More Research on Creativity and Time Pressure

The research of Harvard University’s Teresa Amabile on the effects of management, and especially time pressure, upon creativity has been cited a number of times here at CR, so it’s good to come across additional research which both confirms it and refines some of the findings.

Keith Sawyer’s Creativity & Innovation blog summarizes (but does not link to) a 2006 study entitled “The Curvilinear Relation Between Experienced Creative Time Pressure and Creativity: Moderating Effects of Openness to Experience and Support for Creativity” . (An 8-page .pdf)

Without giving too much away, The ability to handle time pressure depends upon how open creatives are to experience, and even then there’s a “sweet spot” for the optimal amount of time pressure. Sawyer does a great job summarizing the research. Check it out.

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Write when inspired; rest when tired

I came across this zeldman.com post via Daring Fireball, and while it’s from the perspective of a writer and web designer, it applies to any creative-for-pay endeavor. It makes a powerful case for results-based work (the opposite of presenteeism). A must read for any manager of creative sorts.

For a metaphorical approach to this very topic, take a look at Coffee and Creativity.

And  since we’re kind of on a “you can’t rush art” theme here, take a look at Pixar’s “How We Do It“.

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Urgency is Poisonous

Wow. Another thought-provoking post over at Signal vs. Noise. And quite a bit of discussion as well. The essence of it is this – most urgency is self-inflicted, negatively impacting both morale and the “product”. The comments are also very insightful. 37Signals certainly challenges the notion that putting in tons of hours is the path to success.

This ties in neatly with a previous post from last June, entitled (Too Much) Time Pressure Affects Creativity.

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Creativity and Speed (NOT Time Pressure)

This post from Kathy Sierra’s archives points out a subtle difference from a previous Creative Reaction post from last June, entitled (Too Much) Time Pressure Affects Creativity. In Creativity on Speed, she writes, “One of the best ways to be truly creative–breakthrough creative–is to be forced to go fast. Really, really, really fast From the brain’s perspective, it makes sense that extreme speed can unlock creativity. When forced to come up with something under extreme time constraints, we’re forced to rely on the more intuitive, subconscious parts of our brain. The time pressure can help suppress the logical/rational/critical parts of your brain.” Now she’s the brain expert, so there’s little need for me to comment, except to say that this doesn’t necessarily contradict the research studying time pressure. As she explains, “I’m not talking about the kind of time pressure we get from trying to get real work done under unreasonable deadlines. I’m talking about a specific technique for using speed as a creativity driver.” She then goes on to describe a number of “creativity deathmatches”. Lots of great information and links as well.

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(Too Much) Time Pressure Affects Creativity

I found this while digging around the archives of the Harvard Business Review Working Knowledge archives: Time Pressure and Creativity: Why Time is Not on Your Side. The editor interviews Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile, who at the time was in the midst of a ten-year study looking at creativity in a corporate setting.

Amabile notes, “Some people are convinced that time pressure stimulates creative thinking, and others are certain it stifles creative thinking.”

She later explains that time pressure is one of many conditions that may have a positive or negative effect. “…the results suggest that, overall, very high levels of time pressure should be avoided if you want to foster creativity on a consistent basis. However, if a time crunch is absolutely unavoidable, managers can try to preserve creativity by protecting people from fragmentation of their work and distractions; they should also give people a sense of being “on a mission,” doing something difficult but important. I don’t think, though, that most people can function effectively in that mode for long periods of time without getting burned out. At the other end of the spectrum, very low time pressure might lull people into inaction; under those conditions, top-management encouragement to be creative—to do something radically new—might stimulate creativity. But, frankly, I don’t think there’s much danger of too little time pressure in most organizations I’ve studied.” So some pressure is actually good.

The interview also provides an explanation as to why people think they are being more creative while under time pressure. “while our participants were giving evidence of less creative thinking on time-pressured days, they reported feeling more creative on those days”. Reality v. perception is always interesting.

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