What Doesn't Motivate Creativity Can Kill It
9:49 AM Wednesday April 25, 2012by Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer |
Management is widely viewed as a foe of innovation. The thinking goes that too much management stranglesinnovation (just let a thousand flowers bloom!). But we have found a much more nuanced picture. You really
manage for innovation, but it starts by knowing what drives creativity in the people who generate and develop thenew ideas that, when implemented, will become tomorrow's innovations. Unfortunately, too many managersunintentionally kill innovation (http://hbr.org/1998/09/how-to-kill-creativity/ar/1) because they rely too heavily oncarrots and sticks to motivate employees.More than three decades of research have shown that people are most likely to be creative when they'reintrinsically motivated (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivation#Intrinsic_and_extrinsic_motivation) by the interest,enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself. But motivation inside organizations is a tricky business,because most everyone is driven by many extrinsic motivators, too —such as compensation, rewards,recognition, and fear of failure. Although many extrinsic motivators can kill intrinsic motivation and creativity,others —if handled delicately —can actually support them. It's all a matter of balance.Savvy managers know how to balance four factors, to properly motivate creativity and, ultimately, innovation:
Creativity suffers when strategic goals are too loose,
when creators are too tightly constrained in how theyaccomplish those goals. People need to know what problem they're trying to solve, and why it matters; they can'tbe intrinsically motivated unless their work has meaning(http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/How_leaders_kill_meaning_at_work_2910) . That requires clear strategicdirection toward a worthy purpose —whether it's curing a disease or providing a new form of entertainment thatwill enhance consumers' lives. But intrinsic motivation and creativity wither when people are told exactly what todo and how to do it; they need the autonomy to apply their own specific skills and talents. So: clear direction onthe strategic goal, but lots of leeway in how to achieve it.
In our research inside organizations, we have often observed reduced creativity under conditions of strongevaluation pressure. In such situations, people are reluctant to contribute their ideas because they fear overlycritical reactions. Curiously, we have also found reduced creativity in situations where evaluation and feedbackare notably
. In the latter situations, people charged with doing creative work have the sense that no oneknows, or cares, what they are doing. The crucial balance involves a great deal of frequent, work-focusedevaluation and feedback that is truly informative and constructive. Ideally, these evaluations involve peers (aswell as supervisors) openly discussing the work. To perform at their creative peak, people need to know thatevery idea will be respected (if not accepted) —respected enough to merit thoughtful consideration. The bestmanagers that we observed went a step further. Rather than being overly critical when ideas didn't pan out, theyaccepted the failures as a necessary part of doing creative work and helped employees search for lessons andopportunities in those failures.
We all need equitable, sufficiently generous compensation for our work, to avoid the distraction of financialworries, and to feel that we (and our work) are valued by our organizations. Recognition is another essential formof reward; it, too, signals that the person and the work are valued. Neither of these extrinsic motivators needdamage intrinsic motivation or creativity.
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