Saturday, December 5, 2015

Creativity loves constraints

The title of this post comes from Marissa Mayer, the head of product development at Google.  I read it today in Tina Seelig's book inGenius.  I'm the kind of person who doesn't really like to work under pressure (certainly not the pressure of time).  I like to get things done in plenty of time, leaving me with the freedom to modify or change things before the deadline.  Other people tend to leave things to the last minute and then pull off "all-nighters" to get them done.  According to Seelig, these people could well be the creative ones!

Seelig shares a graphic, which I have reproduced here, that was designed by Teresa Amabile Constance Hadley and Steve Kramer of the Harvard Business School that shows how pressure influences creativity.

This matrix examines the relationship between high and low pressure and high and low creativity:

  • Expedition (low pressure and high creativity):  People are free to engage in exploration of opportunities, however they need to be very self-motivated and inspired to use the time to be creative.
  • Autopilot (low pressure and low creativity):  Here there are no external incentives or encouragement to be creative, and people are bored and uninspired.
  • Treadmill (high pressure and low creativity):  When pressure is unrelenting and unfocused, as for example when the goals keep changing, then work feels unimportant and people feel they are on a treadmill that never stops.
  • Mission (high pressure and high creativity):  Here, despite the pressure, there is a clear, focused and important goal and people are highly creative.
Over my 30 plus years in teaching, I can identify with each of these situations at different times in my career.  I've worked in several schools where teachers seem to be on autopilot or on a treadmill, and I've worked in others where there has definitely been the freedom to explore things that were definitely out of the box.  I feel very happy with the balance where I am now.  Certainly there are lots of times when I feel I am on a mission.  During my R&D work, on the other hand, I definitely relate to the expedition metaphor.  Probably I think I thrive in a situation where there is both, in order to stay balanced.

Where do you see yourself in this grid?  Do you think pressure increases or decreases your creativity?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting; this was very relevant to me today. I appreciate being able to re-evaluate some of my work priorities by questioning, "Is this Expedition? Or is this Mission?" I feel fortunate in my work (district specialist) that I am in the Mission quadrant, and also that I can spend time in the Expedition quadrant whenever possible.

    I think constraints go hand in hand with creativity because creativity is not making something from nothing, it's making something from whatever is available. It's problem-solving and invention.