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Research has shown that people solve problems in a more creative way and turn out work with more creative surprises if they are able to focus their attention on their daily enjoyment and fun that comes from the challenge, and their total immersion in the work.

Research has shown that people solve problems in a more creative way and turn out work with more creative surprises if they are able to focus their attention on their daily enjoyment and fun that comes from the challenge, and their total immersion in the work.

For high levels of creative output, people need to feel they engage in play, rather than work. They need to have a sense that they work for their own satisfaction on a self-discovered problem in which they have considerable choices, especially in how to accomplish goals. For creative thinking to flourish, they need to have high stability of employment to help shift paradigms and take risks.

You may find it difficult to provide these conditions at work. Most people wait for the organization to provide the ideal workplace that never appears. Do not allow your team to wait.

Help them immunize themselves against the spoilers of creative thinking: the distractions, the external reward and punishment systems, evaluation and time pressures, competition with others, high control by others, and restricted choices.

Keep their focus on their daily enjoyment, the challenge, and their sense of competence about the work. Nurture the creative flame within them by focusing their attention on their inner motivators now.

They all need rewards: salary raises, bonuses, promotions, other awards and honors. They have to achieve your goals, meet deadlines, get positive performance evaluations, and obtain approval of others. Indeed, they do work for your satisfaction.

Yet, these outside motivators spoil daily creative output by overwhelming inner motivation: the daily enjoyment of creative effort. Help their creative thinking by focusing attention on inner motivators. Immunize now. Allow them to become as self directed as the work allows, and watch their creative output soar.

External rewards tend to:

  • Decrease the activity without the reward
  • Decrease enjoyment and undermine performance
  • Shift attention away from inner motivators and the activity
  • Imply work rather than play
  • Lower risk-taking and the complexity of a chosen activity
  • Decrease interest in previously interesting activities
  • Spoil creative enterprise

Inner (intrinsic) awards tend to:

  • Increase the likelihood people will perform the activity later
  • Enhance performance
  • Direct attention toward the activity itself
  • Imply play rather than work
  • Increase realistic risk-taking and complexity of a chosen task
  • Increase interest
  • Help creative enterprise

What have you experienced in your team setting? Please share your thoughts in the comments area below.

Edward Glassman, Ph.D. is a Professor Emeritus (retired) in the Department of Biochemistry of the Medical School of the University of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

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