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Competition and Its Impact Upon Creativity

When it comes to social business, it’s rather easy to believe competition is a very bad thing.  After all, it’s not easy collaborating with someone whilst at the same time competing with them.  Such a scenario might prompt employees to begin hoarding information and looking out for themselves rather than the collective whole.

The flip side of course is that competition can ignite our creative juices.  As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of all invention, and when competing with a rival it can often encourage us to delve deeply into our creative recesses for a solution to the challenge.

A recent study suggests that this difference may not just be circumstantial but may have some gender based roots to it too.  It suggests that women work at their creative peak when they’re in teams that aren’t competing against one another.

“Intergroup competition is a double-edged sword that ultimately provides an advantage to groups and units composed predominantly or exclusively of men, while hurting the creativity of groups composed of women,” the researchers say.

“Women contributed less and less to the team’s creative output when the competition between teams became cutthroat, and this fall-off was most pronounced in teams composed entirely of women,” they continue.

It’s an interesting result to compare against a study I wrote about from earlier this year that looked at the kind of character traits that support innovation in the workplace.  The researchers identified eight distinct traits that were central to strong workplace innovation, and interestingly found that those traits were more common in women than men.  Indeed, female managers outperformed their male counterparts in every single one of the eight traits.

The inclusion of competition into proceedings turns this on its head though, at least according to this research.  Under competitive circumstances, the study suggests men gel together and become more interdependent and collaborative, whilst women do the opposite.

If nothing else, the research should raise a note of caution for any manager that thinks introducing competition into the workplace will enhance collaboration and innovation amongst the workforce.

“Given that women represent a growing portion of the workforce, using competition as a means to enhance the creativity of groups, regardless of how they are composed, implies that the creative potential available to businesses is seldom fully realized,” the study concludes.

Photo Credit: Competition and Creativity/shutterstock

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