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Using Narratives in Creativity Research: Handling the Subjective Nature of Creative Process

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For most of us, creative processes are those which can produce outcomes that are capable of being judged as creative. The outcome-centric recognition of creativity has heavily downplayed the process-perspective of creativity in organizations. Influenced significantly by individual and social subjectivities, creative processes are difficult to enquire on the basis of positivist approaches presently dominating creativity research. Use of narrative methodology in creativity research is proposed as a strategy for not just handling the subjectivities but also for making meaning from them as well as from participants’ emotions. Antenarratives can help to enrich the narrated storyline, and personal narratives of the researcher allows to tie back the subjectivities through co-created meanings. The article aspires to invigorate attention towards the foundations of creativity research that has offered little scope for research paradigms that are beyond the objective-positivist tradition. Consequently, it urges the research community to seek suitable methodologies like the narrative which promises to explore the process-perspective of creativity and enlarge our organizational understanding of creativity.
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Using Narratives in Creativity Research: Handling
the Subjective Nature of Creative Process
Saikat Chakraborty
Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad 5#+-#6%++/##%+0
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Using Narratives in Creativity Research: Handling the Subjective Nature
of Creative Process
Abstract
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The Qualitative Report 2017 Volume 22, Number 11, How To Article 1, 2959-2973
Using Narratives in Creativity Research:
Handling the Subjective Nature of Creative Process
Saikat Chakraborty
Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, India
For most of us, creative processes are those which can produce outcomes that
are capable of being judged as creative. The outcome-centric recognition of
creativity has heavily downplayed the process-perspective of creativity in
organizations. Influenced significantly by individual and social subjectivities,
creative processes are difficult to enquire on the basis of positivist approaches
presently dominating creativity research. Use of narrative methodology in
creativity research is proposed as a strategy for not just handling the
subjectivities but also for making meaning from them as well as from
participants' emotions. Antenarratives can help to enrich the narrated storyline,
and personal narratives of the researcher allows to tie back the subjectivities
through co-created meanings. The article aspires to invigorate attention
towards the foundations of creativity research that has offered little scope for
research paradigms that are beyond the objective-positivist tradition.
Consequently, it urges the research community to seek suitable methodologies
like the narrative which promises to explore the process-perspective of
creativity and enlarge our organizational understanding of creativity.
Keywords: Creativity, Creative Process, Self and Subjectivity, Narrative,
Antenarrative, Co-Creation
The topic of creativity has always been the subject matter of interest for organizational
scholars. Today creativity at work has emerged as an organizational competency required by
firms to seamlessly operate across multiple products and service domains with operational
ingenuity (Tuori & Vilen, 2011; Zhou & Shalley, 2003). Creative industry, in particular, has
attracted a lot of research interest in the past few decades as the strategic importance of this
sector has increased in idea based economies where knowledge-based industries have
immensely propelled (Matheson, 2006). The creative industry, often characterized by firms
involved in advertising, architecture, art and crafts market, industrial design, fashion design,
media services, software, the performing arts, publishing, film, music, and television, is seen
not only as a driver of economic growth but also as encompassing social and cultural
development (Parkman, Holloway, & Sebastiao, 2012). A creative workplace is one that
supports people working on their creative endeavors (Martens, 2011). Employees in the
creative industry identify themselves as “creative” without feeling the need to be defined in a
disciplinary or more professional term (Matheson, 2006).
There are numerous conceptions of creativity at work with most of them calling it the
“process, outcomes, and products of attempts to develop and introduce new and improved ways
of doing things” (Anderson, Potočnik, & Zhou, 2014). However, irrespective of the definition
we choose, it is critically important to note that creativity is not limited to the so-called creative
workplaces only, rather it is an all-pervasive phenomenon. Although contested whether
creativity is a personal or social phenomenon, both the views acknowledge that “creative
capacity is an essential property of normative human cognition” (Mayer, 1999, p. 450). In other
words, “creativity is part of what makes us human” (Sawyer, 2012, p. 3). But it is a sad fact
that having a “space” that can empower one’s creativity is often seen as a privilege in most of
the workplaces. Organizations have to realize that providing autonomy to employees for
2960 The Qualitative Report 2017
fostering their creativity is not only for improving employee performance as it is often
contrasted with imperatives to intensify work (Boxall & Macky, 2014; Gallie, 2007, p. 212)
but allowing an individual to realize his/her creative potential is gesturing to recognize his/her
dignity at work (Hodson, 2001). It is quite pertinent that individual initiatives and
organizational reinforcements needed to develop creative potential are by far missing in many
organizations (Phelan, 2001) mainly due to our impoverished understanding of creativity at
work. Firstly, it is the lack of consensus in understanding creativity theoretically. Secondly, it
is about dealing with the problem empirically that reigns despite a growing body of research in
this area (see review by Piórkowska, 2016). Empirical challenges in studying the creative
process have led to a stage where researchers find little that has practical significance (Dubina,
2005; Anderson et al., 2014). The dominant use of psychometrics in assessing individual and
group creativity has inadvertently rendered creativity as an “object held by those judged as
creative. We often tend to overlook the fact that creativity is both about the process as well as
the outcome, and without truly embracing the process-perspective of understanding creativity,
we cannot envision creativity as essential to human existence. Apparently, a deeper
understanding of creativity needs to thrive in the modern business arena and researchers should
contribute to both, the theory and the practice of understanding the creative process.
