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Cross-Cultural Creativity: Conceptualization and Propositions for Global New Product Development


  • Esi Abbam Elliot,

  • Cheryl Nakata

  • The two authors contributed equally to this paper.

Address correspondence to: Esi Abbam Elliot, Suffolk University, Sawyer School of Business, Marketing Department, Sawyer Building, 73 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02108. E-mail: Tel: (773) 991-0160.


In today's global business environment, where multinational companies are pressed to increase revenues in order to survive, creativity may hold the key to ensuring their new product development (NPD) efforts lead to innovations with worldwide appeal, such as Apple's iPad and Gillette's Fusion Razor. To leverage creativity for effective global NPD, businesses want to know how cultures differ in their concepts of creativity and the impact of those differences on approaches to developing new products. Because global new products are increasingly developed in, by, and for multiple cultures, a particular need is for a culturally reflective understanding, or conceptualization, of creativity. While creativity is believed to be culturally tied, the dominant framework of creativity used in business and management assumes that creativity is culturally indifferent or insensitive. This knowledge gap is addressed by studying the role of creativity in NPD practices in a cross-cultural or global context.

The study begins by first developing a culturally anchored conceptualization of creativity. Called cross-cultural creativity, the concept draws on creativity insights from the field of art and aesthetics. The concept specifies two modes of creativity, neither of which is superior to the other, called the spontaneous or S route and the divergent or D route. The S route emphasizes adaptiveness, processes, intuitiveness, and metamorphism, while the D route focuses on disruptiveness, results, rationality, and literalism. Next, this new concept is applied to NPD by positing how creativity in distinct cultures may shape NPD practices, as illustrated by Japanese and U.S. firms. Research propositions are formulated to capture these patterns, and thereafter, theoretical and practical implications of the framework and propositions are discussed. The implications center on global NPD, which is a complex enterprise involving typically more than one culture to design and develop new products for several geographic markets. The study is of interest to researchers needing a globally situated, culturally attached framework of creativity for international NPD studies, and managers seeking to exploit creativity in multinational and multicultural innovation projects.