Management School seminars

'The Role of Autonomy in Problem Formulation and Creativity of R&D Workers' seminar

Join our upcoming 'The Role of Autonomy in Problem Formulation and Creativity of R&D Workers' seminar with Professor Paola Criscuolo.

Speaker: Professor Paola Criscuolo (Imperial College Business School)

Hosted by: University of Liverpool Management School's SIBE Group

Open to: all University of Liverpool staff and students, with no sign up needed

Date: Wednesday 13 December 2023

Time: 2:45pm - 4:15pm 

Place: Management School - Seminar Room 5 (first floor)


Extant theory on autonomy and creativity predicts that the freedom to experiment with different methods to solve a given problem improves creativity by fostering intrinsic motivation.

In this study, we explore a less-studied type of autonomy, that is, autonomy in selecting problems and how it influences the creative performance of corporate inventors.

Drawing on the literature on creative problem solving and the research on cognitive overload associated with autonomy, we hypothesise that bottom-up inventions (i.e., outcomes of inventive activities that inventors autonomously initiated and set problems for) are associated with lower problem formulation complexity than top-down inventions (i.e., outcomes of centrally targeted R&D projects), and low problem formulation complexity in turn relates to low quality of inventions.

We also suggest that the negative relationship between bottom-up inventions and problem formulation complexity is moderated by inventors’ domain expertise and their efforts in searching for previous problems and solutions.

Leveraging a unique dataset consisting of the descriptions of problems by corporate inventors of a firm, we found evidence supporting the hypotheses. Contributions to the literature on job design, creativity, and problem formulation are discussed.



Paola Criscuolo is Professor and Head of the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship at Imperial College Business School, London.

Paola’s research focuses on the transfer of knowledge across both individuals and firms, on open innovation and on the strategic use of patents.

Her award-winning research has been published in international academic journals including the Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science, Strategic Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly, and Research Policy, and in practitioner journals such as California Management Review and MIT Sloan Management Review.

Paola has been an Associate Editor of Research Policy. She is currently a member of the Editorial Review Board of the Academy of Management Journal and of the Editorial Advisory Board of Industry and Innovation. She is also a member of the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) Markets and Economics Advisory Group.

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