Category Archives: Creativity

William Gordon and George Prince: Synectics

Creativity is all about having brilliant new ideas.

Go on… Have one now.

Creative ideas don’t just come to us when we want them. The whole process is mysterious, and cannot be called up on demand. Or can it?

Yes, it can. Or so said William Gordon and George Prince. If you know how to, you can find creative solutions when you need them. And their research into the creative process led them to a methodology still used today: Synectics.

George Prince & William Gordon: Synectics

George Prince & William Gordon

William Gordon

William (Bill) Gordon was born in 1919.He attended the University of Pennsylvania, but it is not clear whether he graduated. Between 1950 and 1960, Gordon led the Invention Design Group at consulting firm Arthur D Little & Co. He was, himself, a prolific inventor, with numerous patents to his name.

Synectics had its origins just after the Second World War. Gordon started studying how individuals and groups act creatively. This became more intensive and systematic, leading to him forming the Invention Design Group within Arthur D Little. There, he helped set up synectics groups within several client companies.

It was while leading this team, that Gordon met future Synectics co-founder, George Prince. With two further colleagues, they left Arthur D Little in 1960 to found Synectics Inc. There they pursued further research, developing and selling their model for how to run a creative process.

Also in that year, Gordon wrote ‘Synectics: The Development of Creative Capacity‘.

However, Gordon did not remain at Synectics Inc for long. He left to found Synectics Education Systems, to promote problem‑solving and education based on the use of metaphor.

Gordon died in 2003.

George Prince

George Prince was born in 1918 and grew up in New York State. He attended college at Phillips Exeter Academy and Williams College, graduating in Geology. The second World War saw him serving as a junior officer in the US Navy, in the North Atlantic.

Upon his return, Prince joined an advertising company in Rochester, where he rose to VP. He then learned of the work of Arthur D Little’s Invention Design Group, led by William Gordon. He joined the Arthur D Little company in the 1950s to be a part of that group.

In 1960, he, Gordon and two other colleagues left Arthur D Little to found Synectics Inc (now Synecticsworld). This company researched, developed and promoted their creative problem-solving methodology, Synectics.

Prince remained with the company for most of his, life, as Chairman. In 1970, he wrote ‘The Practice of Creativity‘, which remains in print. He died in 2009.

Synectics

Synectics is a rich methodology for solving problems creatively. However, the principles are easy to grasp:

  • look for alien concepts and things that seem irrelevant, and join them together.
  • Embrace emotions over intellect, and the irrational over the rational.

In applying these principles, Gordon and Prince assumed that the creative process can be described and then taught to others. They also believed that their process, Synectics, will apply widely to different domains of endeavour and can be used by groups and individuals.

They start with a cycling between the ‘operational world’ of routines and procedures, and the ‘innovation world’ of speculation and experimentation. New solutions become more available as we move out of the reality of the operational world, and increasingly embrace fantasy, metaphor, and absurdity.

The process they articulate is at its simplest:

  1. Articulate the task.
  2. Explore options, generating radical ideas that they called ‘Springboards’.
  3. Select the best idea.  Synectics presumes a preference for newness over feasibility at this stage.
  4. Develop that idea, and how it might work in practice.
  5. Put forward your possible solution.

There is a fuller description of the Synectics Problem Solving Process in an earlier article.

Two ideas stick with me from my learning about Synectics many years ago

The first one is the use of ‘How to…’

I love the way Synectics reframes every problem as ‘how to…’ I like it because it presupposes a solution exists and therefor the problem becomes finding it.

And once a selected idea emerges, the emphasis becomes intensely practical. We work on ‘how to make it work’. We constantly articulate the challenges and problems of implementation as ‘how to…’ Each time we solve this, we can modify the trial solution until, with no further issues, we have a possible solution, worthy of putting to the test in the real world.

The second is ‘In and Out Thinking’

Often, when we are in a meeting  particularly a long one that is trying to solve a problem, our minds wander. We have ideas and thoughts that come from ‘inside’, as well as from the meeting: ‘outside’.

