If you are a leader or manager your job is to get the best work out of the people on your team. Traditional approaches to corporate management often rely on 'the carrot and the stick' — offering rewards for good performance, using managerial authority to command people, and penalising failure to comply.
But creative work is different.
You're probably aware that creative people have a reputation for being free spirits who hate being told what to do. So it won't surprise you to hear that wielding the big stick will have a negative impact on their work.
But did you know that you can do just as much harm with the carrot?
What Makes Creative People Different?
We all recognise the stereotype of the creative person — brilliant, temperamental, introverted, alternately consumed with pride then racked with self-doubt. Difﬁcult. Eccentric. Possibly mad. Psychologists have devoted enormous efforts to trying to analyse, deﬁne and measure the ‘creative personality’ — but it may interest you to know that they have not had much success.
Where they have succeeded however, is in demonstrating the impact of different types of motivation on the creative process.
Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile has conducted extensive research into the effect of motivation on creative performance, particularly in organisational settings. In an article titled 'How to Kill Creativity', she lays out the basic problem:
In today's knowledge economy, creativity is more important than ever. But many companies unwittingly employ managerial practices that kill it. How? By crushing their employees' intrinsic motivation — the strong internal desire to do something based on interests and passions.
Managers don't kill creativity on purpose. Yet in the pursuit of productivity, efﬁciency, and control — all worthy business imperatives — they undermine creativity. It doesn't have to be that way ... business imperatives can comfortably coexist with creativity. But managers will have to change their thinking ﬁrst.
(Theresa Amabile, ‘How to Kill Creativity’, Harvard Business Review, September-October 1998)
Amabile's research has demonstrated that intrinsic motivation is strongly linked to creative performance. In one experiment she worked with two groups of children. The ﬁrst group were given paper and paint and told to paint a picture. The second group were told that if they painted a really good picture they would be rewarded with a sweet. When the resulting pictures were evaluated, the ﬁrst group was judged to have produced consistently better pictures than the second group. Amabile’s explanation is that the ﬁrst group was focused on painting for its own sake (intrinsic motivation) whereas the second group was distracted by the thought of the reward (extrinsic motivation) and so failed to give the painting sufﬁcient attention to produce something really good.