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How collaboration helps the office diva

12.14.2013
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The popular perception is that to be creative requires a certain number of character traits.  Confidence is almost a given, as is the ability or desire to buck the norm.  These can sometimes coalesce into a rather difficult or prickly package however.  The diva is far from unknown in creative circles, certainly in the entertainment industry.  Does it have to be thus?  Do you need to exhibit these kind of behaviours in order to be creative?

Researchers at Cornell University explored the issue in more detail to see if being a nuisance really was a prerequisite of innovative behaviour.

The researchers asked 240 undergraduate students to complete a simple questionnaire testing their diva qualities.  Do you like to be centre of attention? That sort of thing.  They were then given two classic tests of creativity:

  1. Think of new uses for a brick
  2. Draw a new kind of alien

The diva’s in the group thought they were great at both, but the results showed they were no better than the rest.

For the second study, 76 students were formed into pairs and allocated the role of movie pitcher or evaluator. The former had 10 minutes to plan an idea for a new Hollywood movie before pitching it to the latter.

This is where things get interesting.  When the diva’ish students pitched their ideas they were regarded as very good, due in part to the energy and enthusiasm with which they delivered their pitch.

However when the transcripts of the pitches were coded carefully by independent judges unaware of who had delivered which pitches, the more narcissistic participants no longer scored higher on creativity and feasibility.

The implication from this is that the bravado of the diva’s led to their pitches being rated higher than their content merited.

Content with the belief that they had nailed down the creativity the researchers then looked at how diva’s faired when in groups.  The group of 292 students completed the same questionnaire before being split into 73 groups of 4.  Their task was to suggest ways for a real company to improve its performance. The key finding here was that groups with approximately two narcissists on board tended to outperform those with more or fewer narcissists.

The research team suggested that if two diva’s were present in a team then they competed against each other, to the benefit of all.

‘The same needs for recognition and power that cast a dark shadow on narcissists may position them as catalysts for creative colloquy,’ the researchers said. ‘The results suggest that to capitalise on the narcissists in our midst, we should collaborate with them and encourage them to collaborate with each other. In so doing, groups could turn what is often considered a decidedly negative trait into a valuable source of creative tension.’

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