Fostering Creativity and Motivation

This TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson was a wakeup call to everyone concerned with education in the US: there is a severe lack of the creativity in circulation. The talk begged the question: “What is creativity and where does it come from?”

Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA Animation on Changing Education Paradigms.

As it turns out, changing education paradigms to encourage creativity is linked to changing motivation paradigms. If we change the way schools are organized to incorporate new thinking about the best ways to motivate workers to tackle the complex problems of our modern society, we find that it also creates the environment required to foster creativity.

Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

The use of rewards and punishments to control our employees’ production is an antiquated way of managing people. To maximize their enjoyment and productivity for 21st century work, we need to upgrade our thinking to include autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Tasks can be divided into two categories:

•Algorithmic – a task which follows a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion.

•Heuristic – a task that has no algorithm, you have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution.

In the U.S., only 30% of job growth comes from algorithmic work, while 70% comes from heuristic work. A key reason: Routine work can be outsourced or automated; artistic, empathic, non-routine work generally cannot.

External rewards and punishments can work nicely for algorithmic tasks but they can be devastating for heuristic ones. Solving novel problems depends heavily on the intrinsic motivation principle of creativity.

The starting point for any discussion of motivation in the workplace is a simple fact of life: People have to earn a living. If employee compensation isn’t adequate or equitable, the focus will be on the unfairness of the situation.

Without fairness in baseline compensation you’ll get very little motivation at all. But once we’re past that threshold, carrots and sticks can achieve precisely the opposite of their intended aims. Rewards can transform an interesting task into a drudge. They can turn play into work. Traditional “if-then” rewards can give us less of what we want. They can:

• Extinguish intrinsic motivation,

• Diminish performance,

• Crush creativity, and

• Crowd out good behavior.

• Encourage cheating, shortcuts and unethical behavior

• Become addictive, and

• Foster short-term thinking.

These are the bugs in our current operating system.

For those driven by intrinsic motivation – the drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing – is essential for high levels of creativity.

Self-Determination theory argues that we have three innate psychological needs – competence, autonomy and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive and happy. When they’re thwarted, our motivation, productivity, and happiness plummet. Therefore we should focus our efforts on creating environments for our innate psychological needs to flourish.


To encourage Type I behavior, and the high performance it enables, the first requirement is autonomy. People need autonomy over:

• Task – What they do,

• Time – When they do it,

• Team – Who they do it with and

• Technique – How they do it.

Encouraging autonomy doesn’t mean discouraging accountability. People must be accountable for their work. Motivation 3.0 presumes that people want to be accountable and having control over their task, time, team and technique is a pathway to that destination. While Motivation 2.0 (control) required compliance, Motivation 3.0 (autonomy) demands engagement. Only engagement can produce mastery – becoming better at something that matters.


Only engagement can produce mastery – becoming better at something that matters. Solving complex problems requires an inquiring mind and the willingness to experiment one’s way to a fresh solution.

Mastery abides by three peculiar rules:

• Mastery is a mindset: It requires the capacity to see your abilities not as finite, but as infinitely improvable. Type I behavior has an incremental theory of intelligence, prizes learning goals over performance goals and welcomes effort as a way to improve at something that matters.

• Mastery is pain: It demands effort, grit and deliberate practice. As wonderful as flow is, the path to mastery – becoming ever better at something you care about – is a difficult process over a long period of time.

• Mastery is an asymptote: It’s impossible to fully realize, which makes it simultaneously frustrating and alluring.


In Motivation 3.0, purpose maximization is taking its place alongside profit maximization as an inspiration and a guiding principle. The new “purpose motive” is expressing itself in three ways:

•In goals that use profits to reach purpose. Giving employees control over how the organization gives back to the community might do more to improve their overall satisfaction than one more “if-then” financial incentive.

•In words that emphasize more than self-interest; and

•In policies that allow people to pursue purpose on their own terms.

One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself.

Motivation, creativity and problem solving go hand in glove. We cannot predict the solutions to complex problems. Instead we must simultaneously support environments that foster motivation and creative problem solving as well as evaluating and implementing the solutions that emerge. That process will be explained in the following posts.


About Freedom to...

Consultant helping people and employers in health care, education and government to see and understand how their organization works and how to change them to improve performance.
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One Response to Fostering Creativity and Motivation

  1. Pingback: The 5th Discipline: Learning Organizations | Now we're talking!

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