In The Social Psychology of Creativity, Amabile introduces her “intrinsic motivation principle of creativity”:
“Intrinsic motivation is conducive to creativity; controlling extrinsic motivation is detrimental to creativity, but informational enabling extrinsic motivation can be conducive, particularly if initial levels of intrinsic motivation are high."
It's hard to over-emphasize the importance of this finding: how we motivate ourselves and how others choose to motivate us (our bosses, our family members, etc.) determine how creative our responses will be. Amabile published this theory for the first time in 1983 and later updated her findings in the 1996 The Social Psychology of Creativity, later renamed Creativity in Context. This begs the question, if this theory has been around for more than thirty years, why haven't these ideas translated into our workforce? Daniel Pink, clearly aware of this gap between existing research and current practices, responded with his book Drive, revisiting and rechampioning these themes introduced by Amabile decades ago. Pink theorizes that autonomy, purpose, and mastery lead to high intrinsic motivation and, in turn, highly creative and productive employees.
Both Amabile and Pink specify contexts in which their overarching theories apply and contexts in which they do not. Foremost, these theories only hold true for heuristic (open-ended or creative) tasks. They assert, if not in the same words, that “Rewards do not undermine people’s intrinsic motivation for dull tasks because there is little or no intrinsic motivation to be undermined.”
"There are a set of conditions under which reward might be expected to have positive (or at least neutral) effects on creativity… (a) the reward is not salient relative to self-perceived intrinsic motivation because the reward is very small, or cognitive distancing techniques are used, or the salience of intrinsic motivation has been increased; or (b) the degree to which the reward is perceived as more enabling than controlling (where enabling refers to the degree to which the reward of contract enables the individual to do something interesting or personally challenging) ; or (c) the reward is perceived as more informational about competence than controlling; or (d) the reward leads to positive affect in the absence of controlling implications (such as a “bonus” reward situation); or (e) the “reward is perceived as equitable compensation for one’s work in general (such as a person being paid a salary for one’s job) rather than as a reward for a particular task.”
"Perhaps the most important point to be made about the intrinsic motivation principle is that it proposes the functional equivalence of many social factors which seem quite disparate. Expecting to be evaluated on task performance functions in the same way as having a choice of task engagement constrained, being watched while performing the task, receiving positive evaluations on previous work, contracting to receive an attractive reward for task performance, and being led to think about the intrinsic value of doing the task. Clearly, despite the superficial differences between these factors, their psychological impact appears to be the same."
“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.”
“While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it's a lousy one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night.”
Amabile, T. (1996). Creativity in context: Update to the social psychology of creativity. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, Inc.
Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Penguin Group.