The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work


Date Thursday May 26th 2011
Time 5:30-7:00pm
Venue George E. Pake Auditorium, PARC

PARC Forum

What really makes people happy, motivated, productive, and creative at work? Our new research, based on analyzing nearly 12,000 daily diaries of team members working on collaborative creative projects, reveals some surprising answers. In this PARC Forum, I will use stories from those diaries to describe our discoveries.

The first is that inner work life – a person’s day-by-day emotions, perceptions, and motivation – has a profound effect on the person’s creative productivity. The second discovery is the Progress Principle: Of all the good things that can boost inner work life, the single most important is simply making progress on meaningful work – even if that progress is a small step forward. Unfortunately, of all the bad things that can dampen inner work life, the single most important is having setbacks in the work – and setbacks are even more powerful than progress. The implication? Sustained creative productivity and employee well-being depend less on elaborate incentive systems or performance-management processes than on techniques for facilitating daily work progress.


Teresa Amabile is the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit, as well as a Director of Research, at Harvard Business School. Originally focusing on individual creativity, Dr. Amabile's research expanded to encompass individual productivity, team creativity, and organizational innovation. This 35-year program of research on how the work environment can influence creativity and motivation yielded: a theory of creativity and innovation; methods for assessing creativity, motivation, and the work environment; and a set of prescriptions for maintaining and stimulating innovation.

Dr. Amabile is the author of The Progress Principle, Creativity in Context, and Growing Up Creative, as well as over 150 scholarly papers, chapters, case studies, and presentations. She serves on the editorial boards of Creativity Research Journal, Creativity and Innovation Management, and Journal of Creative Behavior. She was also the host/instructor of Against All Odds: Inside Statistics, a 26-part instructional series originally produced for broadcast on PBS.

Before joining HBS, Dr. Amabile held several research grants as a professor at Brandeis University, including "Creativity and Motivation," from the National Institute of Mental Health, and "Downsizing Industrial R&D," from the Center for Innovation Management Studies. Dr. Amabile was originally trained and employed as a chemist, but she received her Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University. She was awarded the E. Paul Torrance Award by the Creativity Division of the National Association for Gifted Children in 1998, and the Leadership Quarterly Best Paper Award by the Center for Creative Leadership in 2005.

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