Foundations of Creativity Research
Suitability of the methodological framework, guided by its ontological and
epistemological roots, is crucial for any social inquiry (Crotty, 1998). Westmarland (2001)
argued that knowledge has been traditionally measured by how objective it is deemed to be,
and in the belief that if the reliability, objectivity, and validity "rules" are followed, "the truth"
will be discovered; “rules” portray the overly specific methodologies and the rigid assumptions.
Apparently, a functionalist inquiry assumes that “the truth” is out there, thereby validating its
premises that factify the social world to be composed of relatively concrete empirical artifacts
and relationships that one can identify, study and measure (Taylor & Callahan, 2005). In such
a paradigm, if the research fails to obey the “rules,” it is dismissed on methodological grounds
and declared “untrue.” In contrast, the interpretive paradigm achieves a combination of
subjectivity and order, and thereby relevant to studies where sense-making or meaning making
is the epistemology for a subjective ontological reality (Burrell & Morgan, 1979/2005). The
researcher’s position becomes critically important as reflexivity ensures a situated perspective
in the study, acting to self-critique undue inclinations and developing empathy with the
participants’ voice (Hatch, 1996). Understanding creativity is a social inquiry where sense-
making and researcher reflexivity are primordial (Taylor & Callahan, 2005).
An objective ontology and positivist epistemology precede the overwhelming number
of quantitatively inclined creativity studies (Long, 2014; Piórkowska, 2016). Since Guilford’s
(1950) presidential address to the American Psychological Association, creativity, earlier
considered a mystic and God gifted trait to artists and scientists, changed to become a cognitive
activity demonstrated by all. It was a breakthrough turn in psychology, but the dominance of
psychometric dimension in psychological studies underscored the view of creativity as a
normative process that could be objectively measured and analyzed (D’Cruz, 2008). Today,
most of the research in creativity is quantitative in which psychometrics and experiments are
frequently used methods to collect data, and correlational techniques employed for analysis
(Long, 2014). Surprisingly, most of the qualitative studies too, in the form of case studies and
mixed-methods are epistemologically positivist in their outlook (Long, 2014; Piórkowska,
2016). However, scholars like Csikszentmihalyi (1999, 2014) refute the traditional
psychological stand that tries to convince that creativity is an intrapsychic process, and also
contradict the methodologies that assume creative processes as concretely deterministic. The
Saikat Chakraborty 2961
interpretive school argues that the objective nature of creativity judgments estranges the
creative process from its inherently subjective nature. Studies that pay little heed to self and
process subjectivities identify creative individuals and then compare them with a suitable
comparison group (Katz & Giacommelli, 1982), and thus the focus remains on judging creative
processes on the basis of outputs they produce (Drazin, Glynn, & Kazanjian, 1999). Zhou
(1998) comments that most of the methodologies employed to decide whether an idea is
creative or not, are to the extent the output seems creative, and the underlying mental processes
of producing the creative idea stands neglected.
Qualitative Research on Creativity
Almost 18 years ago, Mayer (1999) identified psychometric, experimental and
biographic as the “big three approaches” (p. 452) to creativity research with the first two being
typically quantitative and dominantly used. Fifteen years later, Long (2014) found that much
had not changed as quantitative studies largely outnumbered qualitative studies undertaken in
the form of case studies and mixed methods, though classifying case studies and mixed
methods within creativity research as “qualitative” could be normative at best. Firstly, the case
study methodology examines those individuals whose identity as creative is unquestionable.
Secondly, the emphasis is on the examination of episodes that have already been proven
creative. Apparently, the researcher proceeds on fixed rails. In a way, this constricts the horizon
of opportunities that needs to be explored and understood about the creative process. Although
qualitative research in itself is a broad nomenclature, such researches seek illumination,
understanding, and exploration compared to the causal determination, prediction, and
generalization of findings which are more important in quantitative research (Hoepfl, 1997).
Thus, prefixing the object of inquiry as something “out there,” which the researcher is
interested in fetching and then analyzing it with benchmarked tools is primarily “quantitative.”
On the other hand, where the researcher intends to make “meaning,which cannot be made
without immersing oneself into the site or with the participants where or with whom the
phenomenon-of-interest is taking place, could qualify as a qualitative inquiry (Krauss, 2005).
However, Chenail (2011) asserts that qualitative research has not limited itself to its traditional
tune and has diversified; newer methods are being designed and used such as confirmatory
studies. Contextual approaches to creativity, to a large extent, could be called qualitative as
they try to understand creativity within its context (Mayer, 1999). Within contextual
approaches, Csikszentmihalyi (1999) calls for a systems model of creativity that includes
culture, society, and the individual. Organizational creativity reverberates with a similar notion
and situates the person within the creative work environment shaped by the national culture,
external environment, organizational culture, organizational structures, organizational climate,
and physical space, to foresee how the creative process unfolds (Puccio & Cabra, 2010). Within
qualitative research, however, scholars have started diverging methodologically by using
techniques like phenomenology (Trotman, 2008), visual techniques (Hall & Mitchell, 2008),
and self-study approaches (Reilly, 2008) to study creativity.
