Motivated to innovate

Looking to spark innovation in your R&D workforce? Look for employees who are motivated by intellectual challenges — but not by job security. Two researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology and the Fuqua School of Business at Duke surveyed a sample of more than 11,000 scientists and engineers working in a variety of industries — and report the results in a new working paper,  “What Makes Them Tick? Employee Motives and Firm Innovation.” 

One of the topics the survey covered was the importance the scientists and engineers placed on eight different types of work benefits (salary, fringe benefits, job security, intellectual challenge, independence, opportunities for advancement, responsibility and contribution to society). One key finding of the survey: Rating intellectual challenge as a very important aspect of a job was associated with spending more hours at work – yet also with a higher ratio of patent applications to hours worked.  In contrast, those who said that job security was important to them tended to have lower-than-expected patent applications. 

The researchers, Henry Sauermann and Wesley M. Cohen, observe in their paper that their data do not reveal the underlying causes of these differences, and they mention several possible explanations. For example, having a preference for challenge may affect the type of project a researcher selects. Another possibility: Employees who are concerned about job security may tend to fear or anxiety, which can impede creativity and stifle the exploration of new ideas.

1 Comment On: Motivated to innovate

  • bensimo | December 8, 2008

    That is an important subject, Martha.

    For me, any boss who wants to unleash a mother lode of creativity and innovation is only one choice away. That choice is to get rid of the toxic top-down command and control approach to managing people and adopt its opposite of bottom-up.

    The only reasonable goal of managing people is to unleash their full potential of creativity, innovation, productivity, motivation, and commitment. Top-down by its nature demotivates and demoralizes employees, just the opposite of what’s neeeded to accomplish the goal.

    Treat people like they are very valuable to the organization and they will become very valuable to your organization. I eventually did exactly that and succeeded in turning around four different management disasters including a 1300 person unionized group. But only after I got rid of the traditional top-down approach I used for the first 12 of my 30+ years of managing people.

    Best regards, Ben Simonton
    Author “Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed”

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