Creativity and innovation
Creativity and innovation

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Creativity and innovation

1.3.1 Motivation

Amabile (1990, 2006) argues that neither the possession of mental flexibility nor relevant experience is sufficient for creativity to flourish. Rather creativity emerges when there is a combination of these factors along with intrinsic motivation (i.e. people are doing what they want to do). So, while chance may favour the prepared mind, motivation seems to be an equally important factor, and the love people feel for their work may be a good measure of their level of creativity. The argument here is that you need to be intrinsically motivated to drive the persistent effort needed for a creative outcome. Richard Branson has said: ‘Business is not about winning, about the bottom line, and about trade or commerce, or any of the things conventional business wisdom maintains. Rather, business is what concerns us. If you care about something enough to want to do something about it, you're in business’. Branson proclaims that he has never been interested in business in terms of making money but that rather he was interested in creating things and ‘creating businesses he could be proud of’ (Branson, 2011, from the Introduction).

If you really care about something, you are more willing to take risks to achieve it and both perseverance and a capacity for risk-taking seem to be necessary creative attributes. The implication is that people are more likely to be creative in areas they are most interested in. Employers could be well advised to allow employees considerable freedom to work on the projects they are most attracted to and to determine how they do their work. (Amabile, (2006), elaborates on how organisations kill creative ideas.)

Many innovative companies have policies that allow research scientists to follow their own motivation to some degree. For example, 3M, a company that aims for 30% of its products to have been developed in the last five years, has a motto: ‘find the inventors and do not get in their way. It allows some researchers 15% of their time to pursue projects of personal interest; Google has allowed 20% and Hewlett Packard, 10%. The highly successful Post-it™ pads, superconductive materials, and Gmail all emerged from projects conducted in researchers’ ‘free time’ (e.g. Mediratta, 2007). Marissa Mayer, then Google Vice-President, worked out that half of Google's new launches came from employee’s one day a week working on projects of their own choosing (Mayer, 2006).

Watch: How successful organisations draw out creativity in their staff

Google is probably the world’s most successful creative company. You might like to watch Marissa Mayer, former Google Vice-President and now Yahoo CEO, speaking about some of the ways Google draws out the creativity of its staff.

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MARISSA MAYER: Ideas come from everywhere. A lot of people will say ‘well, how do you get the idea for Google Maps, or the Google toolbar? Where did it come from?’ And the answer is, in an environment like Google, ever since the company was small, even until now when it’s really large, we expect everyone to have ideas. Our engineers come up with ideas, some things come top-down, some ideas come from our users. And it’s interesting, because when you look at the myriad of different products Google has released, we actually have examples of almost all of the above. Google Maps, the idea for that actually came from an acquisition. We found these four engineers in Australia who were just amazingly good at building mapping interfaces and combined them with a bunch of JavaScript experts at Google. And said ‘OK, let’s take their ideas on how you navigate maps, place them on the web using JavaScript, and ultimately build this really great application’. So ideas really do come from all kinds of different inspirations.There’s other things that we do that are very strategic and top-down. When we looked at, say, something like Google Desktop we thought, for a lot of strategic reasons, we need to have a deeper, more meaningful relationship with our users. What functionality could we provide them that they’ll want to have on their computer and that will allow them to access Google really easily all the time? So sometimes it comes from an overall strategy or strategic concerns. Sometimes it comes from an acquisition that we’re doing. And sometimes it just comes from someone wanting to solve a problem that they feel we could solve better. Google News is a great example of that. There was an engineer named Krishna Bharat, and he was a news junkie. And after September 11, he found himself really consumed with reading news and he found he had the same pattern every day. He would go and visit his favourite 15 news sites, and he would try and find the same story about anthrax all throughout the different stories to get all the different perspectives and get the maximum amount of information.And then after he did this for about month, he thought well, this is kind of silly. Because he’s like, ‘I work at a search engine, I actually could probably crawl all this data’. And he’s actually an expert in artificial intelligence, so he thought, ‘I could cluster things’. So he built this little script that crawled his favourite 15 news sites, gathered up all the news, and then clustered it so it would actually group the stories he wanted to read together. And he built this little tool for himself to read news more efficiently, used it for a while, thought it was pretty useful. Mailed it out to the company, and said ‘hey, I use this to read my news, maybe some of you would find it useful’. And a bunch of us saw that, and immediately said this isn’t just an internal tool to help Krishna read news better. This is something that could help a lot of people read news better. And we should take it up to the next level so it’s not just a plain white page with lots of blue links, but actually looks more like a news experience, and make it available to our users. So there’s a myriad of different places that ideas come from. And what you really want to do is set up a system where people can feel like they can contribute to those ideas. And that the best ideas rise to the top in sort of a Darwinistic way by proof of concept, a powerful prototype, by demonstrating it’s going to fill a really important user need, and so on and so forth.

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MARISSA MAYER: Share everything you can. And I think that one thing that’s been really fundamental about Google is we have an incredibly open culture. Until we went public, in fact until about three months before, our VP of sales got up every day and told us the revenue numbers for the company. And it’s amazing when you take a lot of smart, motivated people and give them access to a huge amount of information, how well-informed their choices are about what they want to work on and what needs to be done. And I think that’s been really amazing, because it’s helped us manage the organisation in a way that’s really flat. So you may have heard things like, GE has a 1:12 rule, which means for every 12 employees, there’s one manager. We’ve had a very flat organisation. So we have situations where we’ll have 40 or 60 employees with one manager. And the idea there is we want people, if they can prioritise their own time and manage themselves really well, because they have access to a really broad array of information, that works well. And it gives them the empowerment and feeling of independence that they need to be really successful. Share everything you can also applies to another philosophy that I think is rather interesting, which really struck me from a book that was written by Tom Kelley called The Art of Innovation. And he has a concept there around taking credit. And he’ll say that, one thing that happens sometimes is that when people come up with an idea, they’ll think that they have a really good idea. And they throw it out there to the organisation, and then they follow it around, because they want to make sure that everyone knows it’s their idea. And he said that there will be people who can become so consumed with ‘does everyone know this is my idea?’ that they ultimately stop producing new ideas. And he said that he made this observation that at IDEO, he saw this phenomenon where people who just put all their energy into coming up with the most ideas possible and not really worrying about where those ideas flowed inside the organisation, or how they got used, or whether or not they got credit, ultimately ended up flourishing more, because they became known as such fountains of ideas that someone would say, ‘Well, where did this idea come from?’ And they’d say, ‘Well, I don’t know. Maybe it was Joe. Joe always has ideas’. It was this very interesting concept of not being territorial to the point of actually hindering yourself. And I think it was a really interesting observation. It’s something that we do a pretty good job practising at Google. Which is not to say that people don’t get credit for the ideas that they come up with. But I think that people are focused more on the users and on innovation and less on how they themselves are fulfilled. And as a result, they actually have a more fulfilling experience and are known for their achievements more.

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These two videos are from a podcast by Marissa Mayer for Stanford University.

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