Thinking outside of the box when the box is missing: Role ambiguity and its linkage to creativity

Shuhong Wang, Xiaomeng Zhang, Joseph Martocchio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Integrating cognitive evaluation theory with creativity literature, this study theorized and found a curvilinear relationship between role ambiguity and creativity, with a moderate amount of role ambiguity being the most conducive to work creativity. Tolerance of ambiguity moderated this curvilinear relation, suggesting that employees who have a high tolerance of ambiguity exhibit higher creativity in the situation of intermediate role ambiguity than those who have a lower tolerance of ambiguity. To further build the theory linking the interactive effect of role ambiguity and tolerance of ambiguity on creativity, this study investigated and found a mediating effect of creative self-efficacy. Two hundred and forty-two graduate students in business or a related field participated in the laboratory experiments. Two different experimental tasks were used to address the inherent limitations and bias associated with a single task in experimental studies. It is the first study that demonstrates an inverted U-shape relation between role ambiguity and employee creativity. Detailed theoretical contributions, practical implications, and future research directions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-221
Number of pages11
JournalCreativity Research Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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