The Process-Perspective of Creativity
For understanding the creative process, one is to evaluate (a) creative outputs, products
or responses that are novel, appropriate, useful, correct, or valuable responses to the tasks at
hand, and (b) the creative process that is heuristic rather than algorithmic (Amabile, 1983). In
this regard, Khandwalla (2004) stated that creativity is neither just the production of creative
outputs nor just the mental process that links unrelated ideas emerging from imagination or
ideation; rather, creative process involves the interplay of exploratory processes and solutions
2962 The Qualitative Report 2017
that are new and appropriate to the context. Thus, creative processes are complex phenomena
that encompass both the process and outcome (D’Cruz, 2008; Drazin et al., 1999). As such,
there is a need to appreciate that creative processes hold as much importance as creative
outputs, and both are inextricably linked.
Creativity is theorized as a multilevel process at the individual level, organizational
level (the emerging structure of who engages and when they engage), and work or project level
(the creative engagement among different occupational subcultures which leads to the
emergence of a negotiated order; Drazin et al., 1999). Creative action happens within the
influence of multiple domains like markets, institutions, organizations, and groups, bringing
variations which the stakeholders like work-unit members, socialized organizational actors,
functional specialists, and consumers, can identify (Ford, 1996). Thus, social and individual
creative processes intertwine wherein the social influences the individual, while the individual
alters the social (Perry-Smith, 2006). The creative process at the individual level can be
conceived to be the interplay of three recursive stages, namely, (a) preparation or generative,
(b) incubation and insight, and (c) verification and/or elaboration (D’Cruz, 2008; Mangal,
2002; Wallas, 1926). In the preparation or generative phase, the individual confronts the
problem situation and consciously sets forth to collect and examine facts and materials relevant
to the problem (Mangal, 2002). Two processes, namely “problem redefinition” and “ideation,”
emerge in this situation and carry on for some time before the redefinition process provides the
opportunity to look at the problem from a different viewpoint, and the ideation process
generates alternatives by incorporating imagination and/or associational thinking (D’Cruz,
2008). The majority of creativity research has remained focused at this stage only, and thus
fallen short to understand the creative process in its entirety. To do so, the next stage, that is,
incubation and insight must be adequately enquired. Beyond the problem redefinition and
ideation, there is often a deliberate or voluntary turning away from the problem which leads to
the beginning of the second stage (Mangal, 2002). There is blockage of awareness and
movement restriction towards the potential solution despite extensive problem redefinition and
ideation (D’Cruz, 2008). The eruption of insight or illumination breaks this impasse or
incubation and allows the next stage to set in (Smith & Dodds, 1999). In the next stage, the
information obtained from the verification of creative outcome feeds back to the ideation and
problem redefinition processes of the first stage, thereby making the creative process recursive
and iterative in nature (D’Cruz, 2008). The process-perspective of creativity undertakes
individual-level processes, but experimental approaches hardly takes cognizance of the
complexity involved in these processes which needs to be inevitably handled for understanding
creativity. We recognize that these processes are not limited to cognitive level because they
take place in the effect of the context or the “social” intertwining the individual. In other words,
creative processes are highly subjective, both due to individual and social subjectivities. We
will explain further what it means by saying that creative processes are subjective.
Subjective Nature of the Processes Involved in Creativity
Weedon (1997) explained that any sense making activity is “perhaps the most crucial
site of political struggle over meaning, given it involves a personal, psychic and emotional
investment on the part of the individual” (p. 76). The cognitive experience attached to sense-
making activity, which Billett (2010) explains as a conceptual, procedural and dispositional
premise that directs individuals’ intentionality, focus, and intensity when engaging with the
physical and social environment beyond them, is subjective in nature. Subjectivities arising
due to process dependencies and individual drives needs to be handled while understanding the
heuristic process of producing creative outputs (Katz & Giacommelli, 1982). The salience of
subjectivity is its central role in the personal process of construing, constructing and responding
Saikat Chakraborty 2963
to what individuals encounter in the world beyond them (Billett, 2010). In practice more than
theory, subjectivist approaches to understanding creativity are dismissed as they carry the
negative connotation of being ontologically variegated and epistemologically uncertain and
impermanent (Dunston, 2012). The inclination towards objectivism, however, cannot deny that
in the course of generating creative outputs, the individual's self and subjectivity engage with
that of the intervening environment, resulting in processes that are highly subjective in nature
(Goswami, 1999; Katz & Giacommelli, 1982; Khandwalla, 2004). Csikszentmihalyi (2014)
puts it succinctly that before asking what creativity is, we need to know “where is creativity?”
