The Effects Of Creative Work On Family

In his junior high drawing class, Spencer Harrison first came across the frequent link between creative geniuses and their failed relationships. Years later, as a professor and researcher in the Carroll School of Management, Harrison found a consistent message on creativity.

“It just made me wonder if organizations had become really good at offloading the traditional social cost of creativity onto people’s families and friends outside of work, while they were capturing all of the benefits of creativity at work,” Harrison said. “I was just curious, do people treat their significant others worse when they’re creative as a result of the work they’re doing?”

This curiosity led Harrison to research the impacts of creativity on relationships. He conducted a study where he surveyed workers and their significant others daily. “Spilling Outside the Box: The Effects of Individuals’ Creative Behaviors at Work on Time Spent with their Spouses at Home,” was published in the Academy of Management Journal by Harrison and University of Oregon assistant professor of Management David Wagner.

“Conducting research is intensive and attending to each piece of the process in sufficient detail requires a tremendous amount of work,” Wagner said. “That said, it was really enjoyable working through different challenges, offering divergent perspectives, engaging in give and take with my coauthor and journal reviewers, and ultimately constructing what I think is an interesting paper with some provocative and useful findings.”

In the study, the worker would reply to surveys sent to them during the day via email about the activities they did at work. At night, the significant other was responsible for answering questions, surveying the amount of time the two spent together, and the activities they did together. Harrison explained that this study resulted in two significant findings.

“Thing number one, is that we really enjoy being creative, especially the kind of brainstorming, idea-generation parts of creativity and, as a result, I think that we’re usually kind of ignorant of the downstream effects of that creativity,” Harrison said. “And what we find is that if you’re doing that sort of creativity at work, when you come home you spend less time with your significant other.”

Harrison believes these results are due to the workers’ brains continuing to focus on the open-ended questions remaining from the creative work that they were doing. He thinks that the people continue to engage in their thoughts rather than with other humans.

“Feedback is critical in the creative process.”

“The second thing we found that’s really important is the way to stop these things from happening is to actually have people get feedback on the creative work that they’re doing,” Harrison said.

Harrison explained that many are afraid of receiving information about their downfalls. The results showed that the more individuals were given feedback, however, the more open they were to ideas when they came home, and the more time they could spend in their relationships. This overlooked aspect of getting feedback, he said, is important to keep people and their relationships healthy.

“Feedback is critical in the creative process,” Wagner said in an email. “The process of developing this project—and paper—is an example, but feedback in a wide range of creative endeavors also attests to this importance.”

With evidence supporting the idea that relationships suffer as result of creativity, Harrison emphasized the importance in seeking out creative feedback.

“It’s not so much that there’s this dark side to creativity,” Harrison said. “The better part of this study is saying that there’s this really great benefit to creative feedback and that’s actually something that so many people have avoided for so many years.”

Harrison argued that creative feedback cannot be avoided any longer. Instead, he said that each individual should seek out others who can offer the best feedback on their projects and other creative outlets—it makes people more creative and healthier.

“Many people find it difficult to completely compartmentalize life domains, so we would do well to consider how the various domains interact and adapt in a way that allows us to adequately attain performance objectives while also leading individually full, satisfying, healthy lives,” Wagner said. “Work is just one piece of a larger puzzle—managers and workers need to understand that.”

The findings from their study, Harrison said, could generate various questions for innovators. He expressed concern for the risks large business corporations, such as Apple, must take in order to yield the innovations consistently expected from consumers and provided by their employees.

“What does Apple have to do as a company to get their employees to be super creative?” Harrison said. “Are they using policies that might help them in the short run but hurt them in the long run?”

The results prove that getting feedback to workers, including BC students, will benefit their relationships. However, the impacts this will have on the generation of creativity are still unknown.

If one is exposed more to potential criticism, will the motivation to create diminish? If the brain spends less time thinking creatively and more time engaging in relationships, will the production of thought and the resulting creativity suffer?

“I don’t know for sure,” Harrison said. “I think that you would probably find that the person that is in the healthier set of relationships over time and is better at seeking feedback from others is more likely to be more creative over time. That would be something that would be really fun to investigate.”

Featured Image by Margaux Eckert / Heights Staff

October 22, 2015