Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Rambling: Creativity versus rewards and praise, and another rant about blogging

So, I was recently talking to a  friend (Hi, friend!) about the research that suggests that rewards suppress, rather than encourage, creativity. A week or three later, I ran into the same idea in the book How to Fly a Horse.  The book discusses a few experiments and facts:
  • Children who were rewarded for writing stories wrote less creative stories than children who weren't.
  • Adults who were rewarded for creating collages created less creative collages than adults who weren't.
  • Adults who were told that their collages would be evaluated created less creative collages than adults who weren't.
  • Woody Allen wants nothing to do with his Academy Awards.
  • Einstein avoided Nobel prizes.
(By the way, I want to know why collages keep being the creativity activity for adults in these experiments. Is it because most adults can use a pair of scissors and a glue stick, so they reduce unwanted differences based on skill?)

I was thinking of all of this in the context that if you want to create an environment that encourages creativity, you may want to keep rewards out of it. And then I came to an abrupt conclusion:

Micropayments have destroyed blogging.

I don't actually know if it's a valid conclusion, and "destroyed" is a big overstatement, because there are lots of good blogs out there. But I have griped, many times, that it's essentially impossible to have any discussion about blogging without that discussion turning toward, not blogging, but rewards for blogging--readership and pagerank and ads and Adsense clicks, and all of those numeric metrics that can add up to making more money from ads or selling products or selling the blog itself.

Many bloggers chase that reward, focusing the entire blogging effort on increasing their Adsense payments from enough money to buy a burger a month, to enough money to buy a burger a week. The entire value of what should be a joyous creative-effort is reduced, in perception, to a few dollars. And if the reward stays at a few dollars, or in fact never goes above a few pennies, they feel stupid, like they're suckers. 

Even when a blogger doesn't actually care about money, the measure of a blog is still often based on the measures that produce money--readers, page views, pagerank.

What kind of sucker has a glorious, joyous time creating and offering their creation to the world, without demanding that they get paid for it? After all you get paid when you sing karaoke, right? You get paid when you invite friends to dinner, right? You get paid when you sing carols at Christmas, right? You get paid for those great cookies that you take to the potluck, right? You get paid when you have a fascinating conversation with a friend, right?

Oh. Right. You don't. And, yes, I'm descending into sarcasm. I'm annoyed. Blogging is an opportunity for absolutely anyone to create and share their creations--words, photographs, pictures, videos, whatever. But because, in theory, a blog could result in a financial reward, blogging is weighted down with reward baggage that discourages that creativity.

No, it doesn't discourage it for everyone, or at least it doesn't destroy it--there are great blogs out there that have ads on them, so obviously having ads doesn't keep you from having a great blog. I'm sure that for some blogs, the ads are what makes the blog possible, either by actually paying a wage to the person who does the blogging, or by paying for some of the expenses of the blog.

But the idea that creating for free makes one a sucker, is one that annoys me. And the standard measures of a blog encourage that idea. So I rant.

That is all. I may, in a later post, engage in the more nuanced discussion of creativity versus reward that I intended when I sat down to write this post. But apparently I had to rant first.


  1. me likes this topic and it has stimulated much good conversation at Treehouse Books. I am for the idea of basing the game play/reward around community building and sharing rather than the act of creativity. The reality is that some creativity is rewarded in our culture and some isn't and it's rather random and surprising and sometimes incredibly unfair. And even people who became massively celebrated writers and creators started out with their vision rejected... just google 20 brilliant authors whose work was rejected. it seems to take awhile for our culture to catch on to what is new and innovative. So for me, our rewards are for sticking with things and taking risks and being brave enough to fail. That's a game worth playing.

  2. But even those rewards will, from all that I've read, discourage the activity that you're trying to reward. It's counterintuitive to the point of maddening, but it appears to be true.

  3. This post struck a chord with me, especially the term 'reward baggage'. I have to say that if I wanted to earn money from my blog there is no way I would write about the things I actually write about - or most of them anyway - so in that sense, ads must be an influencing factor on content choice for some bloggers. And as the ad money is said to be derisory for the most part - well, maybe not at the highest level - it does seem a bit silly all round.

  4. Yep yep. I was trying to remember/find a quote that boggled me a while ago--something like, "I thought starting a blog would be fun, but I don't need the money," or something like that. Maddening.