How to Encourage and Harness Creativity

In my March post entitled “Only Read This If You’re Really Creative,” I attempted to push aside some of society’s preconceived notions about creativity and suggest better ways to think creatively.

I came across an interview of Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile in Fast Company that works nicely with those initial thoughts. Although this article was published eight years ago and Amabile’s research was conducted eight years before that, her findings are as relevant as ever. “The 6 Myths Of Creativity” discusses—as you might guess—six common misconceptions that we all should do our best to expunge from our thinking.

1. Creativity Only Comes From Creative Types

Everyone has creative potential. It’s important that leaders of organizations recognize that and do their best to harness ideas from those who could be most capable. This is not to suggest that everyone is necessarily good at being creative. Professor Amabile recommends that one should consider the following factors: experience, technical skills, talent, the ability to think in new ways, and intrinsic motivation. It’s this last quality that is hardest to find. Having the passion to come up with ideas is one thing, but the ability to continue to push through—even after countless rejections—is the trait one should look for in a creative type.

2. Money Is A Creative Motivator 

On a day-to-day basis, Amabile’s research found that people don’t think about their compensation. And when people were told that bonuses could come from good ideas, they were less willing to take risks. People preferred instead to work in an environment that both supported creativity and was in line with their skill sets. Leaders need to understand where their employees feel most comfortable. If the work is too simple, they’ll become bored; if the work is too hard, they’ll inevitably become frustrated. It’s important to find the right balance.

3. Time Pressure Fuels Creativity

Many creative types claim that they do their best under extreme pressure when a deadline is looming. Professor Amabile, however, found the opposite to be true. Ideas are best when they have time to marinate and develop. They’re more thoughtful and robust. In the advertising and marketing worlds, account people should strive to give creatives the time they need to develop a well-rounded idea. It’ll be worth it in the end.

4. Fear Forces Breakthroughs 

If you’ve ever listened to an Adele or Alanis Morissette album, the thought probably crossed your mind “Boy, being depressed really lends itself to creating brilliant music.” While there are always exceptions, the fact is, there is a direct relationship between being happy and being creative. Interestingly, Amabile’s research found that a happy day often led to a creative mindset the following day. Stay positive!

5. Competition Beats Collaboration

There’s a belief that competition fuels great ideas. And while that may be true initially, collaboration and competition are really the best formula. When a person works autonomously, he or she often misses out on valuable information for that project. The sharing of information and the bouncing of ideas off one another is a more effective approach to building the strongest idea.

6. A Streamlined Organization Is a Creative Organization

“Leaner is meaner” is very far from the truth. Amabile and her team of researchers followed 6,000 employees in a company that was going through massive layoffs. The fear and subsequent loss of morale affected creativity dramatically. Six months after the layoffs occurred, people were still shaken up. Layoffs are a fact of life, but leaders have to work extra hard to restabilize the environment.

Author: Eric Swenson


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