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Harvard’s Teresa Amabile, author of The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, says there are three components to creativity at work:
- Expertise (People who aren’t any good at physics rarely come up with relativity theory.)
- Creative thinking skills (Are you even trying to think outside the box?)
- Motivation (Personal interest like curiosity beats monetary bonuses.)
Her research produced 6 things that companies and managers can do to support and inspire creative work:
It’s all about assigning the right person to the right project — but most companies don’t bother to get to know their employees well enough to do that.
Of all the things managers can do to stimulate creativity, perhaps the most efficacious is the deceptively simple task of matching people with the right assignments. Managers can match people with jobs that play to their expertise and their skills in creative thinking, and ignite intrinsic motivation. Perfect matches stretch employees’ abilities. The amount of stretch, however, is crucial: not so little that they feel bored but not so much that they feel overwhelmed and threatened by a loss of control.
That final sentence, I think, is key. Amabile doesn’t reference the word, but it sounds like what this does is help engineer “flow“.
Companies should define goals but let workers have some autonomy in how to get there.
When it comes to granting freedom, the key to creativity is giving people autonomy concerning the means–that is, concerning process–but not necessarily the ends. People will be more creative, in other words, if you give them freedom to decide how to climb a particular mountain. You needn’t let them choose which mountain to climb. In fact, clearly specified strategic goals often enhance people’s creativity.
Too little time or money can both dampen creativity at work.
Organizations routinely kill creativity with fake deadlines or impossibly tight ones. The former create distrust and the latter cause burnout. In either case, people feel overcontrolled and unfulfilled–which invariably damages motivation. Moreover, creativity often takes time…They keep resources tight, which pushes people to channel their creativity into finding additional resources, not in actually developing new products or services.
4) Work-Group Features
Companies kill creativity by encouraging homogenous teams.
These groups do find solutions more quickly and have high morale–but their lack of diversity doesn’t lead to much creativity.
If you want to build teams that comes up with creative ideas, you must pay careful attention to the design of such teams. That is, you must create mutually supportive groups with a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds. Why? Because when teams comprise people with various intellectual foundations and approaches to work–that is, different expertise and creative thinking styles–ideas often combine and combust in exciting and useful ways.
5) Supervisory Encouragement
Support and recognition by bosses isn’t just nice, it’s essential to creativity at work.
Certainly, people can find their work interesting or exciting without a cheering section–for some period of time. But to sustain such passion, most people need to feel as if their work matters to the organization or to some important group of people.
6) Organizational Support
Companies that mandate information sharing and collaboration while discouraging politics will see creativity thrive.
Most important, an organization’s leaders can support creativity by mandating information sharing and collaboration and by ensuring that political problems do not fester. Information sharing and collaboration support all three components of creativity… That sense of mutual purpose and excitement so central to intrinsic motivation invariably lessens when people are cliquish or at war with one another. Indeed, our research suggests that intrinsic motivation increases when people are aware that those around them are excited by their jobs.
Of the three big factors in creativity that Amabile calls out, where most companies go wrong is motivation.
They either ignore it or try to achieve it by money — a very inefficient mechanism at best.
The best employees are motivated from inside and companies that nurture that passion see the best results.
Amabile calls upon Michael Jordan as a perfect example.
And Michael Jordan, perhaps the most creative basketball player ever, had “a love of the game” clause inserted into his contract; he insisted that he be free to play pickup basketball games anytime he wished.
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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.