Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Want Creative Workers? Loosen the Reins, Boss


Philip Glass, the contemporary composer, works on his new compositions only between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. That’s the time, he says, when his creative ideas come to him. When filmmaker George Lucas needs to write or edit a script, he sequesters himself in a small cottage behind his house where he gets no calls or visitors.

A lesson in managing creativity can be found in the work discipline of such inventive geniuses: A protected bubble in time and space fosters the imaginative spirit.

That notion challenges some prevailing wisdom -- particularly the assumption that upping the pressure on workers will squeeze more innovative thinking out of them. Many managers assume that just calling people into a high-demand brainstorming session will get everyone’s best ideas out on the table.

That is dead wrong, according to new research on the creative process. In a knowledge economy, where competitive advantage comes from leveraging the most innovative ideas and executing them well, leaders at every level would do well to reflect on these findings.

In a study led by Teresa Amabile, a director of research at the Harvard Business School, researchers asked more than 1,000 knowledge workers -- members of research-and-development, marketing and information-technology teams -- to keep daily diaries. This data trove revealed a disconnect between how managers think they can best support creative efforts, and how those who are actually making the efforts assess what helps them most.

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