Myths about creativity and the arts: three and four

Check the previous post for the background to Teresa Amabile’s six myths about creativity and an introduction to the first two. Here are myths three and four.

Myth 3. Time Pressure Fuels Creativity Amabile records that business people often thought they were most creative when they were working under severe deadline pressure:

Track Your TimeBut the 12,000 aggregate days that we studied showed just the opposite: People were the least creative when they were fighting the clock. In fact, we found a kind of time-pressure hangover – when people were working under great pressure, their creativity went down not only on that day but the next two days as well. Time pressure stifles creativity because people can’t deeply engage with the problem. Creativity requires an incubation period; people need time to soak in a problem and let the ideas bubble up (Amabile 2004: 2).

Image source: Financial Freedom Offer

This incubation period seems to be a key factor in reaching not just any solution by a given deadline, but the best solution. This bubbling up of ideas is also familiar territory: I believe it’s what actually propels us to arrive at that Eureka! moment – the point at which a ‘stray’ idea results in what we call inspiration.

The findings related to the ‘time-pressure hangover’ have implications for the longer hours of work reported in the arts, particularly where organizations are required to meet first-night and other deadlines, as it suggests that failing to ensure TOIL (time off in lieu) is taken will, in fact, have a detrimental effect on the arts workforce as a whole.


There are lessons here, too, for how arts projects are planned and implemented – rather than deadlines themselves, it is the way in which deadlines are constructed (the timetables to meet them) that can have a negative effect on strategic management: this should teach us to work smarter, not harder.

Image source: Ashley Connick’s blog

Myth 4. Fear Forces Breakthroughs

6a00d83451580969e2017ee53c9c8c970d-800wiThis myth is close to McGregor’s Theory X (which posited that basically people are lazy; dislike work; want to avoid responsibility; and, therefore, need to be controlled or coerced before they will work hard enough). Think stick rather than carrot.

Image source: The Recovering Leader


The antithesis was Theory Y (people like to be busy; like work; seek responsibility and can direct themselves – without outside help– to be creative).

Theory X and Theory Y are theories of human motivation created and developed by Douglas McGregor in the 1960s that have been used in HR management and organizational behaviour. They describe two contrasting models of workforce motivation and are to do with the perceptions managers may hold about their employees, not the way employees behave. They make a statement about attitudes not attributes.

Amabile’s business research found that creativity: is positively associated with joy and love and negatively associated with anger, fear, and anxiety. (Amabile 2004: 2)

This does not support the psychological literature linking creative genius with depression and other mental health issues, as examined in chapter nine of Bullying and the Arts: Creativity, Genius and Artistic Temperament, however Amabile’s business research was correlating evidence of creativity contemporaneous with overt signs of happiness/unhappiness, rather than signals that might be related to mental health disorders.

happiness-flowchartHappiness briefly became a topical theme in the UK in May 2006 because of remarks made by the then Leader of the Conservative Party – now Prime Minister – David Cameron, at the Google Zeitgeist Europe Conference, when he insisted there was more to life than making money, and that improving people’s happiness was a key challenge for politicians. Some things don’t change.

Amabile’s research found that business people were more likely to come up with an innovative idea if they had been happy ‘the day before.’

Image source: LifeDev

get-creative_1In the arts, we also experience this ‘virtuous cycle’ and anecdotal evidence suggests that being enthused and excited about work improves our chances to 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. (Amabile 2004: 2).

Image source: Scientific American


Arts workers (or any workers) who are unhappy because they are bullied, especially where this is taking place over a prolonged period of time, are not likely to sustain happiness, creativity or effectiveness.


Amabile, T. 2004. The 6 Myths of Creativity, in article by B. Breen, Fast Company (89). December. Available at: [accessed February 2011] 1–2.


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One Response to Myths about creativity and the arts: three and four

  1. Pingback: Myths about creativity and the arts: five and six | jacksonquigg

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