Businesses are constantly looking to find ways to motivate their employees. If you've tried a variety of incentives but still haven’t found the secret sauce, then research from Columbia Business School that says criticism is an effective workplace tool can help stimulate your employees.

Professor Modupe Akinola, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Associate Professor of Leadership and Ethics at Columbia Business School, examined the effects of feedback given to individuals and found that after negative feedback had been given, the work produced was significantly more creative. She concluded that harsh criticism increased the workers’ creativity and made them perform better. “Fostering creativity is vital to the modern economy, but to reach your personal best, sometimes you have to go through the worst,” explains Professor Akinola. “My research shows that impediments such as social rejection, harsh criticism, and poverty are hurdles that, while problematic, may ultimately spark imagination.”

 The takeaway for a work environment is: For managers: It may be okay to impose tight deadlines and let your employees bite off more than they can chew in order to arouse greater creativity on their teams. But Professor Akinola points out that this research does not give managers license to be tyrannical, and she notes that different workers will have different tolerances for the approach. And with more open-ended activities like brainstorming, encouragement yields better ideas and pushes employees to use their skills to their fullest potential. For employees: Personal and professional setbacks — moments when we’re most likely to feel like just walking away — can be the best ones to achieve creative break through. The times when we are most vulnerable are often the times we may be opening channels of innovation.

“After all,” says Professor Akinola, “some of the most creative minds in history suffered, yet they were still able to create some of the most amazing masterpieces.” 

About Columbia Business School

Columbia Business School is the only world–class, Ivy League business school that delivers a learning experience where academic excellence meets with real–time exposure to the pulse of global business. Led by Dean Glenn Hubbard, the School’s transformative curriculum bridges academic theory with unparalleled exposure to real–world business practice, equipping students with an entrepreneurial mindset that allows them to recognize, capture, and create opportunity in any business environment. The thought leadership of the School’s faculty and staff, combined with the accomplishments of its distinguished alumni and position in the center of global business, means that the School’s efforts have an immediate, measurable impact on the forces shaping business every day.