Over the past couple of weeks I was in the pacific northwest, specifically BC Canada, for a family vacation (still wrote the Klick Wire from some remote areas, chalk one up for North American wireless providers). While relaxing in the temperate rainforest on the west coast of Vancouver Island many ideas would come unbidden, some even relating to our projects at Klick.
One of the topics that came up was creativity and time. Over my career so far I have met many creative technical and business leaders and the number of philosophies about creativity and time tend to bucket into three general story lines:
- Time provides the urgency that spurs great innovation.
- Creativity is organic, and must flower in its own time.
- Schedule is the tool by which I can protect my creative time.
Creativity vs. time
I once had a CEO that believed that the path to creative technical solutions was to revisit a project at 2/3 through the schedule, dump on the current work, tell the team they weren’t working at their full potential, and challenge them to create a better product in the remaining 1/3 of the time allotted. Some people call this “seagull management.”
The technical team at this company had a 200% turnover rate (yes, the average tenure was 6 months) and no matter what arguments I put in front of the CEO, he simply couldn’t believe that there was a better way to get creative solutions for our clients. This conflict serves to illustrate one of the difficult perceptual issues surrounding creativity: people think they are more creative under time pressure, but they are actually less creative.
Perhaps the most surprising finding from the time pressure study is that time pressure really does seem to have an important impact on creativity, even though our intuitions are contradictory and previous research is inconclusive. I’m also very surprised that, while our participants were giving evidence of less creative thinking on time-pressured days, they reported feeling more creative on those days. This helps me gain a bit of insight into those contradictory intuitions! – Professor Teresa Amabile at Harvard Business School
Creativity with ample time
This is the Bell Labs or Xerox Parc scenario. Researchers are pointed in a vague direction (“technology is good”) and allowed to experiment (Bell: transistor, cellular telephone; Xerox: laser printing, ethernet).
This method can produce some amazingly important developments that open up entirely new industries but the companies that create these innovations often don’t benefit greatly from them. The creativity is there, but the drive to produce something of immediate relevance and value is not.
Of course, it would be foolish to think that the ideal for creativity is a complete absence of time pressure on a particular work project. Given the demands that modern life puts on people, it’s too likely that other things would steal attention from the project-the urgent would drive out the important-and nothing would be accomplished. – Professor Teresa Amabile at Harvard Business School
Schedule used to protect time
This article about saying “no” really sums up the issue for people who need to enhance their creative time, they need to say “no.” Not to everything, of couse, but they need to say “later” to many things.
Urgent doesn’t equal important and when the quality of your ideas matters, it’s time to protect some time, avoid the crunch, give yourself some concrete deadlines, and explore.