We can make best use of these by dividing our notebook page in two – I like to draw a vertical line. On one side, make notes about what you hear or see in the meeting – the Outside thinking. On the other, note down ideas that come from your own thoughts – the Inside thinking. Often these will be connections or distinctions, but sometimes they are seemingly random thoughts. Seemingly, because they are almost certainly triggered by something, but to you, they seem irrelevant, because you are not aware of the link.

Often, these are your Eureka moments.

W Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne: Blue Ocean Strategy

So here are your primary strategic choices:

  • Exploit an existing market and beat your competition
    – or –
  • Find a whole new market where there is no competition

These two approaches have been championed by some of the greatest management thinkers and corporate leaders. W Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne gave these strategies compelling names, and championed the latter in in a phenomenally high-selling book. They called it the Blue Ocean Strategy.

W Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne

W Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne

W Chan Kim

W Chan Kim was born in Korea, in 1952. After studying at the University of Michigan’s Ross Business School, he joined the faculty, becoming a professor. In 1992, he moved to the prestigious European Business School, INSEAD, in France, where he is The Boston Consulting Group Bruce D. Henderson Chair Professor of Strategy and International Management and Co-Director of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute.

Renée Mauborgne

Like Kim, Renée Mauborgne studied and taught at the University of Michigan Ross Business School. They moved together to INSEAD. Mauborgne is an American, born in 1963 (AVGY). The two have been long term collaborators, and their primary work together has been the research and writing about corporate strategy, which led to the concept and book, called Blue Ocean Strategy.

Blue Ocean Strategy

The 2004 HBR article, Blue Ocean Strategy, and the 2005 book of the same name are both best-sellers. The book’s sales are approaching 4 million. So clearly, if you’re a manager with any interest in business strategy, you need to know about this idea.

The concept is disarmingly simple.

A Blue Ocean Strategy sees a business finding a new market that is unexploited, and creating a market space for itself. Kim and Mauborgne’s metaphor is that Oceans represent market spaces.

They contrast new market spaces (blue oceans) with existing markets (red oceans). Companies that adopt a red ocean strategy focus on beating their competition and for this, an understanding of strategic concepts like Porter’s Five Forces will help.

The critique that Kim and Mauborgne level at red ocean strategies is that they often operate in crowded (or overcrowded) markets, offer limited opportunities for growth, and require lower profit margins. The bottom line impact of a red ocean strategy is, at best, conservative.

Instead of this ‘market-competing’ approach, they advocate a ‘market-creating’ strategy, which places an emphasis on ‘value innovation’. This strategy should see customer value increasing, while costs drop, because (in Porter’s terms) you are targeting differentiation, rather than cost leadership. Differentiate yourself, they say, by finding new demand that competitors cannot yet address, and meet it.

As you’d expect from two leading academics, Kim and Mauborgne have created a Blue Ocean Strategy Institute, which they co-direct, and built a suite of analytical tools for companies to draw down on.

Critique of the Blue Ocean Strategy

The first critique could equally be seen as an endorsement. Their idea is not new. Numerous business strategy thinkers have developed and published similar ideas, like Gary Hamel, C K Prahalad, Kenichi Ohmae, and even the venerable Igor Ansoff.

The second critique is harder for Kim and Mauborgne to shake. There is little or no empirical evidence that their strategy works, in the sense of creating lasting competitive advantage through its deliberate application.

Without a doubt, businesses have innovated throughout history, creating new markets from nowhere. And many of them have gone on to maintain dominant positions for many years. You cannot argue with the thesis that finding a Blue Ocean and quickly becoming the top predator there works. Their book is full of modern case studies.

But, who has read the book, decided to launch a blue ocean strategy, applied the tools, found some blue ocean, and created a dominant position?

The counter to this argument is: ‘it’s only been a few years’. But as time goes on, we are waiting for the evidence.

So, what is Blue Ocean Strategy?

Is it an innovative management theory that contains a deep new insight backed by rigorous research?

