How to Kill Creativity
by Teresa M. Amabile
Included with this full-text Harvard Business Review article: 1 Article Summary The Idea in Brief—the core idea The Idea in Practice—putting the idea to work 2 How to Kill Creativity 12 Further Reading A list of related materials, with annotations to guide further exploration of the article’s ideas and applications
How to Kill Creativity
The Idea in Brief
If the mantra for the current business climate is Innovate or die, why do so many companies seem to be choosing the latter option? Creativity gets killed much more often than it gets supported. The problem is not that managers smother creativity intentionally— the business need for coordination and control can inadvertently undermine employees’ ability to put existing ideas together in new and useful ways. To foster an innovative workplace, you need to pay attention to employees’ expertise, creative-thinking skills, and motivation. Of these three, employees’ motivation—specifically, their intrinsic motivation, or passion for a certain kind of challenge—is the most potent lever a manager can use to boost creativity and his company’s future success.
The Idea in Practice
In business, it isn’t enough for an idea to be original—the idea must also be useful, appropriate, and actionable. It must somehow influence the way business gets done—for example, by significantly improving a product or service. Within every individual, creativity exists as a function of three components: 1. expertise (technical, procedural, and intellectual knowledge). The broader the expertise, the larger the intellectual space a person has to explore and solve problems. 2. creative-thinking skills. These aptitudes, shaped by an individual’s personality, determine how flexibly and imaginatively someone approaches problems. 3. motivation. Expertise and creativethinking skills provide an individual’s natural resources for creativity; motivation determines what a person will actually do. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside the individual—whether it’s the offer of a bonus or the threat of firing. Extrinsic motivation doesn’t prevent people from being creative, but in many situations it doesn’t boost their creativity either. On its own, it can’t prompt people to be passionate about their work; in fact, it can lead them to feel bribed or controlled. Intrinsic motivation, by contrast, comes from inside the individual. It’s a person’s abiding interest in certain activities or deep love of particular challenges. Employees are most creative when they are intrinsically motivated—in other words, when the work itself is motivating. It can be time consuming to try to influence an employee’s expertise or creative-thinking skills. It’s easier to affect someone’s intrinsic motivation—and the results are more immediate. Activities that enhance intrinsic motivation fall into a few general categories: challenge, freedom, resources, work-group features, supage 1
pervisory encouragement, and organizational support. Some specific recommendations: • Match the right people with the right assignments, so employees are stretched but not stretched too thin. Work teams that have diverse perspectives will generate more creativity than homogenous groups. • Give people freedom within the company’s goals. Tell them which mountain to climb, but let them decide how to climb it. Keep the objectives stable for a meaningful period of time—it’s hard to reach the top of a moving mountain. • Allocate appropriate amounts of time and project resources. Organizations routinely kill creativity with fake deadlines— which cause distrust—and impossibly tight ones—which cause burnout. • Let employees know that what they do matters. This will help them sustain their passion for the work.
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