Coworking and Feedback: Turning Collections of Creatives into Creative Collectives
Collaborative organisations can grow into genuine creative communities not by getting everyone to collaborate – as this is plainly unrealistic – but through fostering practices of feedback-sharing.
*This entry draws on The Creative Process in Coworking and Collaborative Work (a recent Creative Friction expert report)
The act of giving and receiving feedback can seem so mundane that we forget it is an essential part of the creative process. This is especially so when early-stage ideas – business models, design blueprints, book proposals, digital prototypes – are being elaborated, tested and fortified. Interestingly, seminal research in organisation science has argued that mere ‘collections of creatives’ become genuine ‘creative collectives’ only when they establish cultures of feedback-sharing (Hargadon & Bechky 2006).
These points notwithstanding, few coworking organisations seem to intentionally cultivate a feedback-rich culture. This is a lost opportunity because feedback has the potential to open up space for co-creation between two or more people who do not necessarily work together on a regular basis (or who might never end up ‘collaborating’ extensively). Through catalysing feedback interactions, it is possible to add ‘creative value’ to diverse member journeys in a peer-driven way. Four insights from existing research on creativity and feedback in organisations are relevant here.
1. Moments of collective creativity flourish when organisations foster feedback-focused behavioural patterns. These include help-seeking, help-giving, reflective reframing (i.e., mindfully building on the comments of others and testing out alternative perspectives or metaphors) and reinforcing (Hargadon & Bechky 2006). There is no need to fetishise ‘serendipity’ as this can result in a passive approach to facilitating creative interactions; instead, desired behaviours should be more consciously encouraged.
2. Feedback interactions benefit from particular techniques both on the part of the giver and the receiver. In a recent study on creative projects in product design and modern dance, scholars found that feedback-givers engaged in a changing mix of strategies such as ‘personalising’, ‘puzzling’, ‘measuring’ and ‘prescribing’, while feedback-receivers engaged in ‘backgrounding’, ‘forecasting’ and ‘opening’ moves (Harrison & Rouse 2015). For instance, feedback-givers expressed their subjective, affective reactions to a prototype through personalising (‘I love it!’) while also introducing external standards through measuring (‘If you’re going to do a bourrée, you know exactly what a bourrée is supposed to look like – it has to really be perfect.’). The role of feedback in creative projects thus cannot be reduced to simple binaries – critical versus constructive, negative versus positive, general versus specific – and it pays for organisations to develop a more dynamic understanding.
3. Certain feedback situations and styles can trigger strong emotional reactions, potentially harming the creative process as a result (Amabile 1996). Typically, feedback that is interpreted as critical or harsh simply gets ignored. Recent collaborative research by undersigned (Toivonen et al. 2018) suggests that, in certain cases, strongly critical feedback coming from a person of authority can even be experienced as shocking, especially when it highlights a critical flaw in a new idea. While not all negative emotional reactions end up harming creative processes, organisations need to appreciate the affective dimension of feedback to ensure it catalyses, rather than works against, the progress of creative projects.
4. Feedback research has also found that the active seeking of feedback tends to enhance creative performance (the broader and more numerous the feedback sources the better). Perhaps unsurprisingly, efforts to seek feedback can ‘mediate’ the effects of a person’s particular creative thinking style and compensate for lack of support towards creativity (De Stobbeleir et al. 2011). The implication is that collaborative organisations should – rather than assuming one size fits all – explore how diverse individuals can tap into feedback processes effectively through routes and social situations that work for them.
It turns out, then, that feedback is a complex phenomenon. Precisely because of their multi-dimensionality, feedback interactions have a lot to offer to those coworking organisations that wish to become genuine creative collectives – provided that such organisations invest effort into cultivating a feedback-rich culture that best serves the needs of their members.
Get in touch with Creative Friction via our founder ( tuukka.t at gmail.com ) to learn more about our consulting services and/or discuss potential collaborative research projects.
Amabile, Teresa M., Sigal G. Barsade, Jennifer S. Mueller, and Barry M. Staw. “Affect and Creativity at Work.” Administrative Science Quarterly 50, no. 3 (2005): 367–403.
De Stobbeleir, Katleen EM, Susan J. Ashford, and Dirk Buyens. “Self-Regulation of Creativity at Work: The Role of Feedback-Seeking Behavior in Creative Performance.” Academy of Management Journal 54, no. 4 (2011): 811–831.
Hargadon, Andrew B., and Beth A. Bechky. “When Collections of Creatives Become Creative Collectives: A Field Study of Problem Solving at Work.” Organization Science 17, no. 4 (2006): 484–500. https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.1060.0200.
Harrison, S. H., and E. D. Rouse. “An Inductive Study of Feedback Interactions over the Course of Creative Projects.” Academy of Management Journal 58, no. 2 (April 1, 2015): 375–404. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2012.0737.
Toivonen, Tuukka, Onya Idoko, Harsh Jha, and Sarah Harvey. “When Unexpected Feedback Threatens Your Very Existence: ‘Creative Jolts’ along the Idea Journeys of New Entrepreneurs.” Full Research Paper Accepted for Presentation at the 34th EGOS Colloquium in Tallinn, Estonia, July 5-7, 2018, 2018.