Studying creativity by isolating individuals from social institutions and cultural domains is
erroneous since creative change needs to be understood in its context. In other words, creative
processes are subjectively dependent on the individual in context, and deductive approaches
involving reductionist evaluations are less equipped to take into consideration the individual
and social subjectivities influencing the creative process (Rousseau, 1985). In a similar vein,
Goswami (1999) asserted that individual subjectivities define the inner creativity as against
outer creativity that needs to be studied with regard to its context.
We have clarified that subjectivities arise both due to individual and social elements,
and are a characteristic feature of any creative process. Apparently, while trying to understand
creative processes, we need suitable methodologies that can handle subjectivity as part of the
inquiry process. To develop the account of subjectivity further, we prefer to delve into the
philosophical background of self and subjectivity, and from there meander towards the
methodology that is equipped to handle such inquiries.
Philosophical Background of Self and Subjectivity
“Human beings, perhaps alone among the creatures of the world, have the capacity to
reflect upon and evaluate their thoughts, feelings, and actions” and “this capacity for self-
reflective activity, or, broadly speaking, subjectivity is the essence of philosophy” (Atkins,
2005, p. 1). Søren Kierkegaard's (1813-1855) philosophical works, and especially his seminal
work entitled Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments” published
in the year 1846, argued that “truth is subjectivity,” as he commented that every human
endeavor to uncover the truth is about decisions, and all decisions would inevitably confront
subjectivity (Hannay, 2009, p. 107). As elicited by Atkins (2005, p. 2), the historical
development of ideas on subjectivity as well as the diversity of views within different
intellectual movements led to divisions or often called as the “schools of thought.” Descartes
regarded subjectivity as the direct expression of God, and consequently, his is a philosophy
oriented to questions about the truth of perception, which manifested in his extensive studies
of natural philosophy (Schwyzer, 1997). Beauvoir, by contrast, regarded subjectivity as the
expression of the human body enmeshed in a social matrix, and so her philosophy is oriented
to questions about the ontology of interpersonal relations (intersubjectivity) and the
interrelation of biology and politics (Godway, 2007).
Contemporary ideas concerning self and subjectivity stem from Descartes' description
of the human situation concerning both natural philosophy and rationalism (Atkins, 2005, p.
2). His characterization of the human subject regarding the mutual exclusivity of matter and
thought was expressive of his twin commitments: science and religion. Consequently, the
history of philosophy of subjectivity is also the history of negotiation of these twin concerns
(Dorter, 1973). Kant’s critique of Descartes' conception gave rise to two opposing
philosophical pathways. One line of thought emphasized on the objective conditions of
understanding, which led eventually to analytical philosophy of language and philosophy of
mind. The other line of thought emphasized the subjective nature of understanding, which
resulted in developing phenomenology (Schwyzer, 1997). One of the accounts of self and
2964 The Qualitative Report 2017
subjectivity is that of Paul Ricoeur’s account of narrative identity (Atkins, 2005, p. 225),
wherein he refuses reductionism while accommodating the sciences, and attempts to construct
an exchange between biology, history, and ethics through the medium of literary and
philosophical resources. It is relevant to focus more on contemporary philosophy for the reason
of it being applicable in the current contexts.
Ricoeur’s Narrative Theory
Ricoeur’s philosophical focus was on the hermeneutics of self, from which he
developed his narrative theory. The human embodiment endows us with a “double allegiance”:
on one side, due to our bodily existence, we are bound by the laws of the natural world, while
on the other, we also hinge onto the phenomenal world of freedom that helps us to break away
from the natural laws through our action (Atkins, 2005; Reagan & Stewart, 1978). This duality
in our existence obeys both the objectivity and the subjectivity of what we confront and make
sense of in life. The dual orders of time, that is, cosmological or objective time, and
phenomenological or subjective time (Ricoeur, 1980, 2014), structures our life events. Taking
birth, growing old and dying belong to the cosmological time, whereas, our actions, which also
have the sense of beginning, middle and end, or stages through which they pass, belongs to the
phenomenological time (Atkins, 2005). Since we constantly experience this duality, problems
arise when we try to equate the two, as then we tend to lose clarity in their overlap (Reagan &
Stewart, 1978). Since the term "subjectivity" has been used in different ways across
disciplinary divides, such as in the use of related conceptions such as identity, this paper
understands subjectivity to comprise of conscious and non-conscious conceptions, dispositions
and procedures that constitute individuals cognitive experience (Valsiner & van der Veer,
2000). In other words, subjectivity represents individuals’ ways of engaging with and making
sense of what they experience through their lived experiences (Billett, 2010), for which the
Ricoeurian narrative is helpful as it allows attaining clarity in the "double allegiance" (Ricoeur,
1980, 2014).
Narrative Approaches for Understanding Creative Processes
The challenge for any researcher is to choose the most appropriate research
methodology depending on numerous factors, one of them being the social context of the
research. In other words, there should be a fit for purpose between the problem and the method.
