Sunday, 12 May 2013
Crazy Deadlines good for Creativity?
So does a deadline help deliver creative solutions? I once worked with a colleague who always felt he needed a deadline to get things done, that kicked off the ‘backs to the wall’, ‘consider anything’ type of thinking that worked for him.
I came to realise over the years however that this guy was a procrastinator and it was the deadline shaking him out of his procrastinating routine that delivered for him. It wasn’t that the deadline made him anymore creative, it just got him focused on the job. That guy probably thought that serious time pressure was the only way to get resourceful when it came to delivering, because he had never actually tried it any other way.
I recently read an article on the Harvard Business Review by Teresa M. Amabile, Constance N. Hadley, and Steven J. Kramer which directly addressed the question of whether a deadline helps creativity.
The paper uses a case study from a software developer who was set an impossible deadline to deliver a complex specification that required coming up with creative solutions under very tight deadlines. Anyone who was worked in software development will identify with this. The industry has a long history of the time needed to complete complex work being underestimated, with dire consequences for those involved (never mind the software produced).
The summary from their research is that on days of the most extreme time pressure, the people involved were 45 percent less likely to come up with a new idea or solve a complex problem. Even worse, there was a kind of “pressure hangover,” with lower creativity persisting for two days or more.
According to Amabile and colleagues, ‘working under the gun’ as they put it, is a bad idea when complex, creative thinking is needed. I agree and I know plenty other software developers who have been there and would concur.