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Myths Of Creativity in Business

In a Fast Company magazine article a few years ago, Bill Breen addressed business creativity and innovation in the workplace and asked, “What can leaders do to sustain the stimulants to creativity — and break through the barriers?”

He outlines a number of myths related to developing creativity that psychologist Teresa Amabile (Harvard Business School) has found in her research.

Here are some excerpts from the article, quoting Amabile:

1. Creativity Comes From Creative Types

When I give talks to managers, I often start by asking, Where in your organization do you most want creativity? Typically, they’ll say R&D, marketing, and advertising. When I ask, Where do you not want creativity? someone will inevitably answer, “accounting.”

That always gets a laugh because of the negative connotations of creative accounting. But there’s this common perception among managers that some people are creative, and most aren’t.

That’s just not true. As a leader, you don’t want to ghettoize creativity; you want everyone in your organization producing novel and useful ideas, including your financial people…

The fact is, almost all of the research in this field shows that anyone with normal intelligence is capable of doing some degree of creative work.

Creativity depends on a number of things: experience, including knowledge and technical skills; talent; an ability to think in new ways; and the capacity to push through uncreative dry spells.

Intrinsic motivation — people who are turned on by their work often work creatively — is especially critical.

2. Money Is a Creativity Motivator

The experimental research that has been done on creativity suggests that money isn’t everything. In the diary study, we asked people, “To what extent were you motivated by rewards today?”

Quite often they’d say that the question isn’t relevant — that they don’t think about pay on a day-to-day basis. And the handful of people who were spending a lot of time wondering about their bonuses were doing very little creative thinking.

4. Fear Forces Breakthroughs

There’s this widespread notion that fear and sadness somehow spur creativity. There’s even some psychological literature suggesting that the incidence of depression is higher in creative writers and artists — the depressed geniuses who are incredibly original in their thinking.

But we don’t see it in the population that we studied.

We coded all 12,000 journal entries for the degree of fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, joy, and love that people were experiencing on a given day. And we found that creativity is positively associated with joy and love and negatively associated with anger, fear, and anxiety.

The entries show that people are happiest when they come up with a creative idea, but they’re more likely to have a breakthrough if they were happy the day before. There’s a kind of virtuous cycle.

When people are excited about their work, there’s a better chance that they’ll make a cognitive association that incubates overnight and shows up as a creative idea the next day.

One day’s happiness often predicts the next day’s creativity.

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Read more in original: The 6 Myths Of Creativity, By Bill Breen, Fast Company magazine, December 1, 2004.

Breen is a contributor to the book The Future of Management by Gary Hamel.

Teresa Amabile is author of multiple books on creativity.

Related earlier post: Creativity and Commerce.

Photo: Google office in Zurich, from my High Ability site post by Noks Nauta, Sieuwke Ronner: Giftedness in the work environment.
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Myths Of Creativity in Business

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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Some excerpts from The Creative Mind are included in his newsletter .
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Myths Of Creativity in Business. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 17, 2018, from


Last updated: 6 Mar 2012
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Mar 2012
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