Cultivating a Paradox Mindset — the Key to Greater Creativity

Ella Miron-Spektor, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour, INSEAD
Ella Miron-Spektor, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour, INSEAD

Faculty research in 2020/2021 offers a case study of how bold ideas can revitalise business thinking and practices to address contemporary challenges.

Embracing “Both/And” Decision-making 

Research recently published by Ella Miron-Spektor, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour, INSEAD, and her co-authors reveals that leaders grappling with organisation design and management during the Covid pandemic have faced paradoxical choices that defy traditional “either/or” decision-making. Coping effectively with Covid-era problems, Miron-Spektor found that a “paradox mindset” — defined as the tendency to value, accept and feel comfortable with tensions — can foster creative thinking. Evidence suggests that leaders are more successful when they are able to embrace the paradox inherent in seemingly contradictory choices — for example, blending realism with a caring attitude, valuing both individual agency and collaboration, implementing short-term interventions as well as long-term recovery plans.

Ella Miron-Spektor

One model of “both/and” innovation to emerge from the pandemic is dual-mode teaching, prompted by the need to reopen universities while many students continue to study from home. By combining elements of classroom teaching with distance learning, INSEAD has developed a novel virtual platform for student learning that promotes inclusion and will persist beyond the pandemic as a new category in the school’s offerings.

Sparking and Sustaining Creativity 

In another study, Miron-Spektor and her team tracked the performance of manufacturing workers over seven years. They found that, with the right mindset, creativity can be developed and sustained over time. Employees with a “learning orientation” (believing they can build skills and abilities through effort) improved their creativity faster and continued to generate high-quality ideas even when it became harder to depart from tried-and-tested solutions. In contrast, workers with a “performance orientation” (seeking to demonstrate their creativity to others) were productive at the beginning of the process, but once they ran out of ideas, stopped engaging at a faster rate than those with a learning mindset.

Findings like these have powerful implications for the future of businesses that require creativity to thrive. They reveal that identified “creators” — people like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs — are not the sole source of innovation in an enterprise. In fact, when people are given an outlet to contribute creatively, innovative ideas can spring from the shop floor.

Your browser is out of date.

Please update your browser to experience this website as designed. If you are using Internet Explorer we suggest you upgrade to Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome.