In Search of Creativity:

Beyond Individualism and Collectivism

Ronald E. Purser

Associate Professor

Department of Management

San Francisco State University

1600 Holloway Ave

San Francisco, CA. 94132

(415) 338-2380

Alfonso Montuori

Special Assistant to the President

School of Consciousness and Transformation

California Institute of Integral Studies

1453 Mission St.

San Francisco, CA 94103, USA

phone: (415) 575-6252

fax: (415) 398-6964

















In Search of Creativity:

Beyond Individualism and Collectivism


This paper searches for the reasons why creativity has not been viewed or investigated as a social phenomena in organizations and society. Fundamental polarities, dichotomous thinking and other cultural biases factor prominently in how we define and view creativity in organizations. We examine numerous polar oppositions—individualism vs. collectivism, atomism vs. holism, and order vs. disorder. Finally, we explore how a more contextual framework for understanding creative, based on dialogical and complex thinking can serve as a corrective to methodological individualism.
















The subject of collaborative creativity has recently sparked considerable interest (Bennis & Biederman, 1998; Kao, 1997; Montuori & Purser, 1995; Montuori & Purser, 1999; Purser & Montuori, 1999). As Woodman, Sawyer, and Griffin (1993) have pointed out, social, group, or "collaborative creativity," are central factors in organizational innovation and change. Yet, there has been very little research in what seems to be a critical area. This absence constitutes a peculiarity in and of itself. In this paper, we argue that cultural and methodological factors, primarily due to a North-American bias, has contributed to this neglect. We also contend that our thinking about self-and-society has been marked by certain forms of knowing and thinking which have prevented us from tackling important subjects such as the collaborative and social dimensions of creativity.

Ogilvy (1989, p. 9), has argued that "The pressure toward postmodernism is building from our lack of ability to overcome certain dualisms that are built into modern ways of knowing." One of these dualisms in particular, namely the cultural polarization between individualism and collectivism, will be addressed in terms of its relevance to our understanding of creativity in organizations. We also examine various related dualisms, such as self-society, creativity-conformity, and order-disorder, with reference to how they have blocked a conceptualization of, and inquiry into, social creativity. At the core of our argument lies the polarization between the individual and the group, and between creativity and conformity. This polarization literally has prevented us from thinking about "social" or "group" and creativity together. It is this type of polarized thinking that make us react to the notion of "social creativity" as if it were an oxymoron.

Most of the research on creativity and innovation, both in the context of organizations and in social science in general, has been on creative individuals (Montuori & Purser, 1999). Why has it taken so long for research to emerge on the social dimensions of creativity? By social creativity, we mean, broadly speaking, any and all creative processes leading to creative products that are the result of the interaction between two or more people. In other words, creativity that involves groups and collaborations. The production of movies, musical performances (in fact, almost any performing art), the creative process in scientific laboratories, in organizations, are but a few examples of what we mean by social creativity. Such creative processes that are not confined to the workings of a lone genius—as in an isolated author, composer, or anyone else working alone, literally, in physical isolation. However, this broad definition of "social" creativity is somewhat problematic, as we shall see. There is a real philosophical question as to whether anyone—any individual human being--can really be considered isolated or "alone." If the answer is "no," then we have to consider whether any creative process can occur without any form of interaction or social influence. For example, can there really be such a thing as a "lone" genius? Even if somebody works in physical isolation, is she or he not part of a larger discourse, and a social creature, working with a socio-historical context and tradition? Would the concept of a "genius," lone or otherwise, even exist without "others" (Montuori and Purser, 1995)?

It is quite easy for us to accept the fact that a successful team exhibits a high degree of cooperative behavior among its members. But why isn’t it equally acceptable for us to view creativity as also being mainly a function of the social processes within the team, rather than the product of individuals? Several typical retorts come to mind: Is it not ultimately the individuals themselves who are creative? And isn’t membership in a group more often than not actually a hindrance to creativity? Research even shows that groups engaged in brainstorming are less creative than nominal brainstorming groups (Paulus, Brown, & Ortega, 1999).

These questions reflect our cultural understanding of the self. For example, the self can be viewed atomistically or holistically. If one holds an atomistic view of the self, then even creativity in groups or in collaborative settings will be located and attributed to an individual, rather than to a group process. Atomism leads to methodological individualism, and from this perspective, "social" creativity is therefore a very problematic and even contradictory concept. On the other hand, if one holds a holistic viewpoint, creativity is by definition social, and the individual is epiphenomenal--the vehicle for social forces which play themselves out with or without any particular individual.

As we are beginning to see, inquiry into social creativity immediately raises larger philosophical and, indeed, political questions regarding the interplay between individualism and collectivism. This is an age-old and problematic debate, which, in creativity research, finds an analog in the "lone genius versus the Zeitgeist" argument (Simonton, 1999). The debate is also found in the literature on social change, reflected as the "individual actor versus social movement" argument, which has been viewed in terms of an opposition between "individual and society" as the primary ontological units (Wielemans, 1993).

Fundamental polarities between individualism vs. collectivism, or their methodological counterparts—between methodological atomism vs. holism—are part of the underlying discourse on social creativity. Creativity is seen as either the product of the cogitations of a lone genius, struggling against an oppressive social environment, or alternatively, as the product of sociological and historical forces, with the individual as merely a "vessel" or even an expression for those forces. For individualists, social factors are epiphenomenal (Sampson, 1991), and for more collectivist positions, the individual is simply expressing the social, political, and economic forces of the times. Either way, we find an oppositional, disjunctive form of thinking in terms of either/or. This is can be traced back to the dualisms Ogilvy mentioned above.

To actually become aware of the polarized bias of our thinking is difficult to do since thought is not merely personal, but also collective in nature. The thinking behind these historically opposed positions is typically dichotomizing and polarizing: if it’s not one it must be the other. Through the lens of individualism, the notion of social creativity will appear as collectivistic and anti-individualistic. Greening (1995) and Hale (1995), for instance, view social creativity through this lens. For them, any inclusion of social factors in the study of creativity diminishes the importance and primacy of the individual. This is a typical example of such dichotomizing thinking in operation: we must take a position for either individual or the social (not both together). Any effort at developing an understanding of social creativity (Montuori & Purser, 1995) is immediately branded as being a form of "sociological determinism" and a rejection of the "individual." From the dichotomizing/polarizing perspective, if one does not espouse an individualistic/atomistic perspective on creativity, with social forces viewed as either epiphenomenal or a hindrance to creativity, then one must, by definition, espouse a collectivist, determinist perspective.

We propose that theorizing social creativity needs to break free of this oppositional thinking. As Ogilvy suggests, the very structure of our thinking about the relationship between individual and society is problematic inasmuch as it sets up an opposition between the two. It is a reflection of Western society’s general tendency towards what Edgar Morin (1994) has termed "disjunctive thought," which dichotomizes and opposes, rather than taking into account the working of causal loops, and mutual interconnectedness.

Disjunctive Thinking and Cultural Flip-Flops

One does not have to be a proponent of cyclical theories of American cultural history to acknowledge that in American management literature, and in broader sociological analyses of the culture, that there have been swings between the polarities of individualism and groupism. Historically, American culture bounced back-and-forth between phases of excessive individualism and excessive flights into collectivism or groupism, all under the larger banner of discussions of American individualism.

If we look back to the 1950s and early 60s, books such as W.F. Whyte’s (1957) classic The Organization Man explored the way in which corporate America was fundamentally turning individuals into gray, faceless workers. Particularly relevant to our discussion is the chapter in Whyte's book entitled, "The Organization Scientist," with telling subheadings like "The Fight Against Genius." and "The Bureaucratization of the Scientist." These chapters argued that individual creativity was being suppressed in research scientists in favor of quiet bureaucratic conformity. In a similar vein, Presthus's (1963) book, The Organizational Society, argued along the same lines that the logic of big organizations, with their focus on authority, status, and small groups, were inhibiting individual growth and creativity.

After the 60s, we saw the emergence of what Tom Wolfe would later call the "Me-Generation," culminating in the rampant individualism and narcissism of the 70s and 80s. The spirit of individualism found it way back into corporations. Psychologist Michael Macoby (1976) presented a typology of managerial personalities, including the familiar, loyal, "Company Man," but now also presenting a new type, "The Gamesman." Rabidly individualistic, this managerial type viewed work and management as only a "game" which involved power, accumulation of capital, and entrepreneurialism, all with an esthetic, almost ironic detachment. This differentiated him from another one of Maccoby's types, the "Jungle Fighter," in many ways a similar character but much more "sincerely driven" by economic necessity, sheer willpower, and the good old Protestant ethic, rather than esthetic enjoyment. Movies such as Wall Street, and characters such as Michael Milken, represented the almost playful but razor-sharp determination of the 80s speculator, a shrewd player in what was fast becoming an information economy. The jungle fighter competed in a system based on what Hazel Henderson called "funny money," a system entrained to quarterly reports, investor psychology, and global information flows of capital. The job of management was no longer seen as building real productive capacity, or material empires of factories with tangible products, but rather as playing with information in a "symbolic economy" (Ogilvy, 1989). What we’re seeing here is essentially an alternation between individualistic understandings of the self and the "manager," followed by a backlash which tends to over-emphasize "groupness" and conformity at the expense of individual initiative

The image of the self-reliant individual, so prized in American culture, can be traced back to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s reaction against the cultural superficiality of commercialism. Now, paradoxically, autonomy and self-reliance have become signature traits of the American Silicon Valley entrepreneur, whose driving passion is to Get.Rich.Com—which requires promoting the very sort of commercialism that can make them millionaires overnight. Ironically, the flip to valuing "autonomy" has become coopted by the very culture it originally arose as a critique of.

The 90s has been a strange mix of seemingly contradictory and mixed ideologies. Business students are given a strong message that "entreprenuerialism" is the royal road to career success, that this is a "winner take all society," and that one needs to become their own CEO when it comes to managing their career. Having "a job" and any notion of loyalty to a company are quaint, industrial-age notions that are long gone. On the other hand, corporations have jumped full force back into to teams, partnerships, and alliances—social forms that require high degrees of collaborative behavior. Even in the broader culture, there is a movement toward getting back to community, the new urbanism, communitarianism, and the social construction of the self.

Employees are now pressured and told they have to work in teams, while they are also given the message that real success comes through individual initiative and entrepreneurship. Such mixed messages are found in such books such as Bennis and Biederman’s Organizing Genius and Bartlett and Ghoshal’s, The Individualized Corporation. There is a great tension between these two pressures, one that, arguably, the present way of conceptualizing these terms cannot address. As we shall see, it is precisely the polarizing and dichotomizing tendency of our present way of thinking that creates this tendency towards faddish flip-flops.

The Creative Interplay of Individualism and Collectivism

The polarization between individualism and collectivism creates some interesting examples of what Jung called enantiodromia, where one pole of an opposition tends to turn into its opposite. Ogilvy (1979) has argued that a polar opposition between individualism and collectivism leads to a dialectical process: "the pursuit of each extreme toward its own negation, its autonomous generation of the need for its own opposite" (p. 63). He goes on to state that these polar oppositions are in fact socially constructed, falsely reified abstractions which lead to highly problematic conceptualizations in the human sciences.

The titles of such classic works as Reisman et. al’s (1950) "The Lonely Crowd" and Slater’s (1970) "The Pursuit of Loneliness," give some idea of the paradoxical nature of this process. Slater, for example, has discussed the paradox of "conforming individualism," the tendency for individualism to set up a certain model for everybody to follow so that one may become an individual like everybody else. Likewise, Ogilvy (1992) has referred to the 60s hippie movement as "non-conformist collectivism," whereby the youth movement represented a non-conformist reaction to traditional values and customs, but did so in a very collectivist way (Woodstock, communes, the "uniforms" of long hair, jeans, etc.)

Bellah (1985) et al. have discussed the ambivalence of individualism in the USA, pointing to the following polarities:

the deep desire for autonomy and self-reliance combined with an equally deep conviction that life has no meaning unless shared with others in the context of community; a commitment to the equal right to dignity of every individual combined with an effort to justify inequality of reward, which, when extreme, may deprive people of dignity; an insistence that life requires practical effectiveness and "realism" combined with the feeling that compromise is ethically fatal. The inner tensions of American individualism add up to a classic case of ambivalence. (pp. 150-151)

Sampson (1991) makes a point of great interest to our understanding of social creativity. He states that we cannot divide the world's cultures into two types--the interconnected collectivists and the self-contained individualists--because this would imply that it is possible to actually be a self-contained individualist, in the pure, "ideological" sense. According to Sampson, self-contained individualism posits "firm boundaries, personal control, and an exclusionary concept of the person" (p.15). Persons are governed internally, value autonomy, and "tend to be characterized by a suspicion about and, at times, even antipathy toward social institutions, viewing these as potential infringements on personal autonomy" (p. 16). He goes on to state that the exclusionary nature of self-contained individualism is as "if one were to draw a circle marking off the region of self from the region of nonself," and "the circle would be drawn so as to exclude others from the region defined as belonging to self" (p.16).

The belief in self-contained individualism, where the self is a "hermetic and self-sufficient whole, one whose elements constitute a closed system presuming nothing beyond themselves, not other utterances" (Bakhtin, in Sampson, 1991, p. 17), and where one can ultimately "choose" whether or not to be in a relationship, is fundamentally erroneous. Individualism sets up an opposition between autonomy and dependence. Any trace of dependence is viewed as negative, as a constraint to one’s freedom. Contrast this with Japanese culture, where the concept of "amae," the desire to be indulged, mothered, and totally dependent the way a newborn infant is with its mother, is valued as highly as individualism in the U.S.A. But contrary to expectations, Pye (1985) writes that

to the western mind, individualism is essential for aggressive, creative behavior; dependency, which is seen as stifling and immature, is regarded as an obstacle to modernization. Yet the experiences of both private and public institutions not only in Japan but in most Asian countries indicate that people who are secure in their immediate settings, and who have supportive superiors, can be boldly aggressive and creative in their risk-taking. Moreover, such risk-taking is usually not a matter of gratifying personal pride but of accomplishing something exceptional for the collectivity. (p. 335)

Sampson (1991) has shown how individualism reacts to the larger social environment as something it is fundamentally opposed to, something that impinges upon its freedom, and freedom is viewed as "freedom from." But Bellah and his colleagues point again to a fundamental ambivalence in this view, where "the fear that society may overwhelm the individual and destroy any chance of autonomy unless he stands against it," is combined with the "recognition that it is only in relation to society that the individual can fulfill himself and that if the break with society is too radical, life has no meaning at all" (p. 144). Hegel, in an early anti-Kantian, relational view of the person, argued that self-consciousness achieves itself only through the recognition of another self-consciousness. Likewise, the individualist can only achieve real recognition of individuality through others, creating a somewhat "hidden" dependency, because even if the self stands above others through superior achievements, it still "needs" the others in order to "be someone."

As Bellah et al. (1985) state,

We are parts of a larger whole that we can neither forget nor imagine in our own image without paying a high price. If we are not to have a self that hangs in the void, slowly twisting in the wind, these are issues we cannot ignore. (p.84)

We would also argue that individualism and collectivism--or atomism and holism--are positions that arise out of perceptual, methodological, and political choices, and are usefully viewed not just as descriptive frameworks, but also as constructive frameworks. They are, from this perspective--epistemological focal settings--which bring forth certain ways of understanding the world rather than others. And, indeed, in opposition to the other term. It may be these interpretive and world-constructing tensions cause the cycles of individualism and conformity that we pointed out above. This paradoxical phenomenon, whereby excessive emphasis on one term of a perceived opposition, such as individualism versus collectivism, leads to a strange and seemingly unconscious "return of the repressed," is the result of fundamentally "disjunctive" thought (Morin, 1994): ontological categories are created and then viewed as mutually exclusive. Either individualism, as represented by the US with its focus on freedom of the individual and the individual as the fundamental ontological unit, or collectivism, as represented by the former USSR and China, with its focus on the primacy of the collectivity, and society as the fundamental ontological unit. We must remember that the management cycles of individualism and collectivism discussed here emerged, until the last ten years, in the shadow of the Cold War.

As Ogilvy (1992) shows, individualism and collectivism are closely tied to the polarization between capitalist free-market economies and Marxist, centrally planned economies. For example, Mao Zedong (1961) argued that liberalism:

stems from the petty self-interest of the bourgeoisie which puts personal interest foremost and the interest of the revolution in the second place. It is a corrosive which disrupts unity, undermines solidarity, induces inactivity, and creates dissension. (A communist) should be more concerned about the Party and the masses than about the individual and more concerned about others than about himself. Only then can he be considered a communist. (pp. 515-516).

Contrast this with Adam Smith's view that it is "not from the benevolence of butcher or baker that we survive, but from our own self-interest." Mao's statement reflects Westen's (1983) differentiation between collectivism, where group needs are paramount, and "morality is defined by the communally collectivistic culture ideal in terms of group needs" (p.132), and individualism, where one finds "a reversal of means and ends: society becomes the means for achieving individuals" ends, and "the individual is a means to social ends" (p.312).

The political polarization is a good example of oppositional identity, where two terms such as individualism and collectivism define themselves to a large extent in opposition to the other "opposite" term, that is, in reaction to it. Particularly as they become more and more mutually exclusive, this tends to let the other term in through the back door, in a dynamic that is recognized in the saying, "We become what we hate."

Alasdair MacIntyre (1981) has coined the term "bureaucratic individualism" to describe Americans "willingness to turn over decision-making authority in the public and organizational domain to professional managers and experts." Discussing Max Weber, he goes on to state that "no type of authority can appeal to rational criteria to vindicate itself except that type of bureaucratic authority that appeals precisely to its own effectiveness. And what this appeal reveals is that bureaucratic authority is nothing other than successful power" (p. 26, italics in the original). As Sampson (1991) states, the autonomy of dominant groups "rests upon their power to construct nonautonomous others" (p.166).

The Dynamics of Creativity

When it comes to creativity, Whyte (1957) illustrates the nature of disjunctive thinking in a very telling way. He states (p.223) that in his research, whenever the word brilliant or creative was used it was always followed by a butbut erratic, eccentric, screwball, etc. This echoes the disjunctive polarization also found in the creativity literature, which contrasts creativity with conformity. In order to be creative, one must not be conforming, and vice versa. Conforming individuals are desirable because they are not disruptive, they fit into the bureaucratic order and can be controlled--they are "docile bodies," to use Foucault's formulation. Creative individuals, on the other hand, are supposedly

unpredictable, flaky, and not easily controlled.

Perhaps it is not surprising that corporate training programs focus mainly on providing creativity "tools," cognitive "tricks" which the researcher or employee who is stuck for an idea can pull out of the creativity "toolbox" rather than on the social dimensions of creativity, with all of its political implications, or for that matter, the education of "whole creative persons." We call this orientation a "toolbox approach," which assumes that workers will remain fundamentally conforming, and creativity can be elicited through the use of a tool that can be put aside once the appropriate idea is generated. In this way, the bureaucratization and normalization of the scientists can conform to the desire to have hard-working docile bodies rather than flaky, unpredictable "creative types," who may disrupt the organizational structure and process. To paraphrase Weber, this is the routinization and bureaucratization of creativity.

Here another factor comes into play, namely the rationalization of the individual, already mentioned by MacIntyre. Because along with the rise of individualism, we find also the spread of bureaucratization, and the need for control expressed through power. This configuration creates a further disjunction into mutually exclusive categories: individualism/collectivism, creativity/conformism. These categories also reflect the disjunction between order and disorder. Creativity is viewed as disorder, whereas order is seen as a crucial factor in the worldview of modernity, indeed the "hidden agenda" of modernity. Dating back to the Greeks, disorder has been viewed as a source of error, uncertainty, and fundamentally as a threat to a rational order, at first theological, and consequently man-made.

The focus on order is also paralleled by the focus on control, so essential to modern organizations. Disorder is viewed as simply dangerous and unsettling rather than as both peril and opportunity, as an essential part of organization, which, in Morin's formulation, exists on the basis of a constant dialogic between order and disorder. The importance of control lies precisely in its ability to maintain the order expected by the leadership, exemplified by Harold Geneen's famous motto at ITT: "no surprises!"

Organization, according to Morin (1994), arises through the interaction of order and disorder. Once cannot escape disorder, and indeed disorder has a generative function, introducing novelty, change, and life into the system. A system that attempts to eliminate everything that it considers "disorderly" will experience the kind of enantiodromia we discussed above: this is common in totalitarian systems, where rigid order is imposed, any disorder is brutally repressed, only to have the order be destroyed by insurgencies, rebellions, or self-destruction.

From Disjunctive to Dialogical Thinking

We have discussed thus far there has been a tendency in the Western mind to engage in what Morin calls disjunctive thought, creating "imaginary" oppositions (Wilden, 1987) between individualism and collectivism, creativity and conformity, and disorder and order. In other words, the very way in which we have thought about these phenomena, as ontologically opposed and mutually exclusive categories, has created a fundamental problem whereby one of the terms is viewed as superior and desirable and the other is viewed as inferior. In this extreme polarization, the lower term manifests itself in peculiar ways as the "shadow" of the higher term, constantly, but never fully repressed, coming back to haunt us in odd and sometimes tragic ways. The impasse of dualisms such as holism/atomism, creativity/conformism, order/disorder, and collectivism/individualism can be approached differently. It may be that it is the very way we think about these categories that is creating the problems.

What is needed to go beyond this dichotomizing is a dialogical way of thinking, which recognizes that the above terms are fundamentally interconnected and mutually determining, that they are not ontological categories but products of human, socially constructed distinctions, and that their relationship is not simply antagonistic, but also complementary and concurrent. In Ogilvy's formulation (1995), there is a shift from "all or none" to "some." We will explore what this means below.

Dialogical Systems Thinking and Whole/Part Relations

From the perspective of methodological holism, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. This kind of position is familiar to anyone who has browsed through introductory texts in systems thinking. The assumption is that the whole shows emergent properties that cannot be reduced to the qualities of one individual. These emergent properties are the product of interactions within the organization of the whole. For methodological holists, therefore, the stress is on the potential of the whole to be more creative than the individual parts.

A methodological individualist, on the other hand, would argue that the whole is less than the sum of the parts. In order to participate in any group, all individuals have to inhibit some of their qualities, capacities, and desires. For methodological individualists, therefore, the group inhibits the full freedom and potential of the individual. The individual will almost inevitably have to comply with some of the constraints of the group, deal with the inevitable differences that may arise, perhaps "carry" any freeloaders, and otherwise either inhibit energy or divert it to group maintenance tasks. This energy would clearly be better spent focusing on one’s own individual efforts.

