Daily Archives: 8 December 2004

Creativity: Six Widespread Myths

Fast Company has
an interesting article on creativity
and six myths that
have become associated with the topic. According to a study
done at the Harvard Business School, the six
myths are:

  1. Creativity comes from Creative Types

  2. Money is a Creativity Motivator

  3. Time Pressure Fuels Creativity

  4. Fear Forces Breakthroughs

  5. Competition Beats Collaboration

  6. A Streamlined Organization is a Creative

I have a few comments that are perhaps addressed in the
original study but isn’t in the Fast Company article.

Creative Types. I agree that creativity
isn’t confined to only one type of person. So I think the lesson
here is to be open to creative suggestions from whichever the
source may be. That said, creativity, like many, if not all,
other human traits is probably distributed on a normal bell
curve. That is, some people have more of it than others. If
true, it should follow that if you need creative types, you
would want people with an abundance of that trait.

Practically speaking, that is easier said than done.
Hence, the lesson truly is to be open to creative suggestions
from all of your employees.

Money as Motivator. There’s an old joke that says:
“Money isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” But, I think,
what the study is saying is while money certainly is a motivator,
once a certain level of need is met, more money doesn’t lead
to more creativity. Rather, other higher needs (
as Maslow would say
) come into play. Needs such as
social, esteem, and self-actualization. The lesson for the
good manager then is to match people up with what is
motivating to them at the time, not just throwing money at
people (feel free to send some my way though – ed.).

Time. Another human trait that seems to
be described by the normal bell curve is productivity. While
people in the study indicated they worked best when under
time pressures, the study seems to indicate just the
opposite. In other studies I’ve seen, productivity when
plotted on the y-axis versus anxiety on the x-axis indicates
if there is no anxiety, that is no pressure, there is no
productivity. Conversely, where there is a lot of anxiety,
there is also no productivity. The lesson here is that while
there needs to be some anxiety to have productivity, too much
anxiety will actually decrease productivity. Hence, if people
really are under the gun, the trick is to remove as many
other distractions as possible so that people can focus on
the one most important task.

Fear. While there is a popular myth that
creativity comes from the depths of depression, this study
found that people are most creative when they are happy. The
lesson is, fear is certainly a motivator, but the best
motivator seems to be happiness.

Competition. There is a place for
competition. But the article says internal
competition stifles communication (since sharing information,
without receiving something of value in return, is a
competitive disadvantage). And since no one person can know
everything, isolating that person will usually not lead to
creative ideas. The lesson is internal collaboration can lead
to synergistic effects. These effects can then lead to

Streamlined. If streamlining your
organization is a euphemism for downsizing. And if downsizing
is a result of bad management decisions, then creativity will
suffer. The article indicates that creativity seemed to
suffer the most prior to the announcement of the downsizing
because people knew something was coming, but didn’t know
what. Hence, they felt helpless and spent more time preparing
for the worst then being creative. The lesson is, if you will
be firing people, give people accurate, timely information as
soon as possible. Employees can see whether an organization
is running well. If it isn’t, they know people will be layed
off. The lesson for management is to deal openly with the
problem as soon as possible rather than draw it out and go
into denial.