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The Dangerous Miscalculation of 'Scarcity Drives Innovation'

If you want to be an innovative company, don't do it by cutting off resources in the hopes that it will inspire people to be more creative.

"This artificial scarcity can make people creative all right, but it makes them creative at finding resources, not at solving the central problem or inventing the next big thing," warns Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor who is an expert on creativity.

No, the real mother of invention is constraint. Hand a person a blank piece of paper, and they freeze about what to do next. But if the paper has a squiggle on it, they have a place to start.

For companies who want to be more innovative this means handing your bright people an idea with boundaries, Amabile says.

"Creativity-friendly constraints include: (1) a clear problem definition with clear goals, like the specific challenges of online innovation competitions, or the Iron Chef 'secret ingredient' constraints; and (2) a truly urgent, challenging need, like bringing the Apollo 13 astronauts safely back to earth."

Read more about her idea in her blog post Necessity, not Scarcity, is the Mother of Invention.

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(Photo by ana.philbrook, CC 2.0)