Sunday, June 20th, 2021

Ambivalence and Creative Thinking

Image40The idea that ambivalence can be a valuable leadership resource may seem, on the face of it, like an absurd idea. But hear me out.

In researching the book, Leadership Agility, I discovered that “creative agility” is a key aspect of agile leadership. Leaders with creative agility use creative thinking to transform complex, novel problems into intended results. One of the capacities that underlies this kind of agility is “connective awareness,” the ability to make meaningful connections between seemingly disparate ideas and feelings.

Here’s a research study that provides some valuable insight into the connection between ambivalent feelings and creative thinking. (Ambivalence is a state in which you have conflicting feelings about the same thing and therefore feel pulled in different directions).

Assistant Professor Christina Ting Fong at the University of Washington divided about 100 students into four groups. Each group was assigned a particular emotion (happy, sad, neutral, or ambivalent). Students were asked to write about a life event in which their group’s emotion was predominant. After testing students to make sure the story-writing task caused them to experience the designated emotion, Fong had them take the Remote Associates Test, a commonly used measure of creativity (essentially a measure of “connective awareness”). The result? The “ambivalent” group was the most creative.

Fong’s conclusion was that complex emotions may lead to the kind of complex thinking needed for creative problem solving. This finding is consistent with our own finding that a leader’s “connective awareness” of feelings and their “connective awareness” of ideas and are interrelated.

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