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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Enhancing Creativity Through “Mindless” Work: A Framework of Workday Design

  • Author(s): Elsbach, Kimberly D
  • Hargadon, Andrew B
  • et al.

We propose that organizations use a new framework of workday design to enhance the creativity of today's chronically overworked professionals. Although insights from creativity research have been integrated into models of work design to increase the stimulants of creativity (e.g., intrinsic motivation), this has not led to work design models that have effectively reduced the obstacles to creativity (e.g., workload pressures). As a consequence, creative output among professionals in high-workload contexts remains disappointing. In response, we offer a framework of work design that focuses on the design of entire workdays rather than the typical focus on designing either specific tasks or very broad job descriptions (e.g., as the job characteristics model in Hackman et al. 1975). Furthermore, we introduce the concept of "mindless" work (i.e., work that is low in both cognitive difficulty and performance pressures) as an integral part of this framework. We suggest that to enhance creativity among chronically overworked professionals, workdays should be designed to alternate between bouts of cognitively challenging and high-pressure work (as suggested in the original model by Hackman et al. 1975), and bouts of mindless work (as defined in this paper). We discuss the implications of our framework for theories of work design and creativity. © 2006 INFORMS.

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