So when a business offers its employees a bonus for creative ideas, a flood of great, original thoughts should come pouring in. Right?
We think that creativity, like any other task, can be bought and sold. But creativity is not the same as hard work and effort; it requires genuine inspiration. It is the product of a mind thoroughly intrigued by a question, a situation, a possibility.
Thus, creativity comes not in exchange for money or rewards but when we focus our attention on something because we want to.
Japan Railways East had the contract to build a bullet train between Tokyo and Nagano to be put in place in time for the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Unfortunately, tunnels built by the company through the mountains kept filling with water. The company brought in a team of engineers, who were highly paid to come up with the best solution. The engineers analyzed the problems and drew up an extensive set of plans to build an expensive drain and a system of aqueducts to divert the water out of the tunnels.
A thirsty maintenance worker one day came up with a different solution when he bent over and took a large swallow of the tunnel water. It tasted great, better than the bottled water he had in his lunch pail.
He told his boss they should bottle it and sell it as premium mineral water.
Thus was born Oshimizu bottled water, which the railroad sells from vending machines on its platforms and has expanded to selling by home delivery.
A huge cost was transformed into a huge profit, all by looking at the situation differently.
Experiments offering money in exchange for creative solutions to problems find that monetary rewards are unrelated to the capacity of people to offer original ideas. Instead, creativity is most frequently the product of genuine interest in the problem and a belief that creativity will be personally appreciated by superiors.
Cooper, Clasen, Silva-Jalonen, and Butler 1999