What Motivates Human Creativity?

“Like intelligence, creativity defies exact den.” (Papalia, Sterns, Feldman, and Camp, 2002, p.211) Creativity is usually defined as the creation of something novel and valuable which involved a precursor situation delineating a process of idea generation, sense-making, sharing, analysing, and problem-finding (Heerwagan, 2002). Despite similar cognitive processes of creativity among all humans, some individuals are remarkably more creative than others, attributing both personality and social contexts as factors influencing creativity (Heerwagan, 2002).

What then motivates human creativity? In today’s competitive, conglomerate and capitalist societies, there is an utter urge for creativity; Organizations and firms have vested interest in the creativity of their employees that directly translate into economic gains. Nevertheless, the society always held great reverence for the extraordinarily creative minds, be it Steve Jobs or Sigmund Freud. It is safe to state that, human creativity is primarily driven by desire, demand, and diversity. This paper will explore, analyse, and summarize the aforementioned drivers of creativity.

What Motivates Human Creativity?

I. Creativity is driven by desire

The desire to gain knowledge has found many a great persons with laurels throughout the history of humankind.

“There is a story about young Darwin, who during one of his entomological walks in the country discovered, under the bark of a tree, some enormous beetles that he greatly desired to add to his collection. He could not hold more than one beetle in each hand, they were so large; so he popped one in his mouth, and holding two in his hands, raced the mile or so home. Such acts are not at all unusual among creative people.” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988, p. 166)

Clearly, Darwin’s profound interest can be attributed to his desire of collecting beetles that motivated such an act of creativity. In addition, Amabile’s (1988) Intrinsic Motivation Principle of Creativity explains that creative individuals are motivated “to work on something because it is interesting, involving, exciting, satisfying, or personally challenging.” (Amabile, 1997, p. 39; Heerwagon, 2002) However, Csikszentmihalyi (1988) clarifies in his Energistic perspective of creativity that a person’s psychic energy is motivated to a particular domain because of one’s interest with perseverance along with a problem-finding attitude and a motivating social environment in the creative domain.

Amabile (1997) further explains that three major components of individual creativity are necessary in any given domain, these include “expertise, creative-thinking skill, and intrinsic task motivation. The componential theory suggests that creativity is most likely to occur when people’s skills overlap with their strongest intrinsic interests—their deepest passions—and that creativity will be higher, the higher the level of each of the three components. This is the “creativity intersection” (p.41).

II. Creativity is driven by demand

There is a high demand in today’s workplace to be creative and meet the competition. For example, in the mobile industry companies thrive to out beat each other in every aspect of their making; a new feature, a new application or new software is developed and introduced into the market almost every six months. In such a competitive environment there is a need to be creative and unique. Software companies train their employees to utilise their ideas in a creative manner in order to enhance their product’s marketability and saleability.

Organisational culture, freedom and work conditions enhance creativity (Heerwagen, 2002). Florida (2003) states that there is a great need of research to be carried out in the areas that motivate creative people and how organisations and workplaces can adapt. She explains that recent experiments with open office design, flexible schedules, and various accoutrements are the beginning of motivating creative people. She finds that creativity at an organisational level can be motivated intrinsically and extrinsically which will enable counterproductively when financial incentives and other extrinsic rewards are offered to motivate creativity (p.16).

Heerwagen (2002) finds that organisational environment and personal characteristics, which includes the management practices, job design, and human resource policies, plays an important role in creativity. Heerwagen in his research compares Amabile’s (1988) model of organizational creativity that assumes creativity and innovation are important for all organizations and jobs, with other researchers who begin with the assumption that certain circumstances and certain jobs are more likely to profit from creativity than others (p.5). Difficult and puzzling professions that facilitate employees to choose how to carry out responsibilities are more likely to inspire intrinsic motivation and this, in turn, gives rise to creativity. Motivation is also assisted by a sense of urgency that surges the awareness that the project or task is valuable and worth pursuing. In contrast to difficult, puzzling jobs, routine work can readily be completed by noticing known processes and information. In such situations creativity may actually costs if there is a decrease in efficiency by bring together needless changes (Amabile, 1988). Florida (2003) in her research states that there is a need for more research on intrinsic factors that motivate creative workers, organisations and workplaces that enhance creative work (p.16).

III. Creativity is driven by diversity

Diversity in the organizations not only helps stay in sync with their clients, but also increases to the diversity of ideas and strategies that in-turn shape them in the right direction when working successfully. For example diversity in United States has brought about new innovations, attracted talented people from all over the world because of the presence of openness and freedom and thus bringing about more creative ideas. A growing research suggests that diversity plays a major role in enhancing creativity. A great deal of ideas can be generated through diverse personalities, diverse thinking from different disciplines in solving problems in an organization (Heerwagen, 2002).

According to Florida (2003), “creative people power regional economic growth and these people prefer places that are innovative, diverse, and tolerant.” (p.8). In great cities the role of diversity has been immense where individuals of different cultures and backgrounds are welcomed. This in-turn empowering the growth to of the city and its wealth with new innovations through ideas, this in-turn attracts more individuals who are talented and creative bringing about innovation and growth (Florida, 2003, p.11).


In summary, creativity is driven by desire, demand and diversity. A deep desire to succeeded in one’s field of interest motivates them to go beyond their call of duty and engage in activities that are profoundly creative. Furthermore, when there is a high demand in an area where one’s knowledge skills need to be utilized in a unique manner so as to generate productivity and profitability, it becomes imminent to facilitate conditions encourage creative flow. In addition, a diverse environment that nurtures idea, sharing and problem solving can be a center of great innovations. On the whole, human creativity is motivated by a combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic factors at a given time and situation.


Amabile, T. M. (1988). A Model of Creativity and Innovation in Organizations. In Research in Organizational Behavior. B. M. Staw and L.L. Cummings (eds.). (10) 123-167. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Amabile, T. M. (1997). Motivating creativity in organizations: on doing what you love and loving what you do. California Management Review, 40 (1), 39-58. Retrieved from http://bear.warrington.ufl.edu/weitz/mar7786/articles/amabile%20ccal%20mgt%20review.pdf

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1988). Motivation and creativity: Toward a synthesis of structural and energistic approaches to cognition. New Ideas in Psychology, 6 (2), 159-176.

Heerwagen, J. H. (2002). Creativity. Understanding creativity: The interplay of biological, psychological and social factors. Retrieved from http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/doe/benchmark/ch15.pdf

Florida, R. (2003). Cities and the creative class. City and Community, 2(1), 3-19.

Papalia, D.E., Sterns, H. L., Feldman, R. D., & Camp, C. J. (2002). Adult development and aging. 2nd Ed. New York: Mc-Graw-Hill

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