How NOT to Kill Creativity and Other Benefits of Peer-to-Peer Support

July 12, 2013 Elizabeth Wilcox

Harvard professor Teresa Amabile argues that peer support is critical to our creativity and success.

“Help each other note progress in the work, even if it’s a small win in the midst of an otherwise frustrating day, and be sure to recognize—even celebrate—your individual and collective progress!”

So explains Teresa Amabile, a professor and director of research at Harvard Business School, in our interview, “Peer-to-Peer Support and Other Motivators at Work.” A psychologist, Dr. Amabile studies how everyday work life can influence people and their performance. More specifically, her research looks at creativity, productivity, innovation, and inner work life.

Recently, we interviewed Teresa to learn more about findings from research she conducted for her book, The Progress Principle. Published in 2011 by Harvard Business Review Press, the book is co-authored with Dr. Steven Kramer, and based on their analysis of 12,000 daily diary entries from more than 200 professionals.

The result is an invaluable “how-to” for managers striving to cultivate a more innovative, productive and engaged workforce. Through this and other work, she also offers insights into the positive impact of peer-to-peer support.

Why does positive interaction among peers matter? One reason, as Teresa noted in her 2006 article “How to Kill Creativity,” is that mutually supportive groups are essential for creativity. In that article, she points to key team characteristics. These include: excitement over the team’s goal; a willingness to help teammates through difficult periods and setbacks; and an ability to recognize the unique knowledge and perspective that other members bring to the table. “These factors enhance not only intrinsic motivation but also expertise and creative-thinking skills,” Teresa explains.

The benefits of peer-to-peer support extend beyond creativity. As Teresa and Steven Kramer found in their research for The Progress Principle, positive interactions also help lead to what she calls great inner work lives characterized by “consistently positive emotions; strong motivation; and favorable perceptions of the organization, their work, and their colleagues.”

And recognition, her research suggests, is a powerful contributor to those inner work lives. As Eric Mosley points out in his recently-released book, The Crowdsourced Performance Review, this “research suggests the importance of frequent, timely recognition of progress. Managers, peers, and others who reinforce the significance of meaning of even incremental progress to one another build momentum in goodwill and good feeling.”

In other words, good feelings breed good work.

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