2007 Innovation Lesson

December 14, 2007  

Every year at this time, Chuck Frey at innovationtools.com asks experts/readers for the most important lesson learned during 2007 regarding innovation, creativity or brainstorming. Here is my response:

Over the past couple of years, I have observed something I call “The Performance Paradox.” This paradox looks at the relationship between motivation (goals, targets, and management) and performance (physical, intellectual and creative performance). Interestingly, the relationship between motivation and performance is not linear. It is not even exponential. It is parabolic.

Low motivation equals low performance. I’m sure this comes as no shock. As motivation increases, performance increases…to a point. The sweet spot of performance. Then, as you become more goal obsessed and task driven, performance paradoxically decreases.

This paradox holds true in all areas of performance including physical and mental performance. However, the paradox is most pronounced for creative endeavors. Goals increase stress and fixate employees on the future rather than the present. It has been proven that creativity diminishes when individuals are rewarded (externally motivated) for doing their work.

The more you measure and motivate based on innovation, the less likely you will have a truly innovative culture.

Another interesting component to the Paradox is the fact that people will take great risks to minimize (or reduce) their pain/losses, yet will play it safe when the option is to increase their pleasure/gains.

When your organization’s change/innovation plans are utopian visions of a grandiose future, your employees move to the wrong end of the performance curve: high motivation, low performance. They become cynical about success and feel as though you are not addressing their present moment pains and frustrations. Instead, fix immediate problems first. Then begin to address, more strategic visions.

For too long, well intended organizations have used the wrong motivation tools for creating cultures of innovation.

An article by me on The Performance Paradox is schedule to be published by the American Management Association in early 2008

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2 Responses to “2007 Innovation Lesson”

  1. Dr.YKK on January 5th, 2008 1:00 am

    I agree with you. The carrot-and-stick approach to innovation doesn’t work, neither does a metaphorical fixed menu of dishes. Employees must be free to create their own recipes for dishes that they enjoy eating, that could ultimately be added to the company’s menu offerings.

  2. Innovation and the Performance Paradox : Stephen Shapiro on January 9th, 2008 3:41 pm

    [...] Today, my article on “The Performance Paradox: When Less is More” was published by the American Management Association. You may recall that I introduced the concept in a blog entry last month. [...]