Research Articles

Home -> Research -> Articles

Situational Outlook Questionnaire: A Measure of the Climate for Creativity and Change
By: Scott G. Isaksen and Kenneth J. Lauer, The Creativity Research Unit at Creative Problem Solving Group - Buffalo, Göran Ekvall, Fainstitute Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract

The foundations of a multidimensional measure designed to assess creativity and change are presented.  The reliability and construct validity of the Situational Outlook Questionnaire were tested using a sample of 1111 subjects.  The results of the Cronbach’s alpha and exploratory factor analysis supported reliability and construct validity.  The study identified areas where the Situational Outlook Questionnaire can be improved and areas of future investigation with the questionnaire.

One of the most important topics facing organizations in the new millennium will be increasing a company’s ability to be highly creative in a constantly changing global economy.  According to Bennis, (1997) “In today’s Darwinian economy, only organizations that find ways to tap the creativity of their members are likely to survive” (p. xvi).  The time has come to recognize that organizations are more than a machine, or economic entity for as Drucker (1997) has pointed out, they are a social entity composed of people.  Combined, with the knowledge that it is not a question of who is creative (Kirton, 1999), but rather how to support an individual’s creativity, it is necessary to understand the conditions in the organization that influence creativity.  Some progress is being made in this area by researchers such as Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, and Herron (1996) in the US, and Ekvall (1996) in Sweden.  The purpose of this study is to examine some basic psychometric properties of a measure designed to specifically assess the climate for creativity and change.

Studies using more generic measures of organizational climate variables have supported the importance of climate in a variety of organizational dynamics.  Gunter and Furnham (1996) have shown that climate perceptions are highly predictive of individual feelings of job satisfaction and pride in organizations.  Climate has also been evaluated to improve operations and performance and has had a significant impact on the financial performance of the organization (Ekvall & Rykhammer, 1998; Schuster et al., 1997).  Climate has been a factor in the retention of employees when the ethical work climate matches those of the employee (Sims & Keon, 1997).  Since the importance of organizational creativity is growing, we will need a corresponding improvement in measures and metrics to more precisely assess the climate for creativity and change.

            One such measure is the Situational Outlook Questionnaire.  It is a 50-item instrument constructed to assess the degree to which any particular context will support creativity and change.  The measure is an English translation of the Creative Climate Questionnaire originally developed by Ekvall (1983) and used as a tool for organizational diagnosis and development.  The Situational Outlook Questionnaire is conceptually grounded in the research and application of Ekvall and his colleagues (Ekvall, 1996; Ekvall & Arvonen, 1984; Ekvall, Arvonen & Waldenstrom-Lindblad, 1983).

            Similar to other organizational psychologists (Pettigrew, 1990; Schneider, & Gunnarson, 1991), Ekvall has differentiated the concepts of climate and culture.  Ekvall (1991) defined climate as the observed and recurring patterns of behavior, attitudes and feelings that characterize life in the organization.  Culture reflects the deeper foundations of the organization. Culture includes values, beliefs, history and traditions.  According to this distinction, culture provides the foundation for patterns of behavior that are more readily observed, described and changed.  These patterns of observed behavior along with many other variables (e.g., management, leadership, organizational size and structure, etc.) help to establish the climate within the organization.

            The concept of climate may be separated into two distinct, but complementary, constructs commonly referred to as psychological and organizational climate depending on the unit of analysis and the aggregation of individual perceptions utilized (James, James, & Ashe, 1990).  Psychological climate is the cognitive appraisal by an individual of environmental attributes in terms of their acquired meaning and personal values to the individual.  When individual appraisals are aggregated, based on the belief that individuals in an organization have a sense of shared meaning, the result is often referred to as organizational climate.   As an attribute of an organization, organizational climate has been identified as a productive construct to utilize in preliminary and sustained organizational diagnosis for development or improvement efforts. 

            Climate is an intervening variable that effects organizational and psychological processes which, in turn, effect the overall productivity and well-being of an organization.  A number of factors affect climate (e.g., the larger external environment within which the organization operates, the resources available within the organization, its strategic positioning and architecture as well as its culture and leadership practices).  As such, climate is an important variable in understanding organizational performance and change (Burke & Litwin, 1992; Schneider, Brief, & Guzzo, 1996). 
            Ekvall has accumulated a great deal of support for his approach to measuring climate through his own field research with colleagues and doctoral students, as well as his consultancy experiences in organizational psychology.  As a result of this sustained program of research and practice, Ekvall has demonstrated that his method of assessing climate clearly discriminated “stagnated” from “innovative” organizations (Ekvall, 1996).  Ekvall’s colleagues and students were able to make independent assessments of the degree to which each of the 30 international organizations was innovative.  The organizations in the studies were assessed on their ability to bring novel products or services to the marketplace.  This included both technical and market novelty.  Those that were able to put many new products and services through their systems were labeled innovative.  Those who had extreme difficulty or simply could not produce new products were called stagnated. Clear and significant differences on the climate scores were observable between the stagnated and innovative organizations.

