Tense Creativity: Being Forced to Innovate

Creative work requires a large dose of emotion. Dealing with the pressures and frustration that stem from being forced to innovate can lead to creativity that's tense, painful, and requires attention.
Tense Creativity: Being Forced to Innovate
Gorka Jiménez Pajares

Written and verified by the psychologist Gorka Jiménez Pajares.

Last update: 16 January, 2024

Have you ever had a hard time coming up with new ideas? We all go through moments in which inspiration insists on turning its back on us. When this happens, and work or life circumstances require us to innovate, a tense and restless kind of creativity appears.

Unsurprisingly, the pressure to come up with new ideas that are groundbreaking and innovative, as well as beneficial and profitable, can be a potential source of discomfort. A new investigation has attempted to shed some light on this matter.

Woman thinking
“Associated with success, progress, performance, efficiency, satisfaction, and sustainability, creativity has been an integral part of our lives”. (Kristina Potocnik)


To innovate is to progress. Without innovation, we’d  lack the medical or technological advances that we enjoy. For this reason, innovation has been studied in great depth by different branches of knowledge. These range from engineering, through anthropology, to psychology.

The definition given by organizational psychology of this term is that of “promoting, proposing and putting into practice new and better forms of a product or the process that results in a product”.

While creativity consists of thinking differently and obtaining new ideas, innovation occurs when we put those ideas into practice. Thus, innovation and creativity don’t only involve the generation of new ideas. In fact, they also refer to how ideas can be implemented and whether they’re useful or useless.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

-Pablo Picasso-

The paradox of creativity and innovation

It’s always been thought that creativity and innovation are two virtuous characteristics. However, the research carried out from the psychology of organizations suggests that both creativity and innovation work as a paradox. Therefore, both can produce optimal results, but also undesirable ones. The reason why can be found in the emotional regulation processes of creative individuals.

The creative jolt

Creating something new is like a path. In fact, there are as many paths as there are creative people. To be creative, two ingredients are necessary: cognitive flexibility and perseverance. When they’re found together, creativity can skyrocket.

Jobs related to creativity are often poorly defined in the workplace. It’s often not recognized that the ingredient known as cognitive flexibility is needed throughout all the stages of generation, evaluation, implementation, and the results. This can cause great mental exhaustion.

Tense creativity emerges in the initial stages. When workers search for a new idea, they can experience what Kristina Potocnik calls a creative jolt. This shake implies a decrease in positive affect at the same time as aversive emotions are experienced, such as fear or frustration.

On the other hand, it’s been found that people are more creative when their emotional state changes. For instance, when they move from a negative valence to a positive valence emotion. With this affective change, creative ideas are born. That said, the cost of these emotional changes can be high if they occur too frequently. This is something that occurs on a daily basis in professions where being creative is part of the job.

“The existential crisis pushes people to engage in further difficult exploration that ultimately helps create an idea that is better.”

-Kristina Potocnik-

Woman thinks of creative ideas
Creativity increases when the emotional state changes.

Emotional regulation and creativity

Workers have to identify which of their characteristics may conflict with those of their colleagues. During the process of generating new ideas, tensions and disagreements can arise that muddy and hinder creativity.

To deal with this, they must be able to regulate their own emotions and even those of others, such as those in supervisory positions. Regulating emotions implies being able to detect, evaluate and change them. The aim is to reach the creative goal.

In jobs that require creativity, before coming up with a new idea, individuals might go through a whole roller coaster of emotions. The frustration of facing a problem for which there seems to be no solution can come to rule their moods. Tense creativity is the process in which new ideas emerge. Moreover, the regulation of emotions plays a fundamental role in reaching successful conclusions.

“Managing one’s own emotions is crucial to persisting in both stages of creativity and innovation.”

-Kristina Potocnick-

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Potonik, K., Verwaeren, B., & Nijstad, B. (2022). Tensions and Paradoxes in Creativity and Innovation. Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 38(3), 149-163.
  • Amabile, T. M. (1988). A model of creativity and innovation in organizations. Research in organizational behavior, 10(1), 123-167.
  • Castells, M. (2008). Creatividad, innovación y cultura digital. Un mapa de sus interacciones. Telos: Cuadernos de comunicación e innovación, (77), 50-52.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.