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Creativity Comments by Winston J. Brill, Ph.D.

10/03 Creativity Comment

Rewarding Creativity

Most people leading companies realize the need for greater innovation and also appreciate that employee creativity is what drives innovation, and many companies attempt to enhance creativity through rewards.  What do they reward? 

Quite a few organizations reward people for contributing many ideas, not just ideas that are used, but the quantity of ideas proposed.  As a result, the company is inundated with ideas and someone, or a group of people, have to go through all of them to decide which ones to pursue.  But the ideas keep on coming (driven by the rewards), and the people assessing ideas begin to feel overload, especially since the great majority of the ideas are really “stupid.”  (Now, don’t go emailing me that there’s no such thing as a stupid idea.)  Everyone but the assessors are feeling creative.  However, this procedure, while commonly used, just doesn’t provide great ideas.  There is no correlation between the number of ideas proposed and the quantity or quality of great ideas utilized.

Another set of companies try to reward employees who have proposed ideas that were successfully pursued.  Here, the problem is that it may be months or years after the initial idea that the idea can be defined as great.  By then, the original idea may have been forgotten as many other great ideas developed the original one to a successful application.  The person who made a major creative contribution to the development of the original idea is more likely to be rewarded than the originator of the application.

I believe that rewards for ideas, great or average ones, will not significantly enhance individual or organizational creativity.  How many great ideas in your company arose due to a reward system?

Since it is enthusiasm, rather than any type of specific thinking process, that generates great ideas (see Comments 04/02 and 02/03), organizations need to focus on inspiring and rewarding enthusiasm for work goals.  If enthusiasm is rewarded, then great ideas will flow automatically.  Enthusiasm is easy to generate.  Who wouldn’t like to be enthusiastic about something?  It’s fun!       

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