Koppman (2016). Different Like Me: Why Cultural Omnivores Get Creative Jobs

Sharon Koppman – University of California, Irvine

Laura Sonday – University of Michigan Ross School of Business
Abdifatah Ali – Michigan State University

Article link: http://asq.sagepub.com/content/61/2/291

Question 1. This paper is about how omnivorous tastes, cultivated through childhood experiences, indirectly increase an individual’s likelihood of attaining a creative position in adulthood. This study is a fascinating extension of work that has been done on cultural matching and explains how class background can influence the work later on in life. What inspired you to study the link between early life experiences and creative employment?

Thank you for your kind words and also for the opportunity to talk about my research. I wish I had an interesting personal anecdote for you here but I was actually inspired to study this link due to a large gap in the research on cultural capital. To vastly oversimply, cultural capital is the idea that the consumption of cultural products like music, art and literature—which seems pretty innocuous—actually helps people gain access to things we all want like good jobs. There was all this research saying that cultural capital is a product of your class background and childhood experiences and all this research saying cultural capital could help people access desirable jobs, but nothing on the link between the two. I was also interested in looking at creative jobs as a new type of desirable job because a lot of people I knew at the time seemed like they were more interested in getting jobs that were “fun” and “cool” than the type of desirable jobs (e.g., high-paying or managerial jobs) that had been previously studied.

Question 2. With regard to your cultural matching mechanism, it is interesting to see how your qualitative and quantitative findings complement the existing person-environment fit literature. Specifically, this literature distinguishes between two types of fit, supplementary fit (i.e. matching as a function of beliefs, values, culture, personality) and complementary fit (i.e. matching as a function of the congruence between a candidate’s skills and the demands of the job). In your qualitative data, there was much emphasis on matching based on supplementary fit. Were there respondents who emphasized both forms of matching? Within your theory, is there an implicit assumption that complementary fit is a baseline condition to be considered for the job, while supplementary fit is the distinguishing factor that leads to employment?

This is an interesting connection. I will say, however, that there are two important differences from the work on person-environment fit. The first is that my focus is on culture that is not work related. The culture that my informants’ describe is culture outside of the workplace, such as their taste in music or their hobbies. And because they value culture that is distinctive—i.e., genres of music that nobody else listens to or really obscure hobbies—this culture is unlikely to actually help them do their jobs. The second major difference is the idea that there is a clear line between the culture and skills. Many of my informants were actually using culture to evaluate skills (in this context, creative potential). Thus, while some informants did talk about “fit” with the firm personality and there were informants who assessed this as well as skills, it was much more common to use culture to evaluate skills. So no, I would not consider complementary fit a baseline condition because the cultural matching process I study is about using culture to assess skills.

Question 3. In your study design, you took a mixed method approach, using concurrent triangulation. One of the challenges of this strategy is not having the time lag between the qualitative and the quantitative data; how did you address this challenge? Did you come across any unexpected findings in the qualitative study that you were not able to address in the concurrent quantitative study, but that you would like to explore in future studies?

This is a good question! I collected qualitative and quantitative data concurrently because I wanted a probability sample of agencies for my quantitative analysis and wanted the people I interviewed to have also taken my survey. I had done qualitative field work in an advertising agency for several months before designing the survey, so I had some sense of what was going on. But of course, there are always unexpected findings and you always wish you could go back and add something. After doing my interviews, for example, I wished that I had included survey questions that got at diverse culture in the many ways my informants mentioned (e.g., knowledge, leisure activities, reading materials) beyond just musical taste, which was the focus of most of the literature.

Question 4. It was striking to read excerpts from the interview data and to note how often respondents referred to gut feelings or intuition when interviewing candidates. In some ways, this goes against the existing managerial discourse on hiring, which tends to be very cognitive in its orientation. Were you surprised by how subjective and affective the hiring process was, according to your respondents? Did you notice differences across departments (creative vs. non-creative) with regard to the role of emotions in the evaluation of candidates?

Yes, I was surprised! I thought, given that they worked in a corporate environment, they would at least try to justify their decisions rationally. And I did notice a difference in the role of emotions across departments. While people employed in creative departments had emotional reactions to candidates’ portfolio work, people outside creative departments were more focused on “fit” (and the excitement it generated) because it suggested candidates would make a good office and travel companion. The responses of informants outside creative departments were more similar to what Lauren Rivera (2012) found in her study of elite professional service firms.

Question 5. Your paper demonstrates how omnivorous socialization leads to omnivorous taste, which in turn leads to creative employment. You underscore, however, that the “perceived creative potential” that helps cultural omnivores secure creative jobs may, in fact, be unrelated to actual creativity or performance. It would be theoretically and practically interesting to explore whether omnivorous taste also predicts creative performance. Having interviewed workers in the creative industry, do you have any initial hunch about how effective it is to hire cultural omnivores for creative roles? Have you thought to explore the validity of implicit theories about creativity?

I do think that the current practices are not ideal because so much research suggests that creative insights come from integrating diverse views. Here we have a group of people who seem to be purposely selecting employees for their “difference” but ultimately end up hiring people who are just like themselves. By doing so, they reduce the diversity of their workforce and their access to diverse viewpoints. Given this, it is not surprising that the advertising industry is so homogenous—i.e., there are relatively few women, minorities, and people from working-class backgrounds. I do think the industry would benefit, both in creativity and in effectiveness, if it were more diverse.

Studying the validity of implicit theories of creativity is a fascinating idea! It is also a very hard thing to do. An easier way to get at effectiveness would be to compare evaluations of creativity during the hiring interview and subsequent performance in the creative job. This would give us a sense of the effectiveness of these hiring practices without having to define and measure creativity itself, which is always a tricky endeavor.


Rivera, Lauren A. (2012) “Hiring as Cultural Matching: The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms.” American Sociological Review 77(6): 999-1022.

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