Creativity Element 7: Innovation and Emotional involvement

2 minute read
Creativity Fourteen is a series of articles that explores the value of creativity for individuals and teams, starting from the fundamental principles.
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It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the creative process involves a high level of emotional energy — passion is often closely associated with creativity. Even more, for many people the creative process is analogous to a state of flow, or at least it can be perceived as extremely similar.

The purpose of the flow is to keep on flowing, not looking for a peak or utopia but staying in the flow. It is not a moving up but a continuous flowing; you move up to keep the flow going.
— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) Flow

The link between creativity and intrinsic motivation is incredibly deep: the process itself is interesting and rewarding, and the outcome is an additional reward on top of that. It’s also the reason why extrinsic motivation, which includes external rewards such as cash or status, has instead the opposite effect on creativity:

People offered the highest rewards, they did the worst of all. In eight of the nine tasks we examined across three experiments, higher incentives led to worse performance.
— Dan Pink (2009) The surprising science of motivation

It might seem counter intuitive but emotions are also the key to take rational decisions: rationality is excellent at analyzing and gathering data, but the moment when the decision happens it’s emotion driving it. Rationality and emotion go hand in hand.

Emotions and the feelings are not a luxury, they are a means of communicating our states of mind to others. But they are also a way of guiding our own judgments and decisions. Emotions bring the body into the loop of reason.
— António R. Damásio (1994) Descartes’ Error

I understand that’s a difficult concept to assimilate especially if you’re new to it: even if “Descartes’ Error” is more than 20 years old and the research on the subject is even older, our society stills heralds the myth of rationality in contrast to emotions.

The creative process, as something that involves a lot of big and small decisions, is therefore deeply tied to both rationality and emotions, and couldn’t be otherwise.

This also has an important effect that is worth noting: we get attached to our own creative work. This is the very reason why it’s so hard to accept feedback from others. This is also the reason why we should seek it: it will make us learn how to manage it.

This aspect of creativity highlights how important it is for teams to foster an environment where people feel safe and comfortable with themselves and their emotions, which will translate to a higher level of creativity and well-being in general.