Narratives are “stories, excuses, myths, reasons for doing and not doing” and is “transmitted
culturally and constrained by the individual’s level of mastery and by his/her conglomerate of
prosthetic devices, colleagues, and mentors” (Bruner, 1991). Organizational scholars have
immensely used narrative methodologies in understanding specific event/action, or chain of
chronologically connected events/actions (Czarniawska, 2004). However, using narrative
methodology in research is also about challenging the boundaries to the acceptability of a broad
base of narrative approaches within the wider research community, and concerning particular
situations, narrative techniques require the researcher to establish clear justifications for its
usage (Bold, 2011). Bruner (1991) asserted that human mind cannot express its nascent powers
without the enablement of the symbolic systems of culture, some of which relate to the shared
domains of skill and social beliefs specific to that culture, and these domains organize
narratively. Sikes and Gale (2006; as cited in Bold, 2011, p. 13) suggest that there has been a
narrative “turn” within the social sciences associated with postmodernism. However, the
essential requirement is that researchers must scrutinize the conditions under which they
validate their research (Bleakley, 2004, as cited in Bold, 2011, p. 13). A narrative cannot
completely ensure that this scrutiny will take place, but it allows the researcher to develop an
Saikat Chakraborty 2965
awareness of his/her position in the research (Bold, 2011). Carrying out narrative research
requires researcher's reflexivity as it brings the personal dimension into the research. It presents
a challenge to conventional ideas of science which favors professional distance and objectivity
over engagement and subjectivity (Finlay, 2003).
The principles of narrative methodology have found limited application in
organizational studies of creativity. Most of the studies like Albert and Kormos (2011) have
attempted to explore the effect of creativity on distinctly measurable constructs like
performance. The effort to understand the creative process through a narrative approach is
largely missing. From the learning perspective, studies on creativity explored that in early
childhood, children’s narratives demonstrated the link between their affective, imaginative,
rational, and abstract thinking (Wright, 2010). In another study, narrative based inquiry helped
to infer that individuals’ understanding of creativity traces back to their interactions with
parents and teachers (Hill, 2013). These studies highlight the fact that understanding creativity
is subject to both individual and social subjectivities.
Narrative approaches to understand creative processes are primarily qualitative.
Human beings are inherently narrators who express themselves through narration involving
ambiguity of truth, metaphoric nature of language, time and space dependent interpretation of
their own lives, and the historical and sociocultural constraints against which they convey
information. This view questions the scientific basis of ascertaining truth based on objectivity
and validity of information that is collected rather than understood (Sandelowski, 1991).
Narrative approaches to creativity research embrace the multiplicity in participants’ stories and
allow their subjectivities to colour the researcher’s interpretation. At the same time, the inquiry
process does not restrict to few cycles as qualitative researchers agree that conducting
qualitative research is bound to encounter decision choices that make the process recursive and
reflexive (Chenail, 2011). Narratives about creativity are not only about the so-called creative
stuff, as the researcher intends to explore rather than confirm. The researcher guides the
participant but in no way restricts the stories and narrations to sound creative. Narrative
approach suits well to creativity research because of every story, no matter how unique, belongs
to people who own them through deep emotional investments. While narrating their stories,
the participants piece together fragments from their working lives to add sense to their stories
and thus provide scope to widen the researcher’s interpretation of the creative process. In other
words, narrative approaches taken to understand creative processes are “a way to generate
knowledge that disrupts old certainties and allows us to glimpse something of the complexities
of human lives, selves, and endeavours” (Andrews, Sclater, Squire, & Tamboukou, 2004).
Therefore, the principles of narrative analysis can apply to the context of creativity depending
firstly on the researcher’s intention to explore, reflect and analyse the narratives so that they
can bring out the participants’ subjectivities in the form of meaning which can further inform
researcher’s understanding of the creative process. The researcher should also be dextrous to
capture participants’ emotions giving them equal importance as compared to the perceptibly
“hard” facts because emotions significantly delineates the story and also influences the creative
process.
Meaning Making from Subjectivities
The subjective nature of social research cannot be denied mainly because every social
inquiry involves individuals be it the participant/s or the researcher/s, and subjectivities exist
in their identities, they have subjectivities, and they make subjectivities (Letherby, Scott, &
Williams, 2012). Eliminating the scope of the interplay between different subjectivities is
equivalent to marginalizing the study and turning away from exploration. However, classifying
a study as “only objective” or “only subjective” makes no meaning at all, as noted in the
2966 The Qualitative Report 2017
Ricoeurian perspective. Since creative processes are highly subjective in nature, particularly
due to the second stage of the creative process, the analysis of narratives is capable of pulling
out meaning from the individual and social subjectivities trapped in narratives (Bold, 2011).
Senge (1990) talks about “creative tension,” a form of a gap that exists between reality and
action to achieve a vision. Simply put, the act of creating is never free of constraints that shape
and modify the process. Without constraints, there is no creativity. The constraints are mostly
social, although they can be the outcome of cultural factors or individual dispositions as well.