Or is it a brilliantly packaged re-casting of familiar and self-evident ideas, illustrated by a number of compelling case studies?

I leave you to judge.

 

 

 

 

Robert Tannenbaum & Warren Schmidt: Leadership Continuum

Among many types of model of leadership is one that is particularly useful to practical day-to-day managers: situational leadership. And by far the best version of this idea was developed by two UCLA professors, Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt. Their 1958 article (reprinted in 1973) is one of the most reprinted from Harvard Business Review.

Robert Tannenbaum & Warren Schmidt

Robert Tannenbaum & Warren Schmidt

Robert Tannenbaum

Robert Tannenbaum was born in 1916, in Colorado. He studied at The University of Chicago, gaining an AB in Business Administration in 1937, and his MBA in 1938. The following year, he started his PhD in Industrial Relations also at Chicago, but his studies were interrupted by the war.

After serving as a Lieutenant in the US Navy, he returned to his PhD, which he defended in 1948. From there, he went to teach at the UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where he remained until his retirement in 1977.

Warren H Schmidt

Warren Schmidt was born in 1920, in Detroit, and took a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism at Wayne State University. He then became ordained as a Lutheran minister.

He changed direction again, and after gaining his PhD in Psychology at Washington University, he went to teach at the University of Southern California and UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, where he met Tannenbaum.

By the by, Schmidt is the first of our Management Thinkers and Doers who has won an Oscar. In 1969, he wrote an Op Ed piece for the LA times, titled ‘Is it Always Right to be Right’. This was well received and turned into a short animated movie, narrated by Orson Welles. It won the Academy Award for Best Short Animated Film in 1970.

The Leadership Behaviours Continuum

In what is regarded as a classic 1958 Harvard Business Review article, ‘How to Choose a Leadership Pattern‘, Robert Tannenbaum and Warren H Schmidt set out a range of leadership behaviours.  They set out seven distinct stages on a continuum, which vary from telling team members their decision, through selling their idea and consulting on the problem, to handing over decision-making.

Tannenbaum & Schmidt - Leadership Behaviour Continuum

Tannenbaum & Schmidt – Leadership Behaviour Continuum
A range of behaviours from the purely authoritarian ‘Manager makes a decision and announces it’ through five intermediate styles, to the most democratic ‘Manager allows group to make a decision’ within appropriate constraints.

Equally valuable is their assessment of how a manager can decide how to lead and choose which of the styles will work best.  They argue you must consider three forces:

  • Forces in the manager
    Your values and style, and your assessment of the risk
  • Forces in the team-members
    Your assessment of their readiness and enthusiasm to assume responsibility
  • Forces in the situation
    Time pressure, the group’s effectiveness, organisational culture

This article is a foundation for what is now known as ‘Situational Leadership, and the two trademarked models developed by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard.

The Seven Leadership Behaviours

1. Manager makes the decision and announces it
This is a purely authoritarian style of leadership, with no consideration given to other points of view. Most appropriate in a crisis, the manager sets clear instructions and expectations.

2. Manager ‘sells’ their decision
The manager takes  the role of decision-maker but advocates their decision, appealing to  benefits to the group. Valuable when you need the group’s support.

3. Manager presents their decision and invites questions
The manager is still in control, but allows the group to explore the ideas to better understand the decision. The manager answers to their team, without committing to honour their opinions.

4. Manager presents a tentative decision, subject to change
Now the group’s opinions can count. The manager identifies and resolves the problem, but consults their team before making their own decision.

5. Manager presents the problem, gets suggestions and then makes a decision
Still the manager retains ultimate decision-making authority. But now, they share responsibility for finding the solution with the group, who can influence the final decision.

6. Manager defines the limits within which the group makes the decision
Now decision-making sits with the team. The manager defines the problem and sets boundaries within which the group can operate, which may constrain the final decision.

7. Manager allows group to make decision, subject to organisational constraints
The group has as much freedom as the manager is able to grant them. The manager may help the group and again, commits to respect the decision the group arrives at.

