The Double-Edged Sword of Creative Stars

woman designing at work

A creative star teammate is one who exhibits superior creativity relative to other team members. The star teammate is a key source of creative and novel ideas, and may exert significant influence on team creativity. However, a star’s contribution towards team creativity is not solely contingent on his or her own creative ideas. According to the social model of creativity, the extent to which the star teammate influences overall team creativity depends on how he or she interacts and communicates with other team members.

In order to fully understand how creativity emerges within the team, it is necessary to consider key interaction patterns within the team network. Creative team members who frequently interact with other members occupy central positions in the network and serve as focal points of interaction.

However, in addition to the notion that stars in central positions invariably enhance team performance outcomes, research shows that stars can also detrimentally impact the performance of their non-star teammates.


The authors of this study (Li, Li, Li, & Li, 2020) investigated the effects of centrally-positioned creative stars on team creativity and learning behavior of non-stars. Through the use of a two-wave field survey, they collected data from R&D and sales teams in firms across industries in China. The results of their study showed that centrally positioned creative stars have a positive effect on team creativity. This is because stars are able to utilize diverse information from other teammates and develop and spread novel ideas through the team’s network.

Next, the results of the study indicated an inverse relationship between creative stars’ centrality and the learning activities of non-stars. The authors argue that this might be because the resources and attention provided to stars could restrict opportunities for non-stars’ development. Further, the exceptional contributions made by stars may increase their teammates’ dependence on them, thereby reducing the initiative among non-stars to engage in their own development. The authors also found that the inverse relationship between a creative star’s centrality and team members’ learning may ultimately dampen team creativity as a whole. This is due to the lack of diverse input and knowledge that is typically gained through organizational learning.

Further, the study showed that team coordination can mitigate the detrimental effect of a star’s centrality on non-stars’ learning behavior, and the subsequently detrimental effect on team creativity. Team coordination helps bring clarity to shared objectives, assignment of roles, and locations of expertise, which allows team members to acquire team-relevant knowledge. It helps non-stars integrate the knowledge of others with their own knowledge, thereby facilitating individual learning. Through non-stars’ learning, the team is equipped with the necessary knowledge to explore alternative perspectives that drive team creativity.


This study highlights the different effects of centrally positioned creative stars. Managers should try to create a balance between the beneficial and detrimental aspects of the star’s position in the team network. They can do so by actively encouraging and supporting the learning of non-stars in order to sustain team creativity. Managers should also ensure that all team members have equal access to resources and opportunities for their learning and development.

Further, managers should strive to cultivate open communication among team members in order to facilitate exchange of diverse ideas and inputs. It is imperative for managers to foster efficient team coordination so that team members are able to integrate shared ideas with the team’s operations and work processes. This will help organizations advance creative solutions.


Li, Y., Li, N., Li, C., & Li, J. (2020). The Boon and Bane of Creative “Stars”: A Social Network Exploration of How and When Team Creativity Is (and Is Not) Driven by a Star Teammate. Academy of Management Journal, 63, 613-635.