These social and self-subjectivities cannot be filtered out from the understanding one develops
about the creative process as doing so would mean the exclusion of self from creativity (Billett,
2010). Narrative analysis can not only explore how people frame, remember, and report their
experiences, but also illuminate about the individual lives and the broader social processes
(Andrews et al., 2004). As people are unique in their creative pursuits (Gruber, 1988), unless
the researcher accommodates the participants' subjectivities in the inquiry process, he/she
cannot grasp the true picture of the creative process. Practically due to overreliance on creative
outcomes as the deciders of whether the process is creative or not, we fail to recognize the
process-perspective of creativity. Secondly, it impacts our perceptions of say, who, where or
what is creative rather than inquiring how creativity takes place. For instance, Silvia et al.
(2008) in their study although acknowledged that individuals are unique in their creativity, but
due to their ontological and epistemological myopia preferred to assess the respondents’
creativity based on tests comprising of divergent thinking tasks. We argue that if creative
processes are subjective, we can at best understand the process by which something called
"creative" gets produced. But deciding who or what is "creative" on the basis of outcomes
subjected to standard evaluations, not only the process of creating such outcomes are ignored,
we also end up with a deficient conception of creativity. It is thus essential for understanding
creative processes that we do not neglect the process subjectivities for pursuing uniformity and
generalizability. The interpretation of narratives can not only comprehend the real (objective)
meanings, but also enrich them by unveiling the meanings that are embedded in the social and
individual subjectivities (Ratner, 2002).
Emotion in Context
Research says that emotions have a central role in creative thinking (for example
Amabile, Barsade, Mueller, & Staw, 2005; Lofy, 1998; Lubart & Getz, 1997; Radford, 2004).
The association between creativity and emotion manifests in the commitment, great excitement
upon realizing the creative outcome, personal tastes and preferences, irrational defenses, and
so on. Creative processes employ emotions due to the direct role of inspiration in the second
stage of the creative process (Thrash & Elliot, 2004; Wallas, 1926). The task motivation behind
a creative performance depends on a) initial level of intrinsic motivation b) presence or absence
of salient extrinsic constraints in the social environment, and c) individual ability to cognitively
minimize extrinsic constraints (Amabile, 1983). One can also explain these factors through the
tripartite conceptualization of inspiration, that is, (a) transcendence inspiration orients one
toward something that is better or more important than one’s usual concerns; one sees better
possibilities; (b) evocation - inspiration is evoked and unwilled; one does not feel directly
responsible for becoming inspired; and (c) motivation - inspiration involves motivation to
express or manifest that which is newly apprehended; given the positive valence of this aim,
inspiration is an appetitive motivational state (Thrash & Elliot, 2003). In sum, the linkage of
inspiration with emotion clarifies the role of emotion in creativity. One of the theoretical
premises of narrative research is the assertion that human experience has a crucial narrative
dimension. According to Rossiter (2002), narratives stimulate our empathetic orientation,
providing a basis for both cognitive and emotional responses to the experiences and worldviews
Saikat Chakraborty 2967
of other people. Emotions are inextricably linked with meaning, and drawing a clear line of
distinction between meaning and emotion is pointless, as they form two sides of human
experience (Kleres, 2010).
The Antenarrative
The first-hand information collected from research participants could appear to be
relevant as well as irrelevant for developing the narrative. There is a high probability that while
writing the narrative, the researcher will add some intermediary story-like information relevant
to the context for joining the original collection of disjoint information. These intermediary
story-like information or connectors, though helpful in weaving the narrative, may distract the
original mood or theme of the study, rendering a partial if not a total diversion from the problem
(Boje, 2008). To address this issue, Boje (2001, p. 1) talks about “antenarrative, and calls it
“the fragmented, non-linear, incoherent, collective, unplotted and pre-narrative speculation, a
bet.” An antenarrative approach is suitable for handling the unconstructed, improper and
fragmented nature of organizational stories and storytelling that a researcher will generally find
in organizations (Barge, 2004). Antenarratives could appear pre, mid or post narrative, and is
called upon to capture the details that could have been left in the patterned flow of participants’
narration (Boje, 2001, 2008). The primary and incomplete information, personal opinions,
biases, and so on, that makes a pre, mid or post appearance in the narrative helps to refine and
align the narrative especially for problems that concern sense making (Snowden, 2011). As the
antenarrative is added to the narrative, it opens up a room for speculation imperative for a
sense-making activity (Boje, 2008). A speculation is often preferred where there exists no prior
legacy and helps to refine the search. Thus, an antenarrative serves the purpose of accepting
the non-linear, chaotic, random information and the researcher transforms these into a narrative
with a patterned storyline. As our interest lies in the process-perspective of creativity, we
foresee the dynamic nature of such processes explained by their subjective nature, as well as
their temporal and liminal dependence (Perry-Smith & Shalley, 2003). Antenarratives are not
limited by the “grammar” of narrative approaches (Matthews, 2011) and thus provides the
scope to collect the time and space dependent information that enriches the total narrative.
Since creative processes cannot be delineated either temporally or spatially in an organization,
antenarratives are crucial to anchor the context as well the individual within that context and
provide direction, depth, and flavour to the meaning attained from the subjectivities.
