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Can You Enhance Creativity?

This article is about the source of creativity. By reading this, you will learn how to improve creativity by changing the surrounding environment.

Often times in the workplace, creativity is killed both intentionally and unintentionally. This is because people talking about creativity assume that it must be original and imaginative; thus making creativity popular only in the domain of R&D and marketing, but definitely not in the legal and accounting domains. However, this ignores the fact that expertise and motivation are also parts of creativity. Alt text Creative thinking refers to approaching problems and solutions creatively. This means putting existing ideas together in new combinations. Therefore, expertise is essential to creativity. Expertise is everything including people’s knowledge and capability in their work domain. Expertise is also influenced by personality.

For example, a pharmaceutical scientist may be more creative if his personality feels comfortable even when disagreeing with others. This personality might encourage him to come up with new solutions that departed from the status quo.

Alt text If expertise is a natural resource, then motivation is the will to make things happen. Motivation determines what people will actually do. Take the above example: even if the pharmaceutical scientist has the ability and ideas to solve a particular problem, without the drive of motivation, the problem simply stays a problem. Motivation seems to fall into one of two types: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is more commonly found in creative solutions to business problems.

The motivators can be carrots or sticks that come from outside. Take for example the most widely used motivator–money. The boss of the pharmaceutical scientist can boost the motivation of his employees by both reward and financial threat. This kind of motivation compels the scientist to do his job in order to get something desirable or avoid something disliked. Though this motivator does not discourage creativity from arising, it provides little that will increase creativity. That’s because money doesn’t restore an employee’s passion for his job if the employee has already reached the stage of finding it dull.

Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal desire of a person to do something. Much evidence shows that people are more motivated by intrinsic motivation. The desire for work itself attracts people to take on a challenge and to think of creative solutions.

You can improve the quality of your creativity by making changes in on all three components: expertise, creative-thinking skills, and motivation; but motivation is the most convenient of them all. Compared to motivation, enhancing creative-thinking skills requires time and money to be spent on training and teaching people to use creative solving tools. Besides, affecting intrinsic motivation yields more immediate results than the other factors do.

There are six categories of methods of enhancing creativity: giving a challenge, freedom, resources, work-group features, supervisory encouragement, and organizational support. Giving a challenge means carefully matching people with a task that will evoke their intrinsic motivation to solve a problem. The task should not be so simple that the worker is bored, nor so difficult that she/he is discouraged. Making a good match requires a profound understanding of the worker’s characteristics and ability, otherwise, it will kill her/his creativity. Freedom refers to autonomy in solving problems. In terms of business, managers who clearly define the goal and let employees attain it freely, provide an intrinsic motivation to solve problems creatively. In contrast, some managers risk killing creativity by either giving a blurred definition of the goal or granting autonomy only in words.

Resources include time, money, physical space and the allocation of personnel. In terms of time, on one hand, proper time limitation triggers intrinsic motivation by heightening the challenge; on the other, a fake deadline or too tight a deadline makes people feel over-controlled and damages motivation.

Work-group features are also a way of enhancing creativity. The secret is not only forming a diversified group but also sharing excitement over the goal, showing the desire to help, and perceiving the inherent knowledge of other team members. This requires the manager to have a deep high understanding of the team members.

In contrast, a group consisting of homogeneous team members will kill creativity though it reaches conclusions faster and has fewer conflicts between members. Supervisory encouragement is needed after progress has been made but before the final result emerges to the perhaps longed-for process of evaluating the creative work. Although it is the common situation for creative ideas to be criticized, this behavior may not only turn motivation into the extrinsic kind, but also may ruin intrinsic motivation, and also obstructs everyone’s intention to demonstrate creativity.

As well as encouragement from a manager and support from the entire organization helps creativity to spread quicker. Creativity-supporting organizations reward creativity frequently, however not with money, because this makes people feel controlled and ultimately kills creativity. Instead, the company controls information sharing, which boosts all three components of creativity.

Expertise, creative-thinking skills, and motivation constitute creativity. By using the six types of methods correctly, creativity in the whole organization can be enhanced and improved.

Reference Amabile, T. M. (1998). How to kill creativity (Vol. 87). Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

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This article is from the free online course:

Using Creative Problem Solving

National Chiao Tung University