Study: For peak creativity, brainstorm ideas and then forget about them

This method was found to be more effective than rewarding employees using pay incentives based on the number of ideas generated.

There’s a way to get your employees to be super-creative, researchers have found. Brainstorm a plethora of ideas – even the bad ones – then retreat, leaving the ideas alone for an “incubation period” before returning to them later.

In the tests the researchers ran on their subjects, this method was found to be more effective than rewarding employees using pay incentives based on the number of ideas generated, or the most creative ideas generated, or a fixed wage to generate ideas. The people who were rewarded for churning out ideas, good or bad, were the most creative every time.


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Researchers from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin and the Gies College of Business at the university of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign published their findings in the March 2019 issue of Accounting Review.

“Creativity is not instantaneous, but if incentives promote enough ideas as seeds for thought, creativity eventually emerges,” said Steven Kachelmeier, co-author of the study, in a release.

Incubation time

The incubation period is key, Kachelmeier said of the tests the researchers conducted. Creativity does not respond to “raw effort,” as he wrote in the study. “Priming the pump” is important. In the study, subjects were taken on a 20-minute pleasant walk around campus before returning to their tasks.

“You need to rest, take a break and detach yourself – even is that detachment is just 20 minutes. The recipe for creativity is try – and get frustrated because it’s not going to happen. Relax, sit back, and then it happens.”


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.