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The Double-Edged Sword of Workplace Impostor Thoughts On State Creativity: Affective Rumination and Problem-Solving Pondering As Competing Mechanisms

An implicit assumption in theory and research on the impostor phenomenon, popularly known as impostor syndrome, is that it is largely stable, reflected in the sole dominance of interindividual theories and almost exclusive reliance on cross-sectional and time-lagged survey studies. Yet, this stability does not entirely comport with original theory and descriptions of the phenomenon in the real world. Indeed, such theory and descriptions also underscore intraindividual variation with important workplace consequences, particularly creativity. Accordingly, we present an integrative, intraindividual theory that explores why and when the impostor phenomenon—recently reconceptualized as ‘workplace impostor thoughts’ by organizational scholars—may both facilitate and hinder state creativity. Across three studies (n = 1234 observations from 338 individuals), we find that workplace impostor thoughts both encourage creativity through problem-solving pondering and discourage creativity through affective rumination. Whether problem-solving pondering or affective rumination prevails depends on an individual’s perceived goal progress.

Basima Tewfik
MIT Sloan School of Management
United States

Daniel Kim
University of Florida, Warrington College of Business
United States


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