The Progress Principle

Teresa Amabile

Creativity, Productivity, and the Psychology of Everyday Work Life

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Talent, Passion, and the Creativity MazeMarch 10, 2012


By Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer

We live in a world mad for talent. From Hollywood and sports to executive search firms and HR departments around the globe, everyone seeks that special mix of natural abilities and attitudes that will make performance pop. A few months ago, Douglas Conant wrote a terrific blog post on how to find talented candidates for a job. When evaluating a potential hire, Conant looks for a strong mix of three qualities – competence, character, and skill as a team player. He gives great advice on how to find such a person. But he’s missing a crucial ingredient.

The Human Cost of Kodak’s BankruptcyFebruary 08, 2012

Kodak's filing for Chapter 11 protection has gotten a great deal of attention. Much has been said about the causesof the fall of an iconic brand. And there has been a good deal of speculationover whether and how Kodak will be able to rebuild.

Lessons for leaders abound in these stories, but we see another sort of cautionary tale — a human one. The people who dedicated years and even decades of their lives to Kodak are experiencing a seismic loss.

Quiet: A book that deserves a lot more noiseJanuary 16, 2012

From time to time, I’ll recommend to my readers interesting books I’ve read. Here’s my review of a new book that I found particularly compelling.

Susan Cain’s new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, has the power to change the way we think about ourselves, each other, and our world. Cain sheds new light on creativity and success by showing that, even in business, many acts of creation have sprung from solitude, not collaboration. As a card-carrying introvert in a workplace – Harvard Business School – that Cain aptly calls the “Spiritual Capital of Extroversion,” I recognized the daily challenges that “quiet people” face, as well as the value they can bring, to a world that prizes socializing and fast judgment. This quietly audacious book gives all of us – introverts and extroverts alike – tools that we need to be happier, more effective, and more appreciative of different ways of being.

Diary #2: Managers as ObstaclesSeptember 04, 2011

In our first featured diary, we looked at a boss who supported his team by championing its project. This kept the work on track, so that team members could continue to make progress – benefitting the organization and themselves. But, unfortunately, leader behavior like this was rare in the 12,000 diaries we collected. All too often, we saw management that actually got in the way. Here are diaries from one week in the life of Alvin, a forty-seven-year-old senior product engineer. In the first, Alvin has just received a new rush job from R&D, but is not provided with the information he needs to succeed.

The V.P. of R&D gave me a crisis new product idea that our customer wants now. The Marketing Manager does not echo his view. No information defining the product, potential sales, pricing issues, etc. are being discussed -- To satisfy the V.P. I'll have to invent a marketing plan to help define the product in order to proceed with design and engineering that will answer our customer and end user needs.

Diary #1: The ChampionJuly 30, 2011

In order to stimulate a conversation about the progress principle, inner work life, and events that influence inner work life, we will regularly feature a vignette from the lives of people in organizations – a story that we think is both interesting and informative. Initially, we will use examples from the diaries written by participants in our research (thoroughly disguised), but in the future we hope to include stories submitted by our readers. Please join the conversation with your insights and reactions as you read these posts.

In our opening diary, we look at a great team leader. The progress principle implies that the most important thing leaders can do to enhance the inner work lives of their workers is to support them in their work. Such support is seldom dramatic or exotic, but it is critical to helping the team make progress. Often it involves just dealing with problems when they occur or preventing them from becoming more serious problems. Here, Dave learned that support for his team’s project was in jeopardy.