Creativity from paradoxical experience: a theory of how individuals achieve creativity while adopting paradoxical frames

Goran Calic (DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada)
Sebastien Hélie (Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA)
Nick Bontis (DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada)
Elaine Mosakowski (Institute for Regional Development, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Publication date: 8 April 2019



Extant paradox theory suggests that adopting paradoxical frames, which are mental templates adopted by individuals in order to embrace contradictions, will result in superior firm performance. Superior performance is achieved through learning and creativity, fostering flexibility and resilience and unleashing human capital. The creativity mechanism of paradox theory is limited by a few propositions and a rough underlying theoretical logic. Using the extant theoretical base as a platform, the paper aims to develop a more powerful theory using a computational simulation.


This paper relies on a psychologically realistic computer simulation. Using a simulation to generate ideas from stored information, one can model and manipulate the parameters that have been shown to mediate the relationship between paradoxes and creative output – defined as the number of creative ideas generated.


Simulation results suggest that the relationship between paradoxical frames and creative output is non-monotonic – contrary to previous studies. Indeed, findings suggest that paradoxical frames can reduce, rather than enhance, creative output, in at least some cases.


An important benefit of adopting paradoxical frames is their capacity to increase creative output. This assumption is challenging to test, because one cannot measure private cognitive processes related to knowledge creation. However, they can be simulated. This allows for the extension of current theory. This new theory depicts a more complete relationship between paradoxical frames and creativity by accounting for subjective differences in how paradoxical frames are experienced along two cognitive mechanisms – differentiation and integration.



Calic, G., Hélie, S., Bontis, N. and Mosakowski, E. (2019), "Creativity from paradoxical experience: a theory of how individuals achieve creativity while adopting paradoxical frames", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 397-418.

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