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When Creativity Is Under the Gun, It Usually Ends Up Getting Killed

Illustration by Blair Thornley

The biggest drop in creativity occurred when time pressure was highest.

From our Winter 2003 issue. “Although time pressure may drive people to work more and get more done, and may even make them feel more creative, it actually causes them, in general, to think less creatively," reports Harvard Business School psychologist Teresa Amabile. Her study, published in the August Harvard Business Review, comes as a result of 9,000 daily diary entries from 177 employees in seven U.S. companies. The study subjects were highly educated people recognized as the "creative lifeblood" of their companies. Each day they were asked to fill out an email questionnaire that Amabile and her colleagues coded to derive a daily measure of creative thinking. Overall, Amabile's data show that the American knowledge workers feel "overworked, fragmented, and burned out. "The biggest drop in creativity occurred when time pressure was highest — and such high pressure created a low creativity "hangover" that lasted two more days. Surprisingly, the people involved seem to be unaware of the phenomenon. In fact, they tended to think that increased pressure enhanced their creativity. Beyond the …

Stephen Kiesling is a former Olympic rower, cocreator of the Nike Cross Training System, and editor at large of Spirituality & Health. A 35th anniversary edition of The Shell Game: Reflections on Rowing and the Pursuit of Excellence has just been published.

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