Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Everyday stories hold great insight

If you've visited this space at all before, you'll know that I believe the stories we tell of our lives hold vast riches of information--and that information can be used to inform decisions on strategy, management & leadership, among other areas.

Today, the invaluable Harvard Business School Working Knowledge website features an article by Julia Hanna discussing creativity in the workplace and its place in innovation. The whole article is wonderful and worth reading in full. But I was fascinated by this passage regarding the research of Harvard professor Theresa Amabile:

As a way to delve deeper into the link between motivation and creativity, Amabile and her husband, psychologist Steven J. Kramer, conducted a three-year study of 238 professionals from seven companies in the high-tech, consumer products, and chemicals industries. Without revealing the focus of their study, they asked the subjects (all of whom were working on projects requiring creative effort) to fill out a daily electronic diary form that required numerical answers to questions about their work that day, as well as their emotions, motivation, and work environment. They were also asked to describe what they'd done that day and to include a brief description of one event at work that stood out in their minds [emphasis mine]. (Participants were asked to refrain from discussing the diary content with colleagues.) By the end of the study, Amabile and Kramer had collected nearly 12,000 entries, what she describes as a “wonderful treasure trove of data.”

"We have a window into how concrete events affected knowledge workers' thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and motivations," Amabile says. "We call this 'inner work life,' and we found that it directly influences creativity and other aspects of performance."

The mundane, quotidian stories (the events the subjects documented) were an integral part of the study data. By leveraging these, Amabile and Kramer were able to evaluate a trait--creativity--far more deeply than could have been done by numerical analysis alone. I'm convinced that capturing and sorting through stories can add incalculable wisdom to the business world. We've only begun to scratch the surface of the possibilities.

On a side note, I've been thinking about how Twitter and like tools will be involved in this arena. What are all those tweets telling us about ourselves?

But that's a topic for another post.

(Photo: "Old Diary" by Race_Eend via stock.xchng)

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