How does Apple do it?

Assistant Professor of Psychology Katerina Bezrukova has found that work-related conflicts can help solidify a climate of creativity.

Many people marvel at how Steve Jobs turned Apple into one the world’s favorite brands. They wonder how the company achieved such a clearly articulated vision and how it continues to embody dramatic creativity and innovation. One psychology professor has an unexpected answer: work-related conflicts.

Katerina Bezrukova, an assistant professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, has been studying organizational practices and creativity-center climate for nine years. She discovered that the more diverse people are within a company, the more conflicts arise.

Bezrukova examined what she calls faultlines, which form when groups of people with different demographic characteristics such as age, gender, and race come into alignment and divide groups into relatively homogeneous subgroups. For instance, a faultline exists when all the men in a team are German and all the women are from India.

“Prior research suggests that such subgroups would be harmful for group creativity, but these faultlines actually create sparks that ignite in diverse groups and help solidify a climate of creativity,” Bezrukova says.

She found that while groups with faultines tend to be more polarized, such polarization changes the atmosphere within the team from wanting to be creative to actually becoming creative. Team members from various backgrounds, education, and experience ultimately clash and face conflicts. When faced with work-related conflicts, they become more invested in fixing the conflicts.

“While they may argue more, they’re also bringing more information to the table such as solutions and that results in creativity,” Bezrukova says.

Work-related conflicts are those that pertain to objectives, tasks, and processes such as how something should be handled or done and who should be responsible for the task. Bezrukova says work-related conflicts redirect people’s energy toward creating new ideas, thus breathing new life into an organization.

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