Creativity and bullying – is there a relationship?

Physical bullying at school, as depicted in th...
Physical bullying at school, as depicted in the film Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine being in an idea session with the bully in the room. What’s the likelihood you’ll want to contribute your new ideas?  And what if that bully is the one leading the session, or you are leading the session and the bully is the main client for new ideas.

If bullying is on the rise, do you think it might have a relationship to the reports of creativity being in decline?

“According to a survey conducted by business research association the Conference Board, employee satisfaction is sinking. Last year, only 45 percent of workers claimed to be satisfied with their jobs—a significant decrease from 61 percent in 1987. Pollster John Zogby reported in August that 34 percent of American workers said they’d been bullied at the office.” Bloomberg Businessweek article, Office Bullying, Nov 1, 2010, p. 76.

It’s not uncommon to hear reports of bullying of many kinds or to read about incidents in the media. It’s in the workplace, it’s in the schools. I was staying with my friend Helene in Buffalo last year, she works in the Buffalo City Schools. She was researching anti-bullying programs that could be brought into classes, both for students and teachers.

Climate Studies

Early climate studies on creativity in the workplace by Goran Ekvall at the University of Lund, Sweden, showed that innovative organizations, those that created a new product or service which was sustained in the marketplace, had the following factors in place – all except for conflict scored high.  Conflict scored low.

Organizations that were unsuccessful maintaining their new product or service in the marketplace scored lower in most factors, and higher on conflict.

  • Challenge
  • Freedom
  • Idea Time
  • Idea Support
  • Trust & Openness
  • Playfulness and Humor
  • Conflicts
  • Debates
  • Risk-Taking

More about the climate for creativity and innovation

If low conflict is an important factor for innovation success, then might the incidence of bullying be negatively related to creativity?

How you feel influences your creativity

People have greater access to their creativity when they are feeling satisfied, intrigued and optimistic.  Feelings of dissatisfaction, pressure and anxiety are related to people being less open to new ideas, or to make new decisions, different from what they already know.

How people feel can be related to how well their needs are being met. Subsistence, leisure, participation, affection, autonomy, understanding and creation are needs that transcend culture and time, according to Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean economist. When these needs are not met, people feel frustrated, disappointed and angry.

(See Creativity 201 for Futurists by Marci Segal and Megan Mitchell for references.)

Again, if there’s bullying in the organization, then people don’t feel affection, protection, or autonomy. And if they are feeling poorly, they won’t feel like using their abilities to come up with new ideas or to make new decisions.

Final question:  Do you think that if people learned to use creative problem solving it would lessen the occurrence of bullying behaviour? Is it possible that when people have the opportunity to positively express their creativity that the incidence of bullying would decline?

Thoughts on a chilly Monday night.

Marci Segal, MS, Creativity and Change Leadership: Freeing leaders’ thinking so they can create new futures.