How To Enhance Creative Outcomes At Work

Self-motivation fuels creative work, while outside motivators sink it. Factors that help productivity usually spoil creative effort, including offers of rewards, expected evaluation, imposed deadlines, and other conditions that common wisdom proclaims helps and benefits creative performance.

Some research supports this notion (see “The Social Psychology Of Creative Thinking” by T. Amabile and “Creativity In The R&D Laboratory” by T. Amabile & S. Gryskiewicz):

• A high interest in an activity improves creative outcomes.

• Focusing on inner reasons (enjoyment) to do something helps creative thinking, while focusing interest on outside reasons spoils creative thinking.

• Doing an activity for its own sake (fun, enjoyment, elation, pleasure) helps creative thinking, while doing something to accomplish an outside goal spoils creative thinking.

Creative thinking spoils when people focus on expected evaluation, a reward that depends on performance, supervision, lack of choice to do something or how to do it, or imposed deadlines.

Creative thinking increases when self-motivation rises due to the enjoyment that comes with choices, no obvious intrusions, no expectation of evaluation, and no supervision by watchers.

The outside motivators shown to spoil creative outcomes include:

• Focusing on external rewards rather than on inner rewards: the enjoyment and fun at work.

• Thinking about outside reasons (rewards and punishments) for doing an activity.

• Evaluation, or even expecting evaluation.

• Reduced choice of what to do and how to carry it out.

• Watched while performing an activity.

Expecting an attractive reward for good performance.

Externally imposed deadlines and time constraints.

As an R&D leader, help your work group self-motivate for creative work. Try this:

• Match the activity to worker interest and involvement.

• Encourage self-direction.

• Stress inner reasons for doing things (daily enjoyment, joy, fun, excitement, pleasure).

• Help people reduce the feelings (resentment, fear) generated by visible external constraints.

• Offer some free choice about whether or how to do an assignment.

• Avoid obvious intrusions and minimize performance evaluations.

Make work self-rewarding so it increases the desire to produce creative outcomes.


Much research shows that people turn out work more creative and solve problems more creatively if they focus their attention on their daily enjoyment and the challenges of the work.

As an R&D leader, encourage your work group to achieve high levels of creative output: help them perceive the novelty in the work, their own self-competence and self-direction, and the sense they engage in play rather than work. Help them feel that they work for their own satisfaction on a self-discovered problem in which they have many choices, especially in how to do the work. For creative work to flourish, help them feel a lot of curiosity and interest.

If you want the people in your R&D team to increase creative output, do not distract them from these sources of self-motivation. Do not dangle external motivators in front of them on a daily basis. Instead focus their daily attention, and yours too, on inner motivators: the daily enjoyment due to the novelty and challenges of the work, their sense of competence, self-direction, and satisfaction.

Give them as many choices as you can, especially in how to achieve goals. Provide job stability to encourage risk taking, the core of creative enterprise at work. Allow them to feel they engage in play rather than work. Encourage self-evaluation, self-direction, and self-satisfaction at work.

Allow R&D people to focus on their inner motivators, not on outside motivators. They all want salary raises, promotions, and honors, all important rewards. The R&D people in your work group must accomplish your goals, meet deadlines, get positive performance appraisals, and obtain the good will of others. They do work for your satisfaction. Yet, these outside motivators spoil creative enterprise by overwhelming inner motivators: the daily enjoyment, pleasure, and satisfaction of the work, the elation that comes from achieving self-determined goals.

Help creative thinking by focusing R&D people’s attention on these inner motivators. Help people in your work group become self directed by adjusting your leadership style and watch creative work take off in your work group.


Research has shown that R&D people solve problems in a more creative way and turn out work with more creative surprises, if they focus their attention on their daily enjoyment and fun that comes from the challenge, and their total immersion in the work (trancing out).

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 R&D 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 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.



• decrease the activity without the reward

• decrease enjoyment and undermine creative performance

• shift attention away from inner motivators and the creative 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


• 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

Ed Glassman, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University, a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC, a Visiting Professor at the University Of California at Irvine, and a Visiting Scientist at SRI International.

And checkout his book: “CREATIVITY TRIGGERS ARE FOR EVERYONE: How To Use Your Inventiveness To Brighten Your Life.” CLICK here AND HERE.

His book: “Team Creativity At Work I & II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best,” is available: CLICK here AND HERE.

His book: “R&D CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION HANDBOOK: A Practical Guide To Improve Creative Thinking and Innovation Success At Work” is available.   CLICK here  AND HERE

About the Author
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus and former head of the "Program for Team Effectiveness and Creativity," in the medical school of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.