Does Exercise Promote Creativity?

The link between risk-taking and innovation has been supported through research because both are associated with creative behaviors within organizations. Inherent to risk taking is a willingness to invest in failures, accrue debt, and commit resources at levels consistent with the manager’s individual risk-taking propensity. “A manager’s preference for risky behavior is positively associated with the attainment of higher innovation results” (Llopis, Garcia-Granero, Fernandez-Mesa, and Alegre, 2014, para 3). Risk-taking also entails feeling comfortable with the ambiguity inherent in uncertainty. Managers with a higher risk-taking preference are more likely to realize gains (Llopis et al., 2014).

Creativity often entails defying the status quo. In organizations that feel threatened by deviations from custom, leaders find ways to stifle creativity. The idea creator may feel punished through subtle cues, which signal that suggestions are not welcome. The creative individual may feel outcast and will often shut down or leave.

According to Henker, Sonnentag, and Unger (2014), leaders influence the level of creative expression in employees either through a promotion or a prevention focus (Regulatory Focus Theory). A promotion focus “is associated with developmental needs and goals related to the ideal self, ” (p. 3) whereas “a prevention focus is linked to security needs and goals related to the ought self” (p. 3). In their research, Henker et al. found that a promotion focus was a mediating factor between transformational leadership and creativity. The implication is that leaders can foster creativity by shaping a promotion-focused environment. Such leaders are often transformational.

In my book Transformational Leadership and High-Intensity Interval Training, the leaders interviewed foster risk-taking and creativity. The self-confidence they developed through their CrossFit® training enables them to provide a promotion focus. They are constantly striving to improve both in their physical training and their organizational lives. They feel good physically, and the mind-body connection reduces stress and promotes a focus on excellence. One leader commented:

I think it [CrossFit® training] helps me. One is I feel better physically. And I think that then puts you in a better mood mentally. I mean I think that also it helps me to — Knowing that I can go in there and do something pretty intense and crazy or however you want to say it and really push myself to the limit, makes me feel really good but also makes me feel I can do that in any area of my life.

Risk-taking often involves failure. One leader I interviewed embraces failure. She explained how failure is part of the scientific discovery process among the pharmaceutical researchers she leads. One must persist through failures to achieve major creative breakthroughs. She connected that process to her physical training as well. She said:

You see I failed at everything but I’ve never given up, you know. When you’re not afraid of failure, you’re ready to take the leap. I’m two hundred pounds overweight. I go to CrossFit®. Is that a prescription for failure? [LAUGHS] But you know what I never gave up. … I’m so much better off now than before.

The leaders in my study developed perseverance to endure challenges deemed insurmountable by many. Their resolve is something they developed because their physical training promoted their personal growth, all of which translates into their transformational leadership behaviors.

There are many paths to becoming a transformational leader with a promotion focus, and who is willing to embark in prudent risk-taking. My research suggests that exercise may be one path. More research is necessary to explore this potential developmental tool further.

References

Henker, N., Sonnentag, S., & Unger, D. (2014). Transformational Leadership and Employee Creativity: The Mediating Role of Promotion Focus and Creative Process Engagement. Journal of Business and Psychology, 1-13.

Llopis, O., García-Granero, A., Fernández-Mesa, A., & Alegre, J. (2014). Managing Risk-Taking to Enhance Innovation in Organizations. In Management Innovation (pp. 75-90). Springer International Publishing.

Copyright © 2014 Carol R. Himelhoch. All rights reserved.

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