Teresa Amabile

Creativity, Productivity, and the Psychology of Everyday Work Life

Research & Articles

A few of Teresa's major articles and papers are listed here according to primary topic. For a complete chronological list of Teresa's publications, see her Curriculum Vitae.

The Psychology of Everyday Work Life

Emotions, perceptions and motivations at work are critical not only to employees’ performance, but also to their health and well-being. Teresa and her colleagues have been exploring how various events at work affect these crucial psychological states.

  • Amabile, T.M. & Kramer, S.J. (2012) How leaders kill meaning at work. McKinsey Quarterly, January 2012.
    Senior executives routinely undermine creativity, productivity, and commitment by damaging the inner work lives of their employees in four avoidable ways.
  • Amabile, T. M. & Kramer, S. J. (2011). The power of small wins. Harvard Business Review, 89 (5), 70-80.
    Even seemingly minor steps forward (“small wins”) can reveal the progress principle: Of all events that occur at work, the event having the most prominent positive effect on emotions, perceptions, and motivation is simply making progress in meaningful work.
  • Amabile, T. M. & Kramer, S. J. (2010) What really motivates workers (#1 in breakthrough ideas for 2010). Harvard Business Review, 88:1, 44-45
    Most managers misunderstand employee motivation. In a simple survey, we asked 669 managers to rank-order five employee motivators. Even though work progress is, in fact, a more important motivator than the other factors (like recognition and incentives), the surveyed managers ranked progress last.
  • Amabile, T.M., Schatzel, E.A., Moneta, G.B., and Kramer, S.J. (2004). Leader behaviors and the work environment for creativity: Perceived leader support. The Leadership Quarterly, 15:1, 5-32.
    Using daily-diary data from dozens of employees working on creative projects, this study found that perceived leader support predicts employee creativity. It also discovered specific, day-by-day leader actions associated with higher or lower perceived support . 

Inner Work Life and Performance

How do people’s feelings, thoughts and drives affect their performance at work? Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer have coined the term “inner work life” to describe the psychological experience of people at work. Along with their colleagues, they have shown that people are more productive, creative, committed and collegial when they have positive emotions and thoughts about the work and when they are motivated by intrinsic interest in the work itself.

  • Amabile, T.M., and Kramer, S.J. (2007). Inner work life: Understanding the subtext of business performance. Harvard Business Review, 85:5, 72-83.
    This article describes our discoveries about the usually-hidden, yet powerful, perceptions, emotions, and motivations that people experience as they react to and make sense of events in their work day. Each aspect of inner work life can have a significant impact on several dimensions of an individual’s performance.
  • Amabile, T.M., Barsade, S.G., Mueller, J.S., and Staw, B.M (2005). Affect and creativity at work. Administrative Science Quarterly, 50:3, 367-403.
    Researchers have long debated the connection between affect (mood or emotion) and creativity. Using day-by-day measures of both affect and creativity, this study reveals that more positive affect on a given work day leads to higher levels of creativity that day – and the next day, as well. 
  • Amabile, T.M. (1997). Motivating creativity in organizations: On doing what you love and loving what you do. California Management Review, 40, 39-58.
    This article summarizes research on the connections between the work environment, people’s intrinsic motivation for the work itself, and creativity. The implications are relevant to leader actions at all levels, from project managers to the C-suite.  

Creativity, Innovation, and Motivation

For over 30 years, Teresa Amabile has researched and written about creativity, innovation, and the motivational forces that influence them in individuals, teams, and organizations. This work has led to her prominence as one of the leading experts in the field. Using both laboratory experiments and field research, Teresa discovered the intrinsic motivation principle of creativity: People are most creative when they are motivated primarily by the interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge inherent in the work itself. In addition to providing a comprehensive theory of creativity, Teresa’s work in this area has led to a method for assessing creativity and a set of prescriptions for supporting creativity and innovation.

  • Hennessey, B. A. & Amabile, T. M. (2010). Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 569-598.
    This comprehensive article reviews psychological research on creativity, with a focus on the past 10 years. Special attention is given to new developments, such as creativity in education and in organizations, cross-cultural differences in creativity, and the neuroscience of creative processes.
  • Amabile, T.M., Hadley, C.N., and Kramer, S.J. (2002). Creativity under the gun. Harvard Business Review, August 2002, 52-61.
    Although high levels of time pressure usually hamper creativity, and low-to-moderate levels are generally optimal, there are certain (rare) conditions of high time pressure under which creativity can thrive. The keys are motivation and focus.
  • Amabile, T.M. (1998). How to kill creativity. Harvard Business Review, September-October 1998, 76-87.
    After illustrating the requisite ingredients of creativity for individuals, and the ingredients of innovation for organizations, this article describes how well-intentioned managers can – and do – kill creativity every day. The article offers specific guidelines for keeping creativity alive in the workplace, including methods for supporting the intrinsic motivation crucial for creativity.