Culture Influences the Amount of Creativity

Work related to creativity has centered on individualism–collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, and power distance (Hofstede, 2001; Rank, Pace, & Frese, 2004). Individualism–collectivism characterizes the strength and cohesion of bonds between people, with people looking after themselves in individualist societies and looking after the larger societal unit to which they belong in collectivist societies. Power distance refers to the extent to which power and authority are expected and accepted to be distributed unequally in a society. Uncertainty avoidance concerns the extent to which people feel uncomfortable or threat- ened by unknown, uncertain situations.

In general, collectivism, high levels of uncertainty avoidance and high power dis- tance (hierarchical structure) are negatively related to national levels of inventiveness (Hofstede, 2001). Shane (1992, 1993) exam- ined national rates of innovation in 33 countries, based on per-capita number of patents, and found an advantage for soci- eties with low uncertainty acceptance, low power distance, and high individualism. An acceptance of uncertainty (low uncer- tainty avoidance) may foster tolerance for risk and change. Individualism is associ- ated with autonomy, independence (defin- ing one’s self as unique from the group), and freedom. Ng (2003) provides empiri- cal evidence for a model in which cultural individualism–collectivism influences self- construal as independent or interdependent on others, and this self-concept in turn influ- ences creativity and conformity tendencies. Lack of power, characteristic of nonhier- archical societies, fosters enhanced interac- tions and communication between people at different status levels, such as superiors and subordinates. Finally, hierarchical soci- eties do not tend to embrace change because of the potential redistribution of power that might go against vested interests.

Thus, the classic argument is that cultures showing the creativity-compatible profile on certain dimensions (individualism, etc.) will favor the development and expression of creativity. People from these cultures should show higher performance on laboratory creativity tasks, more creative productions (e.g., more patents for inventions), and greater levels of creativity (e.g., Nobel Prize winners). It is worth noting, however, the simple effects of cultural dimensions. Phases of creative and innovative processes may relate differentially to these cultural dimensions. For example, low power distance, individualism, and low uncertainty avoidance may foster creativity, but hinder idea implementation. Hofstede (2001) sug- gested collecting ideas in certain cultural contexts (e.g., weak uncertainty avoidance, with tolerance for deviant ideas and unpredictable situations) and refining them in oth- ers (strong uncertainty avoidance, senses of detail and precision). In a similar vein, Rank et al. (2004) noted that Schwartz’s value dimension of conservatism versus intellectual autonomy is relevant to creativity. Valuing intellectual autonomy is positive for generating ideas but may hinder implemen- tation and acceptance of creative ideas.
Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Creativity – Todd Lubart