Antenarratives, thus, become the pre, mid, or post story that explores the participant’s soul
while the researcher is trying to get an insight into the participants’ subjectively constituted
creative processes (Grant, 2011).
How Personal Narratives Can Help?
As storytelling is a relational activity, a link is established between the narrator and the
listener on the grounds of empathy (Kohler-Riessman, 2000), however, surfacing that link is
always not that easy. Since creative action brings variation in fields (Ford, 1996),
understanding the creative process is a “problem of understanding human agency as
simultaneously individual and social” and by analyzing personal narratives, the researcher
moves closer to the narrator’s self and subjectivity (Maynes, Pierce, & Laslett, 2012). At the
intra-individual level, the three stages of individual creative process clarify that it involves
concurrent processes, that is, thoughts, logics, mental simulations at the cognitive level;
inspiration, emotion at the affective level; and operational dexterity at the action level. These
processes operate within organizational and extra-organizational constraints, and self-
subjectivities further complicate the creative process. However, despite this structuring,
2968 The Qualitative Report 2017
investigating creative process is difficult due to the lack of methodologies that allow for co-
creating meanings. A narrative methodology, and specifically personal narratives are helpful
in this regard as the narrator (participant) and the listener (researcher) co-create meanings
through personal narratives (Gaydos, 2005). After adequately soaking in the participants’
narratives, the researcher becomes the subject (Ellis & Bochner, 2000), and narrates his or her
experience gained from talking to the participants, observing them, and collecting
antenarratives from the participants and others. The personal narrative, written in first-person,
then becomes a useful source to co-construct meanings with the participants’ narratives.
Without personal narratives of the researcher, there will be no tying back of interpretations
gained from submerging oneself into the subjectivities of the participants. Looked this way,
personal narratives of the researcher help to keep the subjectivities alive while also drawing an
essence from them.
Limitations
Validation issues in narrative research have mostly pointed towards two directions. One
is regarding the validity of the collected evidence and second is the validity of the offered
interpretation (Polkinghorne, 2007). Both these areas can pose limitations to the approach
discussed in this paper. Firstly, since the researcher chooses the site or participants that are off
the beaten path, it is a challenge to establish the study’s rationale. Researchers should give
extra attention to develop their argument of why they have chosen the site and the participants,
which in the case of narrative techniques acts as an argumentative way of establishing validity.
Secondly, the research report should present the personal narrative of the researcher as well as
adequate instances that substantiate the participants’ subjectivities, together anticipating and
responding to the questions which readers might have about the acceptability of the study.
However, it is easier said than done because in practice, open ended approaches to research are
difficult to carry out. The researcher may find it tricky to grasp the individual and social
subjectivities of participants from their stories due to researcher’s own biases that can also lead
to misinterpretation and ignorance. As the researcher progresses through the study, he/she may
unveil newer forms of subjectivities which may even contradict the previous ones, and the
researcher may never get rid of the feeling to start afresh. Further, due to the complexity of
language, culture, and society, researcher’s interpretation is often put to question. The
participants could even disagree to the personal narrative of the researcher. However, despite
these limitations, narrative approaches to creativity research can illuminate and explore the
ways by which individual and social subjectivities influence the creative process, indeed to
extents which others cannot.
Summary
The exploration of creativity has been a puzzling journey for researchers and
practitioners alike. It is imperative for both these communities to realize that understanding
creativity is something more than just the objective evaluations of creative outputs. Most of the
present day theories do not address the process-perspective of creativity and methodologies are
less equipped to handle the individual and social subjectivities of the creative process. The
ontology and epistemology of any social inquiry are crucial for choosing the right
methodology, and this paper highlights that the positivism dominant in creativity research
which is outcome-centric cannot develop methodologies helpful in conducting empirical
studies with a process-perspective of creativity. Understanding creativity, and its autonomous
nature concerning change, decision response, and complexity makes it a distinctively different
process than other organizational processes. Creative processes are subjective, both due to
Saikat Chakraborty 2969
social and individual subjectivities, and the creative process is an abstraction of multilevel
processes occurring at the individual, group and organizational levels, while also actions that
bring changes in multiple domains. These processes and actions are interrelated and recursively
feed into each other, and therefore cannot be judged neatly through psychometric evaluations
and experiments. Claiming that creative processes are strictly individual level phenomena and
thereby adopting experimental methodologies that try to ascertain an operational uniformity, is
also erroneous. Qualitative inquiries of creativity, thus, have to inevitably handle subjectivity
as part of the research problem. By revisiting Paul Ricoeur’s philosophy on self and
subjectivity, we have argued that narrative approaches are apt in dealing with the individual
and social subjectivities inherent in the creative process. The principles of narrative
methodology clarify why narratives should be the preferred choice in understanding the
creative process and how can antenarratives help to enrich the narrations. Personal narratives
of the researcher are extremely helpful as they can allow to tie back the participants’
subjectivities into the final narrative through co-created meanings. Although narrative
approaches to creativity research are not bereft of limitations, the perceptible benefits of this
approach should inspire researchers to look beyond the obvious.
