm to be politically correct (PC) — a norm that sets clear expectations for how men and women should interact with one another. We present evidence from two group experiments showing that the PC norm promotes rather than suppresses members’ free expression of ideas by reducing the uncertainty they experience in mixed-sex work groups. These results highlight a paradoxical consequence of the PC norm: A term that has been used to undermine expectations to censor offensive language as a threat to free speech actually provides a normative foundation upon which demographically heterogeneous work groups can freely exchange creative ideas. We discuss the implications of our findings for managing creativity in diverse groups and under conditions of uncertainty, and the counterintuitive role that normative constraints play in that process.
Keywords: Creativity, creativity in work groups, uncertainty, group gender composition, political correctness norm
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation