According to a fascinating Psychology Today article that the Behance Team recently came across, psychologist Teresa Amabile has identified surveillance, evaluation, competition, overcontrol, and pressure as the five primary creativity killers.
To anyone who has ever managed creative employees – and, in the age of the “creative class,” it’s an ever-growing group – this list of five no-no’s will probably look quite familiar, rather like a laundry list of enthusiasm-quashing management tips.
The catch is Amabile’s research pertains to kids. Nonetheless, there’s something to be learned here about creating an environment, and a culture, that supports the special brand of unfettered creativity and risk-taking that we all possessed as children.
After sifting through our research on especially productive creative teams, we’ve assembled a list of alternative best-practice management techniques. Think of them as “antidotes” to Amabile’s list of creativity killers:
Create public to-do lists.
Whether you literally print them in 32-point type and tack them to the wall, or use a collaborative online project management system to display to-dos, the public disclosure of tasks creates shared accountability and eliminates the need for surveillance.
Give feedback early and often.
Engage with your employees regularly as projects unfold so that you can offer iterative advice along the way. An ongoing discussion is significantly more encouraging and constructive than a pass/fail-style end-of-project evaluation.
Foster healthy debate.
The test of a good working relationship (or, really, any kind of relationship) is the ability to argue without fighting. The most successful and productive companies often argue their way to breakthroughs, creating an environment of friendly competition by pitting ideas – not people – against each other.
Distribute ownership of tasks and projects.
Rather than spending an excessive amount of time micromanaging, empower employees to explore their own approaches. They might not tackle the project your way, but, as long as the desired outcome is achieved, it shouldn’t matter. Scalability and efficiency are more valuable than perfection.
Pressure is only effective when applied to goals that have been set by an employee him or herself. Get to know your employees’ personal goals. When you are asking someone to live up to his or her own best self, the pressure can actually be an encouraging force.
***The Behance team researches productivity and leadership in the creative world. These entries are adapted and edited by Jocelyn K. Glei from the Behance team's past articles and research. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, the Creative Jobs List, and develops knowledge, products, and services that help creative professionals make ideas happen.