Michelangelo Buonarroti, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and of course R.G. LeTourneau were all exceptional innovators and creative geniuses in their fields.
But is creativity limited to a rare breed of innovative human beings?
Until recently, research about creativity and innovation has focused on exceptional individuals, and little has been known about creative behavior in the life and work of "ordinary" people.
According Harvard professor and researcher, Dr. Teresa Amabile, “Evidence is mounting that such individuals can be responsible for important instances of creativity and innovation in the world.” She is a Baker Foundation Professor and Director of Research at Harvard Business School. For 35 years her research investigates how life inside organizations can influence people and their performance and how the work environment can influence creativity and motivation.
Increasingly, technology is enabling open innovation, user innovation, and citizen innovation. It seems increasingly likely that products and services resulting from the creative behavior of ordinary individuals may not only become more prevalent than those coming from experts or geniuses in particular domains, it many actually become the most important source of creative breakthroughs.
What kinds of workplace environment fosters creativity? Dr. Amabile has identified important characteristics that tend to foster innovative advances.
1. Creativity is higher when emotions and perceptions are more positive, and when intrinsic motivation is stronger.
According to her research, day-by-day psychological experience–emotions, perceptions, and motivations–significantly influences creative performance.
2. Creativity is higher when a person is doing what they deem meaningful work and is making progress rather than experiencing setbacks.
Failure certainly isn’t final, but continued setbacks are discouraging. Nothing robs creative energy more than the gnawing feeling that the work we do has little meaning and purpose. Add the perception that the work is going nowhere and you have a recipe for drudgery.
Is creativity limited to a rare breed of innovative human beings? Biblically speaking, the answer no. While respecting the unusual genius of some, the fact that we are all created in the image of our creative God means we shouldn’t see creativeness as a rare commodity. We all have creative capacity.
We should also pay attention to Dr. Amabile’s research findings, both as employers and employees.
Employers or any leader who wants to have an innovative, productive workforce can strive to create a positive work environment where people feel honored, respected, and their work is valued. Words of praise are needed as much as a good paycheck. Words of encouragement and additional help -- especially when someone is slogging through roadblocks and setbacks -- are more powerful than warnings. Paul reminds us,
Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 4:1)
If God commends and rewards His faithful servants, then it is neither just nor fair for us to do less.
Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.
Employees who follow Christ have the added benefit of knowing that even with the most difficult boss, the most mundane tasks, or discouraging situations, our work has meaning when done as an act of love for God and our fellow man.
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. (Colossians 3:23-24)
Every day, when we go to work, we can ask God to help us see the importance of our work—even if no one else does—and look for His creativity to break through to innovate products and services we could only dream of. After all, there is really no such thing as an ordinary individual. And because this is true, God is …
able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us …
Read about Dr. Amabile research at Harvard Business School.