Creativity, like a plant's growth, can easily be thwarted by an inhospitable environment. When it comes to the workplace, two decades of research by Harvard University's Teresa Amabile, PhD, reveals that some of the worst offenders include:

  • Lack of discretion and autonomy. "People need some degree of control over what they do and how they do it," Amabile explains. When they don't have any autonomy, "they aren't likely to bother being creative."

  • Fragmented work schedule. Frequent interruptions, whether by meetings, phone calls or e-mails, keep new ideas from germinating. "Interrupted people are unable to get deeply involved in the problem they are trying to solve," she says.

  • Insufficient resources. Even a great painter depends on her brushes and bristles. Depending on the project, critical resources for creativity can include such things as money, people, information and physical materials.

  • A focus on short-term goals. "A long-term visionary outlook," Amabile says, is critical to creativity.

  • Time pressure. When in a hurry, workers devote mental resources to quickly finishing a task, rather than generating new ideas. A rushed rat will not take time to explore the maze, Amabile explains.

  • A paucity of collaboration and coordination. Rigid office hierarchy and sharply defined job descriptions can stifle the cross-pollination of ideas.

--S. DINGFELDER

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