A recent article by Jonah Lehrer, The Creativity of Anger, postulates that anger can spark creativity. The author uses two end points to illustrate his point. The first, is an example of the anger used by Steve Jobs to Spur his MobileMe team to create a better product. In this case, Jobs, berates the entire MobileMe team when, after the service is first introduced, it receives a poor rating by an influential reviewer. Since Jobs purportedly used this tactic often, and because Apple is a corporate powerhouse, it can be implied that this technique is successful.
On the other side of the coin, the author gives the example of brainstorming. This technique was embraced wholeheartedly by Alex Osborn (founding partner of the BBDO advertising firm), to the extent that Osborn wrote a group of best-selling books on the topic of brainstorming. The most important principle was the total absence of criticism–still a cornerstone of brainstorming today.
The article points out several research examples where anger is used to enhance creativity, however, the author also adds that constantly using anger eventually ends up severely limiting creativity–which seems to make complete sense. I might perform well when my boss is angry, however, if I have to work day-after-day in this kind of environment, I’m likely to lose my creativity.
I’d like to suggest that the reason anger works in the creative process is that (when used in a very limited way), it promotes timed, focused thinking, a method that I’ve written about before. When I’m angry, I usually have a reason, and if I can translate that into focused innovation, then I’ll get lots of good results. For example, if I’m angry because my sales team lost a big order, I’m going to gather them in a room and ask them how we can prevent it from happening again. My anger will communicate two things: 1) it will focus them on a single task: how to improve our sales process, and 2) let them know that I expect an answer sooner rather than later.
If I just scream at them, then I might get some short term answers, but in the long term, I’ll lose people and creativity.