Time Pressure and Creativity: Why Time is Not on Your Side

HBS Working Knowledge interviewed Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School who has been researching the effect of time pressure on creativity in project work. Amabile has been studying the effect of various environmental and internal pressures on the ability to be creative. Her research subjects in the past have included artists and writers. At Harvard her subjects have been organizational employees -- 238 individuals on 26 project teams in 7 companies in 3 industries -- who have been filling out project journals.

Amabile's research has been consistently finding that time pressure does not help creativity, but research subjects have consistenly believed that they have been more creative when faced with pressures including time pressure. In fact, subjects have often been producing less creative work. This is fascinating to me. I'm sure the majority of IA's who read this blog are consultants who are faced with constraints of time on an everyday basis. I have heard that designers in some agencies (perhaps more in the web heyday) sometimes take time off away from a design problem in order to allow other solutions to manifest. In the last place I worked, I heard of a case where a few designers took a long drive when they got a particularly interesting project in order to get away from their desks and talk about the design problem a while before considering solutions. Amabile suggests that this is one very good way to develop creative thinking. After working on a problem for some time, take a break and put that work aside for a few days to allow your original ideas and problems to incubate. She suggests that solutions or ideas often appear during this period. While giving yourself some buffer time for creative work may not seem allowable in your present situation, it seems very worthwhile to allow for this incubation period. Surely you can track your time creatively to allow for it :)

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

my name is not anonymous coward

Thank you for posting this...one of my most disliked business practices is the constant pressure about time. I think more mistakes are made and people perfomr less well under this kind of stress.

time pressure always yields better results

many project managers get into a lather watching creative types work - since most (of us) would agree that the best work is accomplished when you have the pressure hanging over your head that you must produce a concept or present ideas in a meeting that's tomorrow - or after lunch. It's not a skill that you can learn other than the frustration of beating ideas to death and then deciding that you hate all the work you've done so far - only to walk away and come back later to produce a clearly stunning idea. something that would have never occured to you unless you just took off.

paper is even better

read the full article on HBR-- it's a great issue anyhow. but this article is relaly fantastic. I finished it and felt like photocopying it and leaving it on everyone in the company's desktop.