From a complex, dialogical perspective, we find the whole can be both less and more than the sum of its parts. Whole and part are complementary, concurrent, and antagonistic. Unfortunately, it appears that in the existing discourse very often the two propositions—"more" and "less"—are presented as if they were statements of fact, regardless of the specific context. The whole is less that the sum of its parts is represented by the popular is saying, "a camel is a horse designed by a committee." It is "just so," a statement of fact. The very saying itself is, interestingly enough, obviously enormously context dependent, because a camel is very appropriate and adaptive for its own geographical context.

The statements are therefore both "true," in the sense that they both refer to possibilities. The holist and atomist positions treat these statements as if one of them were always "true," when in fact the situation is far more complex, but polarization and dichotomization reduce this complexity. As experience shows, groups and teams can be immensely frustrating and time consuming, dragging one and all down to the lowest common denominator. But they can also create opportunities for immensely rewarding, satisfying, and indeed exciting work (Bennis & Bierderman, 1998; DeMasi, 1991; Montuori & Purser, 1999; Purser & Montuori, 1999).

Dialogical Relations between Autonomy/Dependence

As we have seen, our conventional thinking, or simple thought, in Morin’s terms, views autonomy and dependence in a "simple" relation of opposition. Autonomy means being free, unconstrained, not dependent on anything or anyone. Dependence, on the other hand, means literally being at the mercy of others, unable to function alone, without assistance, and more often than not being "heteronomous," as opposed to autonomous, in other words, being directed by others rather than oneself. This oppositional relationship is clearly problematic. From a complex perspective, we can see that the more autonomous a system is, the more it is embedded in its environment and therefore dependent on its environment. In other words, my freedom and mobility, my ability to make choices and act on them, are enormously dependent on my environment, natural, technological, and social. My ability to communicate or be with almost anyone on the globe is made possible by telephone lines, airplanes, ships, electricity, oil, and a host of other technologies, people, and products that I personally must rely on to do what I have to get do.

Autonomy, therefore, requires embeddedness in a system, and creates dependence on an environment. The question then becomes, what is the power relation between the individual and his or her environment. In order to be connected to the World Wide Web, I am dependent on a huge number of people, products, and technological developments. I am dependent on multiple communities of persons. I am dependent and I am related to them. But this kind of relationship and interaction in a market setting is quite different from the kind of coercive relationship where a group or community dictates to a large extent what an individual can or cannot do, as was the case in the former Soviet Union, or in other totalitarian systems.

The notions of autonomy and dependence take on very different colorations depending on the power differentials involved. My relationship of dependence to a multitude of others as, say, a web-user, is radically different than my dependence on a state to house me, contingent on the threat of imprisonment if I dissent. The Japanese desire for amae involves a power differential, but the complete dependence is to a mother whose intentions and care cannot be questioned: she obviously has our best interest in mind.

Individualists live, paradoxically, in individualist societies, and work in individualist organizations. In such systems, as we have seen, some have more discretion to be "individuals" than others, whereas the majority are left to conform and be "free like everybody else." Depending on where one is located on the organizational hierarchy, one has greater "discretion," a greater degree of freedom.

Creativity, Power and Gender

The trend toward an increasing diversity in the workforce and, above all, and influx of women, including women-owned businesses and women breaking the "glass-ceiling," challenges our traditional polarized conceptions of gender roles. Two important cultural phenomena will mark the first decades of the new millennium: The shift in the actual make-up of the workforce, and the collective shift in values of that workforce. Space will not permit a discussion of the important role of gender in the individualism-collectivism discussion, particularly in the context of a much broader understanding of "relatedness." Extensive research shows that there are, generally speaking, different orientations to human relations in men and in women. Debate rages furiously over whether these are biological or culturally induced differences, or both, but this need not concern us here. What is more important for our purposes is that as the workforce changes, and with an ever-increasing number of women in the workforce, these differences will come to play an increasingly important role.

It is fairly well established in gender studies that men tend to use power that comes from their organizational position and formal authority, whereas women focus on getting subordinates to transform their own self-interest into the interest of the group through concern for a broader goal. Men lean more towards a command and control model of leadership, whereas women actively work to make their interactions with subordinates positive for everyone involved. More specifically, women tend to encourage participation, share power and information, enhance other people's self worth, and get others excited about their work.

The organizational literature, and more importantly, management practices have focused on a privileged image of the manager—that of the white WASP male. This image now has to be radically revised to reflect the emerging demographics, and to expand our construction of managerial identity. The new image of the manager might better be thought of as a "unitas multiplex," a complex, unity in diversity. In fact, a complex way of thinking suggests that the notion of system, or the unit of analysis, whether individual, organization, or society, can more fruitfully be viewed as a heterogeneous unitas multiplex rather than a homogeneous atom.

