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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What Doesn't Motivate Creativity Can Kill It | Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer, Harvard Business Review

Management is widely viewed as a foe of innovation. The thinking goes that too much management strangles innovation (just let a thousand flowers bloom!). But we have found a much more nuanced picture. You really can manage for innovation, but it starts by knowing what drives creativity in the people who generate and develop the new ideas that, when implemented, will become tomorrow's innovations.
The authors emphasize research that says interest, enjoyment, satisfaction and the challenge of the work itself are the most likely motivators for employee creativity. But they note extrinsic factors like compensation, rewards, recognition, and fear of failure that can kill motivation and creativity. So managers must find a balance--"a tricky business" that must be handled delicately.

Amabile/Kramer continue by describing four factors that savvy managers must balance when trying to motivate creativity and innovation. Here's a brief description of each:


People need to know what problem they're trying to solve, and why it matters; they can't be intrinsically motivated unless their work has meaning. That requires clear strategic direction toward a worthy purpose ....


The crucial balance involves a great deal of frequent, work-focused evaluation and feedback that is truly informative and constructive. Ideally, these evaluations involve peers (as well as supervisors) openly discussing the work. To perform at their creative peak, people need to know that every idea will be respected (if not accepted) — respected enough to merit thoughtful consideration.


Our research suggests that creativity flourishes when employees know that rewards and recognition will follow from good, creative efforts — without being told constantly about exactly which rewards will follow from which actions.


[H]aving the positive pressure of an optimally challenging assignment — being given an important problem to solve that no one else has been able to crack — can supercharge intrinsic motivation and creativity. ("Optimally challenging" means that it's tough, but your skills are up to the task.) Feeling like you're on a mission to create something that's urgently needed can be a real high.
I like the authors' clear conclusion:
Being told to do a tough job in a particular way, with no tolerance of failure, little expectation of recognition for success, and extreme, arbitrary time pressure, can kill anyone's creativity motivation. But being given the same job, in a positive atmosphere where false starts are examined constructively and success is recognized, can drive creativity — and innovation — forward.
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