Imagine an experiment where the task is to mount a candle on a vertical board. The only supplies are a vertical board, a candle, a book of matches, a box of thumbtacks.

Who do you think would solve this task quicker …?

  1. A group offered a $ reward if they solve the task in the shortest 25% of time taken (compared to other group times)
  2. A group not offered any $ reward

Interestingly, groups without the $ reward tend to solve the task quicker.

External rewards (like money) can dampen creativity.  They provide extrinsic motivation, which encourages someone do a task in order to get something desirable, but it doesn’t help creativity, especially if people feel that they are being bribed or controlled.

If you want your team to be more creative, understanding how to increase their intrinsic motivation – where they’re motivated primarily by interest and satisfaction in the task itself – will likely help more than offering external rewards.

References: “How to Kill Creativity” HBR, by Teresa Amabile;  “The Medici Effect” by Frans Johansson

(p.s.  a solution to the candle task: empty the box of thumbtacks, tack the box to the board, put the candle on the box)