            The Creative Climate Questionnaire was chosen by the senior author for translation from the original Swedish because of its demonstrated psychometric properties, its conceptual clarity and approach, multidimensionality, and its proven ability to discriminate the creative productivity of international organizations.  The initial translation of the questionnaire from Swedish to English began in 1986, with a collaboration between individuals from the Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College, Lund University, and the Swedish Council for Worklife Issues.  After the initial translation two independent Swedish translators used a process known as back translation with decentering (Bontempo, 1993) to adjust the initial translation. 

            Since 1986, the translation process has included the development, testing and refinement of the Situational Outlook Questionnaire on four different versions of the measure and is described in the more detail in the technical manual (Isaksen, Lauer, Murdock, Dorval & Puccio, 1995).  The Situational Outlook Questionnaire was made available for use with groups and organizations in 1996.  However, because of the multidimensional nature and intended use of the questionnaire, it must be administered and debriefed by individuals who are qualified and trained to use the theory and measure for effective interventions.

 

The Situational Outlook Questionnaire Scales

            Items on the Situational Outlook Questionnaire fall into nine dimensions.  Each dimension relates to a collection of characteristics of climate which influence creativity and change at the individual,  group, and organizational levels.  A study by Lauer (1994) provided evidence of the conceptual validity of the Situational Outlook Questionnaire and these dimensions of creativity and change.  Brief descriptions of each dimension and a sample question used are provided on Table 1.
            Items are designed to help the respondent make observations about behaviors and interactions among the individuals.  Respondents answer the items on a 4-point scale; in which 0 = Not at all applicable; 1 = Applicable to some extent; 2 = Fairly applicable; 3 = Applicable to a high degree.  Each of the nine dimensions of the Situational Outlook Questionnaire contains 3 to 7 items.  The overall scores for each dimension are calculated by taking the average (total score divided by number of items) of the respondent’s results for each dimension and multiplying this by 100.  This procedure allows for ease of comparison across dimensions.
            Eight of the nine scales of the Situational Outlook Questionnaire describe dimensions that have a positive relationship to creativity and change: a) Challenge & Involvement, b) Freedom, c) Trust/Openness, d) Idea Time, e) Playfulness/Humor,
f) Idea Support, g) Debate, and h) Risk-Taking.  The remaining scale, Conflict, has a negative relationship to creativity and change.
            The purpose of the current study was to examine the internal consistency and factor structure of the Situational Outlook Questionnaire.  This type of study has been performed on the first version by Lauer (1994) and on the second and third versions of the Situational Outlook Questionnaire by Cabra (1996).  Studies such as these are necessary to understand the psychometric properties of the instrument and for practitioners to utilize the Situational Outlook Questionnaire with any degree of confidence.  This study will also provide a base for future studies that utilize the Situational Outlook Questionnaire.

 

Method

Sample

            The total sample comprised data collected from 1111 individuals as part of the Creative Problem Solving Group - Buffalo’s research efforts.  The data was collected between February 1995 and June 1996.  The sample includes 392 males and 299 females (420 individuals did not indicate their gender).  Six US, one international, and one Canadian organization were included in this sample.  A total of 148 individuals worked for a manufacturer of household goods located in the central US (99% response rate); 164 worked for a food manufacturer located in Ontario, Canada (100% response rate); 172 came from a pharmaceutical company located on the north east coast of the US (95% response rate); 169 from a variety of agencies within a state government located on the north west coast of the US (90% response rate);  271 from a research and development laboratory within a consumer products manufacturer located on the west coast of the US (99% response rate);  6 participants worked in the central office of a national US telecommunications company (100% response rate);  172 worked for a direct mail company with offices in the US, Great Britain, Germany, France, Australia, and Sweden (86% response rate);  and 9 were students involved in a master's degree seminar course held at a north east college in the US (100% response rate).

Instrument and Procedure

            The Situational Outlook Questionnaire is a paper-and-pencil self-report measure.  It assesses nine of the ten dimensions measured by Ekvall’s Creative Climate Questionnaire.  Factor analysis of earlier versions of the Situational Outlook Questionnaire showed that one of Ekvall’s dimensions, Dynamism/Liveliness, did not clearly emerge as a separate dimension in English-speaking cultures.  Many of the Dynamism/Liveliness items loaded on the Challenge dimension, while a small number loaded across a variety of scales.  Therefore, some items were eliminated from the Situational Outlook Questionnaire, and the Challenge dimension was redefined and expanded to include information provided by the additional Dynamism items.  This resulted in the renaming of the Challenge dimension to “Challenge and Involvement.”

