Thoughts on HBR’s “Seven Rules for Managing Creative People”

Today I saw a few mentions on twitter about a blog post by the Harvard Business Review on the Seven Rules for Managing Creative People. The reaction has been rather, well, negative from those who are “creative people.” Some thought it had to be an April Fool’s joke, but it was published on the 2nd, not the 1st. The article acknowledges the great value creative people have in a company, but then is condescending in it’s recommendations for managing them. The big issue was #5: Pay them poorly.

Pay them poorly: There is a longstanding debate about the relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Over the past two decades, psychologists have provided compelling evidence for the so-called “over-justification” effect, namely the process whereby higher external rewards impair performance by depressing a person’s genuine or intrinsic interest. Most notably, two large-scale meta-analyses reported that, when tasks are inherently meaningful (and creative tasks are certainly in this condition), external rewards diminish engagement. This is true in both adults and children, especially when people are rewarded merely for performing a task. However, providing positive feedback (praises) does not harm intrinsic motivation, so long as the feedback is perceived as genuine.

I understand what the author is trying to get at, but I believe it’s worded rather, well, poorly. After 200+ angry comments on his post, and hundreds more angry tweets, the author does apologize and states he should worded it as “don’t overpay them.” That is better, but I would take it one step more and reword it this way:

“Don’t motivate solely through pay”

If the only reason your creative employees are working for you is pay, you’re doing yourself a severe disservice. Creativity isn’t restricted from 9:00am to 5:00pm. While your employees aren’t directly working on a given project, you want them to be mulling ideas over at any given time. I find my most productive “thinking” time is when I’m showering in the morning, and many problems have been solved over several days of “shower time.”

If you’re creative employees are only working for the money, the likely hood that they’ll let their creative process work while not at work is very low. Instead, they’ll just try to force their creativity while on the clock and you’ll end up with sub-par results.

There are many motives for a employee to work for you aside from pay. Joel Spolsky has a great white paper on 10 motivating factors for developers that are just as important as pay. I plan on doing a whole post on several of these factors, but that is for another night.

So if you were to take away anything from this post, is that there are so many more important things than just pay for an employee, and if they only work solely for the pay, you’re likely not getting the best they have to offer.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on HBR’s “Seven Rules for Managing Creative People”

  1. I’ve seen few other Harvard Business Review articles that were unimpressive in similar ways. For the most part I’ve started skipping links to HBR posts.


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