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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Motivation and Innovation: Pro-Social Problem Solving

The nature of work and the organization is changing. As this work becomes dynamic, uncertain, knowledge orientated, and ever adjusting it will rely more heavily on creative ideas of employees (George, 2007). Intrinsic motivation and innovation have important associations that should not be overlooked by organizational researchers. It is through this internal motivation that new ideas and concepts become born through associating and connecting new information in unique ways to solve larger problems.

Intrinsic motivation refers to the desire to expend effort based upon one's interests and enjoyment of the tasks being performed (Ryan & Deci, 2000). It is an internal desire for self-fulfillment, development, and accomplishment outside of the realm of extrinsic rewards. In history it was the desire of these intrinsically motivated and creative individuals that changed the nature of industry, methodology and even life by bringing forward ground breaking ideas and concepts.

Intrinsic motivation is believed to enhance creativity through positive affect, cognitive flexibility, persistence, and risk taking (Shalley, Zhou, & Oldham, 2004). Each of these concepts are necessary in order to guide an intrinsically motivated person to higher levels of idea generation, analysis, and eventual solution. Motivated Information Processing Theory indicates that motivations shape the cognitive processes, the selective information they are aware of, how they encode information, what information they will remember in order to solve novel problems (Kunda, 190).

Through cognitive flexibility employees are able to engage in pro-social behavior that encourages the development of new ideas. When employees take the perspective of the "other" they are more likely to develop useful solutions to a wider group of people (Mohrman, Gibson, & Mohram, 2001).  It is this pro-social behavior which encourages them to solve problems in ways that appeal to others (De Drue, Weingart, & Kwon, 2000). Through the perception and perspective of solving problems through customers, managers, employees, and shareholders vantage points can a person find solutions that fulfill the needs of and satisfy the desires of larger groups creating higher levels of creative utility.

There are a number of criteria for motivation to be successful in creating innovation. Positive affectivity stimulates creativity by broadening the range of cognitive information, expanding the scope of attention for obtaining information and ideas, and creating flexibility for identifying patterns and association between complex ideas (Amabil, Barsade, Mueller & Straw, 2005). It is the ability to move out to wider concepts and environmental facts that allow a person to reconnect information in new ways to solve complex problems. In order for this to happen one must display an "open mindedness" to new thoughts and ways of perceiving the environment.


Innovation and internal satisfaction mix with self-confidence to maintain task persistence. Through Self-Determination Theory it is the fostering of confidence and interest that intrinsic motivation encourages employees to maintain effort on challenging, complex and unfamiliar tasks (Gagne & Deci, 2005). Moving into the "unknown" is not easy for many employees. Without a belief in one's abilities there will be a lack of confidence that such activities will bear fruit or have a positive outcome.


The beauty of internal motivation is that when it develops into a pro-social context it expands its potential solutions to have the largest possible impact. Psychological research has show that such pro-social behavior in internally motivated and creative individuals push for solutions that impact multiple-generations (McAdams & de St. Aubin, 1992). The wider the impact the more problems its solves for people and the more financial and social worth it is to the organization or a nation.


According to a study of military personnel, water department employees, and in-house laboratory manipulation conducted by Grant and Berry it was found that high intrinsic motivation with pro-social behavior created higher levels of creativity, perspective taking, perceived choice, task interest and pro-social behavior than any other combination levels of high/low intrinsic motivation with high/low levels of pro-social behavior (2011). The main findings of the study indicate that intrinsic motivation is more successful in developing creativity when individuals are socially motivated to take the perspective of others and use innovation to solve problems.

Through the motivational, innovation is developed. It has important social underpinnings associated employee satisfaction and social group dynamics. As employees master skills, gain new information about their environment, and explore the wider social context of their work they use their higher levels of motivation and self-efficacy to complete complex and unfamiliar tasks.  It is through the encouragement of innovation, employee satisfaction, and motivation that organizations can further the development of new lines of revenue and social success.

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