Want creative solutions from your team? Give them incentives and space says new report

by Freya Lucas

March 25

Researchers from the University of Texas have outlined an effective formula for unlocking the creative potential of employees – incentivise them to create “an abundance of ideas, even mediocre ones and then have them step away from the project” for a period of time.  

 

This research has applications for those working in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, in terms of encouraging employees’ to consider solutions for common challenges such as increasing inclusive practice, supporting critical reflection, or considering more concrete concerns such as declining occupancy or fundraising for the service.

 

Researchers found that people who were rewarded for simply “churning out ideas” be they good, bad or indifferent, ultimately ended up producing more creative ideas than people who did not receive incentives, or those whose incentives were based on the quality of their ideas rather than the quantity.

 

Study co-author, Steven Kachelmeier said “Creativity is not instantaneous, but if incentives promote enough ideas as seeds for thought, creativity eventually emerges”

 

Previous research has established that creative performance is enhanced by an incubation period, but this research looked at a new question: what happens if incentives are added to idea generation?

 

Two experiments were conducted in the course of the research. In the first, participants were asked to create riddles where words, phrases or sayings are represented using a combination of letters and images.

 

Some participants were offered pay based incentives based on the number of ideas they generated, some only for ideas that met a standard of creativity, and others a fixed payment of $25, regardless of the quality or quantity of ideas they put forward.

 

Initially, none of the incentivised groups outperformed the fixed wage group in creativity measures. However, when the task was revisited ten days later, those who had originally been paid to come up with as many ideas as they could had “a distinct creativity advantage,” outperforming the other groups in both the quantity and quality of ideas, Mr Kachelmeier said.

 

The incubation period, researchers said, was key to the success of the incentives.Combining mass idea generation with a rest period resulted in “much more creative productivity than when either of the two strategies is used in isolation.”

 

The second experiment examined how much time was needed in order for creative function to peak. Half of the participants were paid a fixed amount, and half were paid for the number of ideas they produced. As in the first experiment, the “pay for quantity” participants yielded more, but not better, initial ideas than the fixed pay group.

 

After researchers led the participants on a quiet 20 minute walk around the campus, the “pay for quantity” group produced more and better riddles than the fixed amount group.

 

“You need to take a rest, a break, and detach yourself – even for 20 minutes” Mr Kachelmeier said. “The recipe for creativity is try — and get frustrated because it’s not going to happen. Relax, sit back, and then it happens.”

 

The study “Incentivising the Creative Process: From Initial Quantity to Eventual Creativity” was published in the March 2019 issue of Accounting Review.

 

To learn more about the study, click here.

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