Beyond Individualism

The fundamental assumption of individualism is that the individual is a self-contained atom, an autonomous unity. The individual is whole and indivisible. This assumption is being challenged to its roots by "postmodern," social constructionists, feminists, systems-theoretical, and ecological scholars. For Morin, the fundamental shift involves a move from objects to systems of relationships, and the view of the individual as a unitas multiplex, a complex rather than simple unity which is not indivisible and therefore fundamentally closed to its environment, but rather open, "polycentric," and involved in a web of constitutive relationships. The self is many, not one. It is not either collectivist or individualist, not all individual or none, submerged in the collectivity, but some of each, sometimes and some places, depending on choices and contexts.

Creativity is thus also contextualized: we are not either "all" creative or not at all. We are sometimes creative, again depending on time and place, contexts and choices, constraints and possibilities. Unlike earlier formulations, which spoke of the "creative person" as if it were an individual who is constantly creative in all areas of life, we recognize now that we are dealing with a less "universal" phenomenon, even as we recognize that the capacity for creative thought in all areas of life--the cultivation of what Morin calls "complex thought"--is becoming increasingly necessary.

Historically, in Western market-based societies our identities have been defined largely by what we do. Whereas in other cultures inquiries into who we are elicit responses about our place of birth, our family, our social class, and so forth--the defining relationships--in the West we reply by saying we are a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. Even some of our names reflect this: Baker, Carpenter, Fisher, and Miller. As sociologists have pointed out, our identities are defined by our jobs, and consequently our status. What category do we belong to, and where does it fit in the corporate/social hierarchy? This illustrates one of the internal contradictions of individualism, where we are basically atoms in a larger hierarchy: not connected by gemeinschaft, by shared experiences and relationships, but by defined by instrumental, achieved (individually) rather than ascribed (relationally and historically) status. Furthermore, we may have hobbies, spouses, and so forth, but these are largely marginal in the scheme of things, since my values and identity are hierarchically organized: regardless of context, I am above all what I list as my hierarchically "highest" "self."

Multiple psychological selves have their equivalent in multiple sociological participations (Demetrio, Fabbri, & Gheradi, 1994) in different contexts, from the office to the PTA, from the local bar to the meditation hall. As Charles Handy has pointed out, in a knowledge economy, workers with a portfolio of different interests and capacities are replacing hyper-specialization. Again we are seeing the proliferation of different "selves," different and multiple careers, which not seldom include ventures into more artistic realms. This shift from specialization to diversification and flexibility, "decentralizing the self and society," in Ogilvy’s phrase (1977) reflects a profound cultural change.

Gergen and Whitney (1996) have argued for the development of postmodern "polyphonic organizations," where the traditional top-down monologue of organizations is replaced by " a dialogue among the voices of the constitutive cultures and subcultures" (p. 355). They propose Gebser's (1985) term "systates" as a replacement for the term system to indicate a "conception of the organization with no central voice around which order is established" through a "form of collective praxis in continuous process" (p. 355). This is paralleled by Ogilvy’s (1989) argument that postmodernity will witness a shift from "hierarchy to heterarchy," consistent with my earlier discussion of heterogeneity.

Gergen (1991, p.242) argues that from a relational perspective, we need no longer be:

…concerned with the tyranny of what David Riesman called "groupness," in which private needs and desires are compromised by group demands. If individuals are by definition elements within relationships, they can neither stand apart from the social world nor be pushed and pulled by it any more than the movements of a wave can be separated or determined by the ocean. The sense of being threatened by the oppressive group becomes not a case of "me against the group," but the conflict between one form of relatedness and another.

Gergen’s point is crucial because he highlights the many different ways in which it possible to participate in a group. In the individualist "me against the group" formulation there is the continuous fear of submersion in the group, as continuous tension between "me and them." Group participation is all too often viewed as a fundamental loss of identity that must be fought at all costs. Group participation is viewed as a homogenizing factor. But this is a "simple" view in Morin’s terms, where the part-whole relationship is viewed strictly in terms of the way the whole "virtualizes" or suppresses the characteristics of the individual.


As we have seen, the formulation here is that the whole is less than the sum of its parts, whereas it can also, at the same time, be more than the sum of its parts. In other words, while the group inhibits certain potentials in the individual, it also opens up new possibilities, depending on the quality and nature of the relations. A multiplex, relational self does not view this relation in terms of all or none, in Ogilvy’s terms, but as some: some possibilities can be generated while at the same time some constraints are imposed on the relational individual’s participation in a specific context, in some time and place. There is no more "all or nothing" view of total identity loss or total self-assertion, but a contextual dance of relational patterns.

