Does Compensation Cut Creativity?

Does Compensation Cut Creativity?

Port AransasMy friend Dee lives in Port Aransas, a charming and artistic beach community on a barrier island near the Southern tip of Texas. Corpus Christi is the nearest city. For a year now, Dee has been writing an interview column for the local newspaper and she just decided that she wants to get paid. Will getting paid erase the fun and wipe out the creativity of writing for the Island Moon?

Academic research shows that if-then rewards are disastrous to creativity. You know — IF you sell newspaper advertising to the business you just profiled, THEN the newspaper will pay you a commission.

Daniel Pink says in his book “Drive” that the research shows that production jobs like auto manufacturing respond to financial incentives (if your production goes up 20% your pay goes up 10%) but the same strategy hobbles creativity. “Straight-forward production responds to incentives,” says Dan Pink, but high-performance creativity requires an unseen intrinsic drive. He says three things are necessary for creative “flow”:

  1. Engagement. The writer cares about the subject and the oucome
  2. Clear goals and immediate feedback
  3. Skill. The writer must believe that he or she can do it

Dee loves Port Aransas, a drinking town with a fishing problem. It is a colorful, artistic beach town on Mustang Island and a fun place to party for the students from the University of Texas at Austin. Dee owns a profitable business that has thrived on her writing talents but she longed for a more creative outlet. She started writing for the Island Moon as a hobby, interviewing the artists and interesting shop owners to get to know her neighbors better. The Island Moon doesn’t pay for writing, and that was a perfect fit because Dee was looking for a social hobby. A year ago, Dee did not want to have to sell advertising to her interviewees, but the Island Moon only pays for selling ads, not for writing. If Dee wants to get paid by the Island Moon, she will have to ask the businesses profiled in Dee-Scoveries if they want to advertise in the newspaper.

Pink thinks that adding compensation to the equation will contaminate the creative urge. He talks about how incentives impact productivity in his highly-watched TED talk on the Surprising Science of Motivation.

If Dee starts to tie in advertising with her interviews, will she begin to choose subjects that are more likely to advertise? Will she start to bypass the unique and quirky personalities that make Port Aransas so interesting? Will this impact her writing? Will it take the fun out of her hobby?

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