In business circles, “creativity” has become a buzzword to describe a desired trait among employees. It’s widely believed that having creative thinkers on staff will boost overall team levels of innovation. Yes, creativity can lead to a surplus of original ideas. But when it comes time to sell those concepts internally, and then later take those ideas to market, creativity is not enough. More important is conviction.
Look at the most-admired business leaders today. They tend to resist compromises, even when faced with widespread skepticism or even complaints from customers. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s young founder, is known for the exactness of his vision, which drives each design or software tweak of the social networking software that he created, despite the now-requisite uproar each change incites among Facebook’s 750,000-plus users (whose own convictions, it should be noted, help drive subsequent iterations and privacy policies of Facebook).
Consider how Amazon founder Jeff Bezos asked the graduating class at Princeton University during his 2010 commencement speech there, “Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?” A powerful alternative to reading a corny list of tips for success to an eager crowd hoping to follow in his footsteps, his tough question offered a glimpse into his own style of innovation, and what drove him to build Amazon from a start-up online bookseller to a retail juggernaut to a serious challenger to Apple’s top-selling iPad hardware and its iTunes service.
But it’s not just company founders and CEOs or Ivy League grads that can benefit from having a strong sense of conviction. New data suggest that when employees pursue work that they feel strongly about, and can move their ideas forward within their organization, they are more enthusiastic and productive. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and her colleague Steven Kramer collected 12,000 electronic diary entries from 238 executives in seven different organizations. They analyzed what motivated these everyday individuals, who described their daily psychological well-being at work. Amabile and Kramer saw a trend emerge: “simply making progress in meaningful work” [italics mine] was key for these workers to feel engaged, Amabile and Framer wrote in a New York Times opinion essay in September. What Amabile’s research shows is that conviction is important. Work that appeals to employees’ firmly held beliefs, which has personal meaning to workers, is what drives them.
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