            Respondents use a scale ranging from 0 (not at all applicable) to 3 (applicable to a high degree) to indicate the extent to which each statement describes their work situation.  All items were developed to measure one of the nine dimensions and were randomly ordered.  The dimensions, descriptions and sample items are shown on Table 1.

            The Situational Outlook Questionnaire was distributed through the various organization’s mail systems along with a memorandum describing the purpose of the measure.  Completed instruments were then returned to the Creative Problem Solving Group-Buffalo for scoring.  Steps were taken to ensure voluntary participation and confidentiality.

Results and Discussion

            The descriptive statistics and alpha coefficients are presented in Table 2.  The climate dimension means range from 105.92 for Idea Time to 204.62 for Challenge and Involvement.  The Cronbach’s alpha coefficient was computed using the items on the theoretical dimensions rather than the loadings that were observed in the exploratory factor analysis because of the similarity in the results.  The Cronbach’s alpha coefficient ranged from .62 for Risk-Taking to .90 for Idea Support, with seven of the nine dimensions yielding alpha coefficients greater than .80.
            The Cronbach’s alpha coefficient computed from the exploratory factor analysis was different on the dimensions of Freedom (.76), Idea Support (.91), Debate (.86) and Risk-Taking (.63).  It should be noted that the Risk-Taking and Trust dimensions contain the smallest number of items, four and three respectively, which makes achieving a Cronbach’s alpha coefficient of .70 or greater even more challenging.  Future research will seek to improve the Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for these scales by adding additional items and further testing the reliability of these scales.
            Table 3 presents the results of the exploratory factor analysis of the Situational Outlook Questionnaire items.  The presentation of the oblique rotation of the Principal Axis factor analysis extraction shown here was performed on SPSS® for the Macintosh, version 4.0.  A loading of .25 was used as the criterion for the oblique rotated solution.  Nine dimensions were extracted using an eigenvalue equal to or greater than 1.0.  The majority of items loaded with their theoretical dimension.  Three items showed multiple loadings across dimensions; one of these items (item 18) had its highest loading on its respective theoretical dimension.  Of the remaining two items (items 49 and 42), they loaded with their theoretical dimensions; however, their highest loading appeared on another factor.  This may necessitate the refinement or possible replacement of these items.  The nine factors yielded by this analysis accounted for 62.3% of the variance when combined.  The lower portion of Table 3 details the percentage of variance accounted for by each dimension and the respective eigenvalues.

            The results of this study presented evidence that the psychometric properties of the Situational Outlook Questionnaire are acceptable.  A strength of the study was that these results were consistent across groups and contexts.  One limitation of the study was that this was not a random sample of organizations or individuals in organizations.  A further limitation was the number of items used to assess the dimensions of Risk Taking and Trust/Openness.  In this respect, refinements to these dimensions will be initiated to strengthen their internal consistency.  Another potential concern is that the measurement scales do not have a sufficient range of possible scores.  Increasing the scale increments will be an issue for further inquiry.

            This study has provided preliminary psychometric evidence of the Situational Outlook Questionnaire’s internal structure.  It will now be necessary to explore other forms of the measure’s validity in addition to providing further evidence of its construct validity.  Future investigations need to compare the Situational Outlook Questionnaire to other established measures of organizational climate and environment, such as KEYS (Amabile et al., 1996).  Turnipseed (1994) has already begun this process by comparing this measure to the Work Environment Scale.  Other studies need to investigate the Situational Outlook Questionnaire’s relationship to other important organizational variables, such as Talbot, Cooper, and Barrow’s (1992) study of the relationship between the climate for creativity and job-related stress.  Another important line of research should focus on the relationship of the climate for creativity and change to personality variables, such as Isaksen and Kaufmann’s (1990) investigation of the relationship of the Situational Outlook Questionnaire to the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory.  These types of studies will assist in further understanding of the Situational Outlook Questionnaire and the construct of climate for creativity and change.


References

Amabile, T. M., Conti, R., Coon, H., Lazenby, J., Herron, M. (1996) Assessing the work environment for creativity.  Academy of Management Journal, 39 (5), 1154-1184.

Bennis, W. (1997) Introduction. In W. Bennis and P. W. Biederman (Authors), Organizing genius: The secrets of creative collaboration. Reading, MA:  Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. (pp. xv-xvi).

