Sunday, January 09, 2005
Six myths of creativity
Unfolding of natural creativity
Creativity is talked about a lot in schools and businesses. Developing new ideas and being innovative seem very important to everyone
Teresa Amabile, who heads the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at the Harvard Business School, has been studying for thirty years issues such as, what kind of work environments allow creativity to flourish and what can leaders do to encourage it.
What she has learnt has been written up in an article in Fast Company by Bill Breen. You can access the article by going to the magazine
Written for a business audience the finding are equally insightful for those involved in education. While politicians worry about ‘achievement gaps’ these are always in relation to literacy and numeracy. As important as these are, the failure to capitalize on the innate creativity of students goes unnoticed. As counter productive as it seems the scores in basic skills might improve if the focus instead was placed on developing the curiosity and creativity of all students. The desire to learn is what many students have lost; 'learnacy' not literacy!
Teresa studied creativity ‘in the wild’ by trying to look ‘inside people heads and understand the features of the work environment as well as the experiences and thought processes that lead to creative breakthroughs.’ Her findings overturned some long held beliefs and myths about innovation and creativity.
The myths she busted were:
1. Myth One: Creativity comes from creative types.
This is just not true. Everybody is capable of doing creative work. Creativity depends on a number of things but intrinsic motivation is vital – people who are turned on by their work often work creatively. Most people it seems don’t work anywhere near their creative potential, in part because they are in environments that impede intrinsic motivation. This would sound familiar to schools!
2. Myth two: Money is a creativity motivator.
Pay for performance plans can be problematic when people believe every move is going to effect their compensation. In such situations people get risk averse! Teresa found that people put far more value on a work environment where creativity is supported, valued and recognized. People want to engage deeply and make real progress so leaders ought to ensure that people are matched in terms of where their interests lie. People are most creative when they care about their work and when they’re stretching their skills. Too many people are mismatched, working below their skill level and are bored. Another familiar problem to schools!
3. Myth Three: Time Pressure Fuels Creativity.
Research showed people were less creative when they were fighting the clock – in fact in these situations their creativity went down. Time pressure stifles creativity because people cannot engage deeply with the problem, Creativity needs an incubation period and time to soak in a problem to allow ideas to bubble up. To be creative people must be protected from unnecessary distractions. For schools this would mean doing fewer things well rather than trying to cover everything.
4. Myth Four: Fear forces breakthroughs.
There is a myth that fear and sadness somehow spur creativity and more than suggestion that really creative people are depressed in some way. This may be true in some cases but was not evident in Teresa’s study. She found that creativity was associated with joy and love and negatively associated with anger, fear and anxiety. People are happiest when they come up with a creative idea and are more likely to be creative if they were happy the day before. There is a virtuous cycle. When people are excited about their work there is a better chance of making a creative association overnight. One’ days happiness often predicts the next days creativity.
In schools how often do we assess a love of learning as a key factor?
5. Myth Five: Competition beats co-operation.
This is a widespread belief in the business world, and one that has been passed on to schools, that competition is required to spur creativity. Teresa’s research found that creativity takes a hit when people compete instead of collaborating. The most creative teams she found are those that have the confidence to share and debate ideas. When people compete they stop sharing information. Schools are currently suffering from a lack of inter school sharing due to a competition ethos.
6. Myth six: A streamlined organization is a Creative Organization.
There has been a belief that downsizing and restructuring actually fosters creativity. It seems the opposite is true and it is worse than Teresa imagined. Anticipation of downsizing was worse than the downsizing itself. People’s fear of the unknown led them to disengage from work. This would apply to school closures.
The article concludes by Teresa saying that she is not advocating a soft management style - far from it. She is pushing for smart management style based on her research. If people are doing the work that they love, and if they are allowed to engage deeply in it – and if the work is valued and recognized, then creativity will flourish even in tough times.
Lessons in all the above for the school leader and classroom teacher? And lessons for those distant experts who, by imposing ideas from afar, may actually be killing the very creativity and innovation our schools are badly in need of.