For More Information

This model is fully described, with analysis, in The Management Models Pocketbook.

 

GAC RIP 2/5/2010

Hirotaka Takeuchi & Ikujiro Nonaka: Scrum Development

Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka have featured in an earlier Pocketblog, which was focused on Nonaka and the work  he led on how knowledge can transform organisations.

Arguably, it is how Nonaka and Takeuchi took some of their thinking forward that has led to a far bigger transformation. In 1985, they co-wrote an article for the January 1986 edition of Harvard Business Review. Called ‘The New New Product Development Game’, this article was instrumental in revolutionising the discipline of Project Management.

Takeuchi and Nonaka gave us a new way of thinking about how to develop products and deliver projects. And they coined an evocative sporting metaphor for their process, which has stuck: Scrum.

Hirotaka Takeuchi & Ikujiro Nonaka

Hirotaka Takeuchi & Ikujiro Nonaka

Ikujiro Nonaka

Born in 1935, Ikujiro Nonaka gained a BS in political science at Waseda University, then started work at Fuji Electric, where he created their management programme. Nonaka left Fuji in 1967, to study at the University of California, Berkeley. He was awarded his MBA in 1968, and his PhD in Business Administration, in 1972. He took posts at US universities, before returning to Japan, as a professor at the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy, Hitotsubashi University.

Hirotaka Takeushi

Born in 1946, Hirotaka Takeuchi got his BA from the International Christian University, Tokyo. After a short spell working at McCann-Erickson, he went to the University of California, Berkeley, where he got his MBA in 1971, and his PhD in 1977. During his time at Berkeley, he also worked summers for McKinsey & Company in Tokyo and, more important, met Nonaka.

Takeushi took a lectureship at Harvard in 1976 until 1983, when he joined Hitotsubashi University School of Commerce, where he became a full professor and Dean of the Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy. He stayed until 2010, when he returned to Harvard, as Professor of Management Practice, where he is now.

The New New Product Development Game.

In January 1986, Harvard Business Review published ‘The New New Product Development Game‘ by Takeuchi and Nonaka. This was about a new way to do New Product Development, or NPD. They drew on the idea of ‘ba’ – a Japanese coinage of Nonaka’s, meaning a meeting place for minds and the energy that draws out knowledge and creates new ideas.

They also took a look at the Toyota idea of teams coming together to solve problems. They introduced a sporting metaphor from the game of Rugby; that of the scrum. They used scrum to denote the way teams work together intensively when the ball goes out of play. In a work environment that demands creativity and innovative problem solving, this is just what is needed.

They followed this article up with a 1995 book, ‘The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation‘. This looks at the way Japan became a major economic power, especially in the automotive and electronics industries. they argue that Japanese firms are successful because they create new knowledge to produce successful products and technologies.

Scrum Teams

The model they created for Scrum Teams is of a cross functional group that can work autonomously to resolve its own problems. Their organisation is ’emergent’ meaning there is no assigned leadership or structure; it just emerges from the effective collaboration of its members.

To work best, a Scrum Team needs to be co-located, and work together full-time. This allows a high level of cross-fertilisation of ideas, and a dedication to working on their shared problems, tasks, and initiatives.

Scrum as an Agile Project Management Methodology

Agile project management seeks to avoid the all-or-nothing approach to projects that used to characterise traditional approaches – especially when done in a way that slavishly follows a set of ‘rules’. Although good project managers have always incorporated a lot of plan-do-review (the Deming Cycle), the growth of software development projects demanded an increase focus on agility and incrementalism.

This was the basis of the Agile movement and today the single most widely used Agile methodology takes its name and guiding principles from Takeuchi and Nonaka’s metaphor: Scrum.

In Scrum projects, a Product Owner is responsible for detailing the business requirements and ensuring that the business gets a good return on its product development investment (RoI). The Scrum Team, led by a Scrum Master, selects one subset of functionality from a product backlog of undeveloped functions, divides it into tasks, and works intensively on developing the outputs for a fixed time, known as a Sprint, which is usually 30 days.

Each day, the team gets together for a daily Scrum Meeting to share learning, report progress, discuss challenges, and solve problems. At the end of the sprint, the team should produce a working product that is stable and useful. After a reflection and learning process, the team then works with the product owner to define the subset of functionality it will work on in the next sprint.

The team continues like this until the Product Owner concludes that the next sprint would not create enough additional value to justify the incremental cost.

The Scrum Project Management Lifecycle

The Scrum Project Management Lifecycle

 

Karol Adamiecki: Management Harmony

We tend to think of leading management theorists as coming from the United States. This seems especially so of Scientific Management. But when the privilege of naming things for the world’s largest audience goes to those who write in English, history creates a bias. And because that audience largely reads only one language, that bias gets amplified.

One of many losers from the Anglo-centric nature of management and business thinking was Karol Adamiecki. He was a Polish engineer, turned economist and management thinker, who can claim to have invented the Gantt Chart before Henry Gantt, PERT before the US Navy, the Theory of Constraints before Eliyahu Goldratt, and much of Scientific Management before FW Taylor.

Karol Adamiecki 1866-1933

Karol Adamiecki 1866-1933

Short Biography

Karol Adamiecki was born in southern Poland, in 1866. He studied engineering at the Institute of Technology in St Petersburg, graduating in 1891. He then returned to his home town, where he took charge of a steel mill. He stayed for nearly 30 years, during which time, he formed his ideas about management.

In 1919, he left the mill, and became a lecturer at the Warsaw Polytechnic, becoming a professor in 1922. There, he further codified and published his ideas. In 1925, he founded the Institute of Scientific Management in Warsaw, becoming its Director and remaining until his death in 1933.

Adamiecki’s  Law of Harmony in Management

While running the steel rolling mill, Karol Adamiecki developed sophisticated thinking around management that was, from our perspective, ahead of its time. The three principal components were:

  1. Harmony of Choice
    Management should select and supply production tools that are mutually compatible. He went on to argue that this should be especially so in terms of their output production speed. This anticipated the Theory of Constraints, and the ideas of Eliyahu Goldratt by 75 years or more.
  2. Harmony of Doing
    Sequencing and scheduling of activities need to be fully co-ordinated to optimise production efficiency. Here, he not only developed a tool that looks very similar to the Gantt Chart, well before Gantt published. His approach also anticipated the US Navy’s Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) and du Pont’s Critical Path Method (CPM) by over 50 years.
  3. Harmony of Spirit
    I imagine the Pharaohs’ overseers were constantly emphasising the importance of creating a good team. But this is another theme that feels very modern – perhaps even more so than the other two. Let’s not forget that Taylor’s view of Scientific Management was mechanistic and process-oriented. It took Mayo to bring humanism to the fore, and ideas of team working in management only started to dominate from the 1970s.

Adamiecki started to publish in 1898, several years before Taylor did so.

Harmony of Doing:
The Harmonograph or Harmonogram (or Harmonograf)

In 1896, Adamiecki solved the problem of sequencing and scheduling in production and published, in1903, his solution. He called it a Harmonograf. And it looks very much like what we now call a Gantt Chart. However, Henry Gantt did not publish until 1910. There is no evidence to suggest Gantt copied Adamiecki’s idea.

In constructing the Harmonograf, however, Adamiecki describes a process that is pretty similar to the PERT and CPM methods. He certainly is able to include critical path and float. These are two concepts Gantt did not consider at all.

As Adamiecki described his methods, he was able to optimise production schedules by sliding paper tabs and arranging paper strips. In a very real sense, he developed an analog scheduling computer.

Assessment

Without a doubt, Adamiecki’s thinking was of its time, but way ahead of its rediscovery. He possibly failed to realise just how valuable it was. But more likely, he simply suffered from an Anglophone bias in scholarship and manufacturing. Publishing in Polish simply did not get him recognition far beyond the borders of his home country. Even now, it is only in the Karol Adamiecki University of Economics in Katowice, that his name is celebrated.

And I have to ask, could this happen again? Yes. I think it can, will and probably is happening now. Last week, we met Vlatka Hlupic. Arguably, her work is known despite her Croatian origin, because she lives and works in London. With the US and the UK increasingly looking to close their borders for differing but related reasons, the next Karol Adamiecki’s work could well lay undiscovered for just as long as that of the first.

King Camp Gillette: Disposable Goods

The terms ‘Utopian Socialist’ and ‘Captain of Industry’ are rarely applied to the same person. But they are both sound descriptions of King Camp Gillette. Yet the revolution Gillette arguably led at the sharp edge (!) is not taking us towards a utopia. Far from it. The inevitable consequence of his successful business strategy is a world of depleting resources and growing land-fill.

King Camp Gillette 1855-1932

King Camp Gillette 1855-1932

Short Biography

King Camp Gillette was born in Wisconsin, in 1855. His father was a patent agent, inventor and entrepreneur, who encouraged Gillette and his brothers to tinker and make things too.

The family moved to Chicago and then, after losing pretty much everything in the Great Fire of 1871, to New York. There, Gillette started his business career as a travelling salesman. After a series of jobs, he ended up at the Crown Cork and Seal Company. There, his boss, the company’s founder, recognised Gillette’s ambition to build a business of his own. His advice was:

‘Invent something people use and throw away.’

The Disposable Razor Blade

We all know how that bit of the story ended. The safety razor was already becoming popular in the United States, but still needed to be sharpened frequently. Gillette wondered if he could produce a blade cheaply enough for men to use it until it was dull, and then throw it away and use a new one.

It turns out, he couldn’t at first. So he sold his blades at below cost price, until he could get the manufacturing volumes high enough for the cost price to drop. Gillette had also invented the handle, and his second great innovation was to stop trying to make money on the razor itself. Instead, he gave it away, as a means to tie users into his blades.

So:

  • Disposable products that people need to replace regularly
  • Loss-leading accessories that tie users into the consumable items

Built-in Obsolescence, and a Product Eco-system

Today we’d call these ‘built-in obsolescence, and a product eco-system’. But the formula was phenomenally strong. So strong, in fact, that it was widely emulated – especially once Gillette’s patents expired.

Gillette also initiated the third pillar of the modern shaving business. He was constantly introducing minor innovations and improvements to keep ahead of his competitors – double edged blades, and then tin bladed razors.

Contemporary Corporate Strategy

In a market dominated by a few big players (Gillette among them), the demand is necessarily pretty static (the male population – particularly in affluent nations is not growing, and neither are we growing second heads). In the BCG Matrix, these are ‘cash cows’ – highly profitable lines with minimal growth prospects. All a company can do is defend against its rivals and try to steal some market share. So the strategy of constant incremental improvement remains to this day.

As, obviously, does the Gillette brand. Gillette himself resigned from the business in 1931, due to ill health, but it has retained his name to this day. It is now owned by Proctor and Gamble as one of over 20 global consumer brands. But that’s another business strategy entirely.

Utopian Socialist

Gillette lost a lot of his millions to the Wall Street Crash, but maybe he was okay with that. He wrote a number of books that set out a Utopian ideal for a world of no competition, no wars, and benign monopolistic corporations providing employment and welfare. That’s a dream that still lives on at one end of the political spectrum. Perhaps it’s sad that creating this utopia is not what Gillette is remembered for. Instead, we remember him for the disposable razor blade. Oh well, now I’ve finished this article, I’d better go and have a shave.

Teresa Amabile: Progress Principle

The history of academic study of workplace motivation is full of simple accounts of what motivates us, from the ‘Hawthorne Effect‘ through the ‘Hierarchy of Needs‘ and McClelland’sthree needs‘ to ‘Self Determination Theory‘. Teresa Amabile has added a new, starkly simple account of what managers can do to motivate your people. And it is supported by a huge research base.

