Deadlines, Creativity and CreateAthon

  • Written by Teresa Coles

Jay: “You won’t believe what I heard on Marketplace driving home today.

Me: “What?”

Jay: “A Harvard Business School professor did a study on the impact of really tight deadlines on the creative process. Now what does that make you think of?”

He pulled up the transcript right then and there as we sat on a bench at Lexington Middle School, waiting on our daughter who was ever-so busy socializing at the Spring Arts Festival. I scanned it to confirm someone had actually studied this dynamic, and sure enough there it was.

Teresa Amabile, a contributor to NPR’s Marketplace on workplace performance and the author of The Progress Principle, shared some research findings that were frankly not all that surprising in the general work world. For example, she cited that professionals in her study indicated they were 45 percent less likely to come up with a new idea or solve a complex problem on a tight deadline.

Grace under pressure?

(By the way, does that mean they are 55 percent MORE likely to be creative? Isn’t that pretty good?) But I digress.

What caught my eye was this: “We did find some creativity under high pressure, but the enabling circumstances are rare in most workplaces. People have to feel that they are on a mission to tackle something crucial — and they have to be protected from interruptions and extraneous demands.

Let’s see: A 24-hour work marathon during which a company closes for business and releases its staff to develop marketing strategies and creative deliverables for nonprofit organizations. Might that constitute a higher sense of purpose? Perhaps even generate national, award-winning creative work? Check. Check.

So I’m off to find my soul sister Teresa (she even spells it right, it’s so karma) and load her up with some CreateAthon ammo. I’d love to have a cup of coffee or a good email over her comment that “the most important (thing in motivating people) in making progress is meaningful work.”

Purpose always produces.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we CreateAthon-ers ended up in a Harvard study to help prove her thesis true? Then again, we already know it is.