Article: Why Goals Lower Creativity

August 27, 2007  

Twenty years ago, The Boston Globe published an article on how traditional forms of motivation diminish creativity.  For the most part, this is consistent with the goal-free philosophy.  Organizational goals are extrinsic forms of motivation that often degrade performance rather than enhance it.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

Psychologists have been finding that rewards can lower performance levels, especially when the performance involves creativity.

A related series of studies shows that intrinsic interest in a task — the sense that something is worth doing for its own sake — typically declines when someone is rewarded for doing it.

If a reward — money, awards, praise, or winning a contest — comes to be seen as the reason one is engaging in an activity, that activity will be viewed as less enjoyable in its own right.

***

Researchers offer several explanations for their surprising findings about rewards and performance.

First, rewards encourage people to focus narrowly on a task, to do it as quickly as possible and to take few risks. “If they feel that ‘this is something I have to get through to get the prize,’ they’re going to be less creative,” Amabile said.

Second, people come to see themselves as being controlled by the reward. They feel less autonomous, and this may interfere with performance. “To the extent one’s experience of being self-determined is limited,” said Richard Ryan, associate psychology professor at the University of Rochester, “one’s creativity will be reduced as well.”

Finally, extrinsic rewards can erode intrinsic interest. People who see themselves as working for money, approval or competitive success find their tasks less pleasurable, and therefore do not do them as well.

You can read the entire article at Studies Find Reward Often No Motivator by Alfie Kohn.

P.S. Antony, thanks for sending me this information.

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2 Responses to “Article: Why Goals Lower Creativity”

  1. Richard Brandt on August 29th, 2007 10:02 am

    A wonderful summary of a significant study with lots of ramifications. It seems like it would be very relevent to trying to lose weight. – as opposed to experimenting with savoring your food longer – so that one can eat less and enjoy it more.

    Perhaps an email that I got with the following information would relate to this.

    “There was a one hour interview on CNBC with Warren Buffet, the second richest man who has donated $31 billion to
    charity. Here are some very interesting aspects of his life:

    1. He bought his first share of stock at age 11 and he now regrets that he started too late!

    2. He bought a small farm at age 14 with savings from delivering newspapers.

    3. He still lives in the same, small 3-bedroom house in midtown Omaha that he bought after he got married 50 years
    ago. He says that he has everything he needs in that house. His house does not have a wall or a fence.

    4. He drives his own car everywhere and does not have a driver or security people around him.

    5. He never travels by private jet, although he owns the world’s largest private jet company.

    6. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns 63 companies. He writes only one letter each year to the CEOs of these
    companies, giving them goals for the year. He never holds meetings or calls them on a regular basis. He has given
    his CEO’s only two rules. Rule number 1: Do not lose any of your shareholder’s money. Rule number 2: Do not forget
    rule number 1.

    7. He does not socialize with the high society crowd. His pastime after he gets home is to make himself some
    popcorn and watch television.

    8. Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, met him for the first time only 5 years ago. Bill Gates did not think he had
    anything in common with Warren Buffet. So, he had scheduled his meeting only for half hour. But when Gates met
    him, the meeting lasted for ten hours and Bill Gates became a devotee of Warren Buffet.

    9. Warren Buffet does not carry a cell phone, nor has a computer on his desk. His advice to young people: ‘Stay
    away from credit cards and invest in yourself and remember:

    A. Money doesn’t create man, but it is the man who created money.
    B. Live your life as simple as you are.
    C. Don’t do what others say. Just listen to them, but do what makes you feel good.
    D. Don’t go on brand name. Wear those things in which you feel comfortable.
    E. Don’t waste your money on unnecessary things. Spend on those who really are in need.
    F. After all, it’s your life. Why give others the chance to rule your life?’”

  2. Stephen Shapiro on September 13th, 2007 12:23 pm

    Richard, Very interesting! Thanks for sharing that. Steve