Teresa Amabile

Teresa Amabile

 Short Biography

Teresa Amabile was born in 1950 and went Canisius College in western New York State, to study Chemistry. After graduating in 1972, she shifted direction and enrolled at Stanford University to take an MA in psychology, and stayed on to defend her PhD thesis in 1977.

She returned to the East coast to take up an academic post as Assistant Professor of Psychology at Brandeis, where she stayed until 1994, having become a full professor in 1990. There, she became an authority on creativity.

Her 1983 book, The Social Psychology of Creativity, republished in 1996 as Creativity in Context, is considered a classic research text for serious students. It reviews a wide and complex topic. Some of her own findings are most easily accessible in a 1998 Harvard Business Review article, called How to Kill Creativity, which is well-worth reading.

In 1995, she moved to Harvard to become the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration, a chair she continues to hold emerita.  There, Amabile opened up a second, related front in her research, looking at motivation, mood, and our inner life, at work.

This led her to the research which gave her the prominence she enjoys today, and is fully covered in her 2011 book, ‘The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work‘, which she co-wrote with her husband, the psychologist Steven Kramer.

Creativity

Teresa Amabile sees creativity arising out of three components:

  1. Expertise, or knowledge in all its forms
  2. Motivation to solve a problem. Self-motivation (or ‘intrinsic‘ motivation) is far more important than external (‘extrinsic‘) motivation, which can even stifle creativity.
  3. Creative-thinking skills. Amabile asserts there is a capability here and she describes it in terms of flexibility, imagination and perseverance.
Teresa Amabile - Three Components of Creativity

Teresa Amabile – Three Components of Creativity

Managers can influence the development and deployment of these three components, and in her HBR article, Amabile lists six ways.

  1. Challenge
    Managers need to provide tasks that challenge and stretch their employees, rather than allowing them to remain in their comfort zone. Notice how this relates to Csikszentmihalyi’s conditions for Flow.
  2. Freedom
    People thrive best when they are able to work independently on their assignments. This reflects one of the three components of Self Determination Theory: Autonomy.
  3. Resources
    We know constraints help creativity and time pressure boosts it too. But these are likely to do so by also increasing intrinsic motivation. Amabile finds that, without sufficient time and material resources, creativity is held back.
  4. Work-group Features
    Managers can create the local conditions for creativity by encouraging enthusiasm, mutual support and, vitally, a respect among team members for each others’ diverse abilities and contributions.
  5. Supervisory Encouragement
    In a finding that is mirrored by Amabile’s more recent work on inner work-life and motivation, she concludes that managers who encourage and praise team members get more creativity out of them. (Shock horror!)
  6. Organisational Support
    She argues that this goes further. A culture of creativity needs full-on organisational support behind that of the team’s immediate managers. People need to feel their creativity is valued and will open up opportunities.

The Progress Principle

Amabile’s most recent work into our ‘inner worklife‘ has caught the attention of the business press. Her findings show a complete conflict between what people think motivates them at work, and what actually leaves them feeling satisfied at the end of the day.

In questionnaires, Amabile found a very low self-assessment of the importance of making progress in overall mood and job satisfaction. But when she carefully analysed thousands of personal journal entries, she discovered that a sense of having made progress during the day offered the single greatest positive correlation to feeling good at the end of the day. And setbacks in work likewise had an adverse effect on end-of-the-day mood.

I can’t help thinking that David McClelland would hardly have been surprised that this is true of the people he described as having a high ‘Need for Achievement’. But Amabile showed that this applies to almost everyone. And this makes progress a very powerful and equally simple lever of motivation.

And… it is one that managers can easily manipulate. As a project manager, I have always advocated the use of more, rather than fewer, milestones on my projects. Each milestone is a point of recognition of progress. As a manager, you can set more progress indicators for your teams, and expect them to feel better about their work than if they had long periods between conspicuous successes.

There is far more to Amabile’s research than this. But she is an eloquent and clear speaker, so take a look at her describing the Progress Principle, in a 2011 TEDx talk, in Atlanta…

Teresa Amabile at TEDx

Here is Amabile speaking about the progress principle at TEDx, in 2011.