Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Creativity Research

"Yes, there were fairies in China"
(old postcard altered by Lani)

Paraphrased from Harvard Business School's E-Newsletter "Working Knowledge"
July 29, 2002

Teresa Amabile has done some really thought provoking research for creative types who are curious about what they do, why they do it, and how they could do it better.

While she was working as a professor of psychology at Brandeis University, she studied professional artists who occasionally did commissioned work. She wanted to study the effect of extrinsic rewards on creativity. The situation was perfect because the artists received contracts specifying their monetary "reward" up front for some of their work, but did other work completely self-initiated, with no guarantees about sales. Dr. Amabile found that, overall, their commissioned artworks were rated by art critics as significantly less creative than their self-initiated work. The judges didn't know which works were commissioned, and they weren't familiar with any of the artists' work previously.

Also while at Brandeis, she did a laboratory experiment with creative writers. She wanted to see if their creativity would be affected by having them focus on extrinsic motivations for being a writer, such as getting rich and famous, versus intrinsic motivations such as enjoying the process of writing. After getting the writers to think about one or the other set of motivations, she had them each write a brief poem that was later judged by critics who didn't have the details of the experimental conditions. The critics found that the creativity of the poems was significantly lower in the group who thought about extrinsic rewards, than in the group who thought about intrinsic rewards. This supported one of the main findings of Dr. Amabile's entire research program on creativity: The Intrinsic Motivation Principle of Creativity. People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself, and not by external pressures or inducements.

Thank you Teresa Amabile!

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