Motivate Employee Creativity

Here’s a question for you: What is the most common way to get somebody to do a task?

The answer? You pay them.

So how do you get them to take a task to the next level?

Again, you just pay them more, right? 

That’s the simple equation behind our workplaces and our economy in general. Compensation and incentives are what motivate us to complete tasks we otherwise wouldn’t consider. We call these jobs.

Most jobs with good money in them, however, aren’t assembly line, gear-turning, repetitive, thoughtless jobs. They require creative thought and the ability to see multiple solutions to the same problem.

In fact, according to a study by MIT researchers, financial incentives don’t spark creative thought. If anything, they can lead to poorer creative performance.

How, then, do you motivate people to work in a creative, productive way?

You provide fulfilling work and a positive, comfortable environment.

Fulfilling Work

Providing employees with fulfilling work can be a challenge. According to author Dan Pink, it comes down to three basic principles:

  • autonomy
  • mastery of a skill
  • a sense of purpose for the work

In an entertaining video by RSAnimate, Pink explains these principles lead to intrinsic motivation and positive company culture when employees are paid enough to keep financial incentives off their minds.

Autonomy, or self-direction, is what we all seek out in our free time, so it makes sense that it would remain important to us at work. We like doing what we choose to do and how we choose to do it.

Pink describes a video game company that routinely allows its developers to work on projects of their choice for a scheduled amount of time, then share them with the company in a party at the end of the day.

This practice lead to improvements on plenty of existing products, as well as entirely new projects that would have otherwise never existed.

Larger companies, like Google, have used this approach to much success as well.

Company Culture

Another key component to fulfilling work is a sense of mastery over a skill. If a task allows you to improve a skill, it makes it more enjoyable. This is why people play instruments, write fiction, draw, or pursue virtually any other hobby even when they aren’t paid to do so.

Improving a skill is enjoyable. When people work on projects of their choice, they’re excited to get better at them and, as a result, produce better results.

The effects of both of these methods are boosted even further when combined with a sense of purpose.

Why am I working on this project? Does it really matter if I get it done or not?

Negative answers to these questions can absolutely kill productivity and innovation. If people feel like they’re participating in the community and culture of their workplace, however, they are much more inclined to do better work (and more of it).

The feeling of making a real contribution brings a satisfaction that monetary incentives will never provide.

Employee Motivation

The Right Environment

A thriving company culture with employees who feel fulfilled requires an environment that is comfortable and encourages creativity. A big part of the environment is, of course, the physical space.

Is the space welcoming? Does it look sterile and bland? Is it set up in a way to encourage collaboration between employees? Or are they isolated?

Many companies provide the option of standing desks, which makes moving around easier and allows more blood to flow through the body, leaving employees more clear minded and awake. Unorthodox companies like Valve give employees desks on wheels that can be moved anywhere on their campus to allow collaboration with anyone else at any time.

When employees can easily communicate with each other, collaboration is almost inevitable. If the physical location of your office doesn’t allow for such experimental measures, try an internal social network. Services like Slack have become great assets for companies that use them. 

Friendship also begin to form between employees, and with more in-office friendships come happier employees.

Friends at Work

(Image by Ohio University)

Giving employees fulfilling roles, stimulating work, and the right environment for it will require some experimentation, but making your business the perfect hive for creative work won’t happen overnight. Trial and error will be the best method of finding the right combination of these factors for your employees.

Once perfected, however, expect great improvements in productivity as well as a positive work environment to return to each day.

Leave a comment and let us know what inspires your creativity. 

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Written by Dylan Ellison
Dylan Ellison is a freelance writer from Boise, ID with a focus on business, technology, and music.

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