In their discussion of American cultural patterns, Stewart and Bennett (1991) argue that Americans tend to seek psychological, rather than sociological or philosophical explanations for the world. In this essay we have argued essentially for a new understanding of the self. This self is situated and indeed constituted by a larger social and historical context. We believe that our very image of the self strikes at the heart of many of the issues facing American society in general, and management practices in particular, with specific reference to issues of creativity. A fundamentally philosophical inquiry into who we think we are therefore takes on great importance.


Bellah,R., Madsen,R. Sullivan, W.M., Swidler,A. & Tipton, S.M. (1985). Habits of the heart. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Bennis, W. & Biederman, P. (1998). Organizing genius. NY: Perseus.

De Masi, D. (Ed.). (1991). L’emozione e la regola. I gruppi creativi in Europa dal 1850 al 1950. [Emotion and rule. Creative groups in Europe from 1850 to 1950]. Bari: Laterza.

Demetrio, D., Fabbri, D., & Gherardi, S. 1994). Apprendere nelle organizzazioni. Proposte per la crescita cognitiva nell’età adulta. [Learning in organizations. Proposals for adult cognitive growth.]

Gergen, K. (1991). The saturated self. New York: Basic Books.

Gergen, K. & Whitney, D. (1996). Technologies of representation in the global corporation: Power and polyphony. In D.M. Boje, R.P. Gephart, & T.J. Thatchenkery (Eds.). Postmodern management and organizational theory.

Greening, T. (1995). Commentary. By the editor. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 3-6, 35, 3.

Hale, C. (1995). Psychological characteristics of literary genius. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 113-134, 35, 3.

Hampden-Turner, C. & Trompenaars, A. (1993). The seven cultures of capitalism. New York: Doubleday.

Hofstede, G. (1984). Culture’s consequences. (Abridged edition.) Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Hsu, F. (1971, February). Psychossocial homeostasis and Jen: Conceptual tools for advancing psychological anthropology. American Anthropologist, 73, 23-41.

Kao, J. (1997). Jamming. NY: HarperBusiness.

Kluckhohn, F. & Strodbeck, F. L. (1961). Variations in value orientations. Westport: Greenwood Press.

Maccoby, M. (1976). The gamesman. New York: Bantam.

MacIntyre, A. (1981). After virtue. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame.

Mao Z. (1961). Combat liberalism. In A.P. Mendel, (Ed.). Essential works of Marxism. New York: Bantam.

Montuori, A., & Purser, R. (1995). Deconstructing the lone genius myth. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 35(3), 69-112..

Montuori, A., & Purser, R. (1999). Social Creaivity (Vol. 1). Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Morin, E. (1994). La complexite humaine. [Human complexity] Paris: Seuil.

Morris, B. (1994). Anthropology of the self. The individual in cultural perspective. Boulder, CO: Pluto Press.

Ogilvy, J. (1995). Living without goals. New York: Doubleday.

Ogilvy, J. (1989, November). This postmodern business, pp. 3-23. The Deeper News, 1, 5.

Ogilvy, J. (1977). Many-dimensional man. New York: Harper.

Paulus, P., Brown, V., & Ortega, A. (1999). Group creativity. In R.E. Purser & A. Monturoi (Eds.), Social creativity (Vol. 2). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Presthus, R. (1963). The organizational society. New York: Vintage.

Purser, R. & Montuori, A. (1999). Social Creaivity (Vol. 2). Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Pye, L. (1985). Asian power and politics. The cultural dimensions of authority. Cambridge: Harvard.

Riesman, D., Glazer, N., & Denney, R. (1950). The lonely crowd: A study of changing American character. New Haven: Yale.

Sampson, E.E. (1991). Celebrating the other. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Simonton, D. K. (1999). In A. Montuori & R. Purser (Eds.). Social creativity, (Vol. 1). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Slater, P. E. (1970). The pursuit of loneliness. New York: Penguin.

Slater, P. (1991). A dream deferred. Boston: Beacon.

Stewart , E.C. & Bennett, M. (1991). American cultural patterns. Dartmouth: Intercultural Press..

Trompenaars, F. (1993). Riding the waves of culture. London: The Economist Books.

Westen,D. (1983). Self and society. Narcissism, collectivism and the development of morals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wielemans, W. (1993). Voorbij het individu. Mensbeelden in wetenschappen. [Beyond the individual. The human image in the sciences.] Leeuwarden & Antwerp: Garant.

Wilden,A. (1987). The rules are no game. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Whyte, W. (1957). The organization man. New York: Anchor.

Woodman, R., Sawyer, J., & Griffin, R. (1993). Toward a theory of organizational creativity. Academy of Management Review, 18, 293-321.