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BFTP: 6 business myths about creativity educators should know

. when people are doing work that they love and they're allowed to deeply engage in it -- and when the work itself is valued and recognized -- then creativity will flourish. Even in tough times.  - Teresa Amabile

Business is very interested in how to make employees more creative. THE 6 MYTHS OF CREATIVITY from the December 2004 issue of Fast Company describes work done by Teresa Amabile at the Harvard business school. Her study reviewed 12,000 daily journal entries from 238 people working on creative projects in seven companies. And she discovered some interesting myths that she feels companies need to recognize if they want to increase creativity in their employees.

What I find interesting is that these business myths have direct correlations to education if we stretch our thinking even a little. Here they are. (Remember these are myths.) My comments are in italics.

  1. CREATIVITY COMES FROM CREATIVE TYPES ... almost all of the research in this field shows that anyone with normal intelligence is capable of doing some degree of creative work. ... Intrinsic motivation -- people who are turned on by their work often work creatively -- is especially critical. We need to recognize that all students, not just those in the talented and gifted programs, AP classes, or on a college track, have the capacity to be innovative, especially when intrinsically motivated.
  2. MONEY IS A CREATIVITY MOTIVATOR Bonuses and pay-for-performance plans can even be problematic when people believe that every move they make is going to affect their compensation. In those situations, people tend to get risk averse. ... it's critical for leaders to match people to projects not only on the basis of their experience but also in terms of where their interests lie. Grades, class rank, or even winning competitions are not the key to making students more creative. The truly original thinkers work out of personal need and interest, not for high test scores. In fact worrying about grades and other extrinsic motivators may make students risk adverse and less likely to take creative chances.
  3. TIME PRESSURE FUELS CREATIVITY ... when people were working under great pressure, their creativity went down not only on that day but the next two days as well. Time pressure stifles creativity because people can't deeply engage with the problem. 50 minute classes, over-stuffed curricula, and too much deadline-driven homework will kill creativity in kids. How many kids get time in school (or life) to reflect and dream - or even encouraged to do so?
  4. FEAR FORCES BREAKTHROUGHS ... creativity is positively associated with joy and love and negatively associated with anger, fear, and anxiety. The [diary] entries show that people are happiest when they come up with a creative idea, but they're more likely to have a breakthrough if they were happy the day before. ... One day's happiness often predicts the next day's creativity. Our children's overall attitude toward school is a critical factor in helping them exercise their creative muscles. Kids who don't like school, feel isolated or depressed, or are always under pressure will not become original problem-solvers.
  5. COMPETITION BEATS COLLABORATION ... creativity takes a hit when people in a work group compete instead of collaborate. The most creative teams are those that have the confidence to share and debate ideas. But when people compete for recognition, they stop sharing information. What does this say about many of the competitions sponsored to encourage creativity? Does ranking and giving awards encourage or discourage the entrepreneurial spirit? Grades will be less effective than performance assessments in bringing out the creativity energies of kids. 
  6. A STREAMLINED ORGANIZATION IS A CREATIVE ORGANIZATION Anticipation of the downsizing was even worse than the downsizing itself -- people's fear of the unknown led them to basically disengage from the work. Huge class sizes, inadequate beleaguered staff, crumbling facilities, and disappearing extra curricular opportunities are the equivalent of business downsizing. Reducing school budgets may well reduce the number of creative graduates as well.

I know that business and education can be two very different animals. But human nature is human nature whether that human is an accountant or a third-grade student. When no-nonsense business experts recognize the factors that encourage or inhibit creativity, all of us ought to pay attention.


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Original post 3/16/14

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