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Author Note
Saikat Chakraborty is a Fellow Programme in Management participant of
Organizational Behaviour at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, India. His
research interests include dignity of labour, labour issues associated with transformation of
workforce composition, labour relations in non-standard working arrangements, and workplace
creativity. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to:
saikatc@iima.ac.in or saikat1625@gmail.com.
Copyright 2017: Saikat Chakraborty and Nova Southeastern University.
Article Citation
Chakraborty, S. (2017). Using narratives in creativity research: Handling the subjective nature
of creative process. The Qualitative Report, 22(11), 2959-2973. Retrieved from
http://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol22/iss11/9
... However, the contextualized individual matters in the exploration of the creative enterprise (Chakraborty, 2017). Also, each culture deserves the right to preserve its own specific form(s) of creativity (Meloche & Clothey, 2021). ...
... Qualitative approaches allow researchers to regard creativity as a complex phenomenon. As a complex phenomenon, creativity includes diverse subjective factors rather than a narrow set of elements or variables (Chakraborty, 2017). ...
... However, this quality relies on the researcher's perpetual selfinquiry about their impact on the project (i.e., reflexivity). The researcher's reflexivity in combination with co-created projects mitigates the risk of misrepresentation (Chakraborty, 2017;Lunn & Munford, 2007;Meloche & Clothey, 2021). ...
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... Creativity research epitomizes a positivist enterprise (Chakraborty, 2017). In the vein of Burrell and Morgan (1979), the use of the term positivist here describes rather than derogates. ...
... Guilford's presidential address to the APA in the 1950s manifested a new discourse (Chakraborty, 2017;Glăveanu & Kaufman, 2019). That speech prioritized creativity research within the field of psychology as a means of addressing industrial and economic needs. ...
... That speech prioritized creativity research within the field of psychology as a means of addressing industrial and economic needs. To the degree that it espoused or encouraged others to assume an anti-deterministic stance, it engendered a democratic view of creativity-that anyone could manifest the trait (Chakraborty, 2017;Glăveanu & Kaufman, 2019). However, this discourse also saw the rise of systems theories such as Csikszentmihalyi's (2014). ...
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... Thus writing an autoethnography is not just for my learning but also to share how doing this work offers the possibility of changing my (and your) attitudes through our experiences (Ellis, 2017). Being an arts-based research practice, the myriad evocative, political, consciousness-raising, and emancipatory tales (Chenail, 2008) thus become valuable resources for co-constructing meanings (Chakraborty, 2017). In the same vein, this autoethnography is an effort to create a segment of my past working life as the "looking glass space" (Brand, 2015, p. 516) to draw sociological implications for stimulating interest toward co-constructing meanings associated with the narrative. ...
... My purpose is to write the personal experience through which I strive to transcend beyond the local environment (Denzin, 1990). This means not just connecting the local to the macro, but keeping the personal equally involved in retelling the macro by voicing the interconnected individual subjectivities (Chakraborty, 2017). Thus for the same purpose, different perspectives might possibly yield different autoethnographic accounts, which also reveals from the conversation in- Ellis and Bochner's (2000) "evocative autoethnography," Anderson's (2006a) "analytic autoethnography," Charmaz's (2006) brief elicitation of Anderson's approach, Ellis and Bochner's (2006) and Denzin's (2006) reply to Anderson's approach, Anderson's (2006b) counter reply, and Burnier's (2006) assessment of the two approaches-that why autoethnography, both as a process and product, depends significantly on its perspective to meet the purpose. ...
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... Having coded our transcript data for prior manuscripts, composing the actual portraits was a fluid, organic process. One author took the lead, following the narrative technique of uniting participants' own words with "intermediary story-like information" to guide readers while simultaneously keeping analytical memos (Chakraborty, 2017(Chakraborty, , p. 2967. The rest of the team annotated the portraits, and all authors discussed and refined their interpretations. ...
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... The interpretation of narratives can help to explore the meanings individuals ascribe to the experience of creativity, and how these meanings are related to a greater context. Recently, Chakraborty (2017) highlighted the potential of narratives for conducting research into the creative process: "While narrating their stories, the participants piece together fragments from their working lives to add sense to their stories and thus provide scope to widen the researcher's interpretation of the creative process" (p. 2965). ...
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The article describes philosophical and theoretical foundations of qualitative research and distinguishes five qualitative methodologies: case studies, ethnography, phenomenology, grounded theory, and narrative studies. The relevance of each methodology for conducting research into creativity is discussed and illustrated by examples from the literature. Moreover, general issues of validity, rigor, and ethics in qualitative research are outlined.
... Além disso, o humor cearense é pertencente à indústria criativa (Nicolaci-da-Costa, 2014), local e nacional, na medida em que se configura como uma atividade que tem origem na criatividade, competências e talento dos empreendedores culturaisque são grupos de uma variedade de artistas, músicos, performistas e designersos quais agregam valor comercial ao trabalho artístico e criativo (Chakraborty, 2017;DCMS, 2005;Parkman, Holloway, & Sebastiao, 2012). ...
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