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Hardship presents opportunity for creativity, Rice Business experts say

by Avery Ruxer Franklin

The massive disruption of our social and work lives is unnerving, but there are benefits to shaking up our routines and feeling uncomfortable, according to experts at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business.

Scott Sonenshein and Jing Zhou, professors of management at the Jones School, are available to talk about the evolving organizational landscape with news media.

“I’ve studied creativity for more than two decades, and my research shows that times of disruption and upheaval can lead us to new insights and nudge us to innovate in ways we’d never have considered before,” Zhou wrote in an op-ed for The Hill. “In many ways, it’s an opportunity in disguise.”

In the midst of a pandemic, it might seem difficult to shift gears and work on a creative outlet, but it is possible to channel that angst while working from home, according to Zhou. “One of the best ways to achieve this psychological freedom — and the creativity it fosters — is to isolate ourselves,” she wrote. “Many of us intentionally seek out solitude for this very reason.”

Sonenshein, the bestselling author who co-wrote the recently published book “Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life” with Marie Kondo, agrees that hardship presents opportunity, even if you don’t have the perfect at-home work setup.

“Research shows that times of crisis can bring out hidden reserves of human resourcefulness — and we’re starting to see what happens when humanity comes up against seemingly insurmountable constraints,” Sonenshein wrote in a separate op-ed for The Hill.

This resourcefulness ranges from scientists working on vaccines at record speed to automotive manufacturers pivoting to produce ventilators to restaurants converting to a takeout model.

“When resources are scarce, it becomes easier to discard conventional thinking and invent new uses for what we already have,” Sonenshein wrote. “But first we have to adjust our mindset to see the possibilities inherent in hardship — and not just the problems.”

Instead of becoming rigid in our thinking and trying to create perfect plans, Sonenshein urges us all to get more comfortable with improvising: “When we emerge from this crisis, I hope we leave it with an important lesson. When we are resourceful, we can do more than we ever imagined.”

My research shows that people, and entire cultures, can produce some of their most creative works in times of crisis,” Zhou wrote.

Sonenshein is the Henry Gardiner Symonds Professor of Management at Rice. He is the author of “Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less — And Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined.”

Zhou is the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of Management, the organizational behavior area coordinator, director for Asian management research and education and director of the Ph.D. program at the Jones School. She is a fellow of American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Sciences and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

To schedule an interview with Sonenshein or Zhou or for more information, contact Avery Franklin, media relations specialist at Rice, at or 713-348-6327.

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