What the Whopper and Creativity in Organizations Have in Common

I am always amazed and amused by how creative people are on April Fool’s Day. Some pranks are in fact the most inventive ideas I could ever imagined. Do you know that government of The Netherlands announced on April 1st, 2019 that all trains and train stations would be closed at the end of April for a week to advocate bicycling in the country? It sounds reasonable, right? Nice try! You got me.

Unlike this one day for people to exhibit their wild imaginations, some companies strive every day to demonstrate such creativity through, for example, innovative designs of new products or improvements in manufacturing procedures. An iconic example would be Apple, Inc. Apple has been the “game changer” since Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007 (despite the recent cancellation of a new product—AirPower, the wireless charging mat project).

Apple’s stock price today is 20 times of its price in 2006 due to the success of the iPhone and Apple’s continuous innovation. This is a perfect example of why creativity is critical and influential to an organization. In this blog post, I would like to cite some academic evidence to introduce the core internal force that sustains innovation – employee creativity. I also want to illustrate how leaders can spur such force.

Back in 1964, researchers had already started to study the relationship between leadership and creativity. By comparing different leader behaviors, researchers concluded that teams who had participatory leaders (who guided the discussion and contributed to the solution) came up with more ideas; whereas teams with supervisory leaders (who merely directed and encouraged discussions but did not contribute to the solutions) generated higher-quality solutions [1].

Although the mechanism of such quantitative and qualitative differences is unclear in this study, it is safe to say that participatory leaders facilitate information exchange in the teams and, to certain extents, supervisory leaders bring out the full potentials of their teams.

Later research studies distinguished two types of leadership that may cast different effects on supervisor rated employee creativity and team creativity. One is called individual-focused transformational leadership and the other is team-focused transformational leadership.

Individual-focused transformational leadership emphasizes the uniqueness of each employee by noticing individuals' needs, intellectually challenging the employees and expressing high expectations for their personal developments. Researchers hypothesized that such individualized leadership fosters individual creativity through acquisitions of task-related knowledge and skills.

Team-focused transformational leadership, on the other hand, emphasizes shared values among team members by articulating vision and fostering acceptance of collective goals. The team-focused leadership leads to collective creativity via increases in information exchange within the team.

Results of surveys from 171 individuals in 43 teams from eight companies (team size ranged from two to 10 followers) support the hypotheses that individualized consideration and intellectual stimulation (individual-focused leadership) enhance individual creativity via personal growth, while a shared team vision (team-focused leadership) facilitates communication and thus team creativity [2].

It is apparent that leadership in teams is critical to employee creativity and team creativity. Although employee creativity is just a starting point to trigger a large-scale innovation in an organization, leaders should try to step out of the box of thinking only about performance but also encouraging some eye-opening new ideas. An example: News released on April 1st, 2019 stated that Burger King will be trialing an “Impossible Whopper,” a veggie burger with veggie patty, in St. Louis. I can’t tell if this veggie Whopper is a prank or a real new product. After all, it’s actually a great extension of Burger King’s current product line!

Either way, it’s definitely creative!


[1] Anderson, L. R., & Fiedler, F. E. (1964). The effect of participatory and supervisory leadership on group creativity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 48(4), 227-236.

[2] Dong, Y., Bartol, K. M., Zhang, Z.-X., & Li, C. (2016). Enhancing employee creativity via individual skill development and team knowledge sharing: Influences of dual-focused transformational leadership. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 38(3), 439-458.


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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.