Bontempo, R. (1993) Translation fidelity of psychological scales:  An item response theory analysis of an individualism-collectivism scale.  Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 24 (2), 298-314.

Burke, W. W., & Litwin, G. H. (1992) A causal model of organizational performance and change.  Journal of Management, 18 (3), 523-545.

Cabra, J. F. (1996) Examining the reliability and factor structure of the Climate for Innovation Questionnaire. Unpublished master's thesis, State University College at Buffalo, New York.

Drucker, P. F. (1997) Introduction: Toward the new organization. In F. Hesselbein, M., GoldsmithW. and R. Beckhard (Eds.), The organization of the future. San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass Publishers. (pp. 1-5).

Ekvall, G. (1983) Climate, structure and innovativeness of organizations:  A theoretical framework and an experiment. (Report 1). Stockholm, Sweden: FArådet - The Swedish Council for Management and Work Life Issues.

Ekvall, G. (1991) The organizational culture of idea-management:  A creative climate for the management of ideas. In J. Henry and D. Walker (Eds.), Managing innovation. London:  SAGE Publications Ltd. (pp. 73-79).

Ekvall, G. (1996) Organizational climate for creativity and innovation.  European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 5 (1), 105-123.

Ekvall, G., & Arvonen, J. (1984) Leadership styles and organizational climate for creativity:  Some findings in one company. (Report 1). Stockholm, Sweden: FArådet - The Swedish Council for Management and Work Life Issues.

Ekvall, G., Arvonen, J., & Waldenstrom-Lindblad, I. (1983) Creative organizational climate:  Construction and validation of a measuring instrument. (Report no. 2). Stockholm, Sweden: FArådet - The Swedish Council for Management and Work Life Issues.

Ekvall, G. & Rykhammer, L. (1998) Leadership style, social climate and organizational outcomes:  A study of a Swedish university college. Creativity & Innovation Management, 7 (3), 126-130.

Gunter, B., & Furnham, A. (1996) Biographical and climate predictors of job satisfaction and pride in organization. Journal of Psychology, 130 (2), 193-208.

Isaksen, S. G., & Kaufmann, G. (1990) Adaptors and innovators: Different perceptions of the psychological climate for creativity. In T. Rickards, P. Colemont, P. Grøholt, M. Parker, & H. Smeekes (Eds.), Creativity and innovation: Learning from practice. Delft, The Netherlands: Innovation Consulting Group TNO. (pp. 47-54).

Isaksen, S. G., Lauer, K. J., Murdock, M. C., Dorval, K. B., & Puccio, G. J. (1995) Situational outlook questionnaire:  Understanding the climate for creativity and change (SOQ) - A technical manual.  Buffalo, NY:  Creative Problem Solving Group - Buffalo.

James, L. R., James, L. A., & Ashe, D. K. (1990) The meaning of organizations: The role of cognition and values. In B. Schneider ( Ed.), Organizational Climate and Culture. San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass Publishers. (pp. 40-84).

Kirton, M. J. (1999) Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI) – Manual (3rd ed.). Occupational Research Centre:  Hatfield, U.K.

Lauer, K. J. (1994) The assessment of creative climate: An investigation of Ekvall's Creative Climate Questionnaire. Unpublished master's thesis, State University College at Buffalo, New York.

Pettigrew, A. M. (1990) Organizational climate and culture: Two constructs in search of a role. In B. Schneider ( Ed.), Organizational Climate and Culture. San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass Publishers. (pp. 413-433).

Schneider, B., Brief, A. P., & Guzzo, R. A.  (1996)  Creating a climate and culture for sustainable organizational change.  Organizational Dynamics, 24, 7-19.

Schneider, B., & Gunnarson, S. (1991) Organizational climate and culture:  The psychology of the workplace. In J. W. Jones, B. D. Steffy, & D. W. Bray (Eds.), Applying Psychology in Business. Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books. (pp. 542-551).

Schuster, F. E., Dunning, K. E., Morden, D. L., Hagan, C. M.,Baker, T. E., & McKay, I. S. (1997) Management practice, organization climate, and performance.  Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 33 (2), 209-226.

Sims, R. L., & Keon, T. L. (1997) Ethical work climate as a factor in the development of person-organizational fit. Journal of Business Ethics, 16 (11), 1095-1105.

Talbot, R., Cooper, C., & Barrow, S. (1992) Creativity and stress. Creativity and Innovation Management, 1, 183 - 193.

Turnipseed, D. (1994) The relationship between the social environment of organizations and the climate for innovation and creativity. Creativity and Innovation Management, 3, 184 - 195.