Project Practitioners > Creativity and Project Success: What's the Link?

Creativity and Project Success: What's the Link?

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


Here is an email response to one of my articles about letting ideas come to you rather than forcibly think about solutions:


“Hi Chris,

Thanks for reaching out. I received information regarding your submission yesterday and it does not appear as though there is much in the way of ensuring project success. The information provided, while informational, seemed to revolve around self-care to increase your likelihood for creativity and did not seem to provide any solid takeaways for project practitioners.

Thank you!”


I was surprised and intrigued by the response. Forcing creativity can bring about an unnecessary pressure and stress. The thought process is stunted, and frustration builds. The clock is ticking yet nothing is decided.

Taking a break to let the mind relax can create an influx of ideas. The floodgates open. Ideas rush in like the dam broke. An hour ago, nothing was happening. You take a five-minute break and all of a sudden you have every idea.

I could not see a reason as to how this would not ensure project success. Issues pop up. Solutions are needed. Creativity aides in the decision-making process. Any cycle for choosing a path involves creativity. Here are three components of creativity to focus your attention:


  1. Domain Skills

Domain skills are classified as a broad-based understanding of an industry or solution. Without knowing the industry or the skills it takes to solve the problem, you cannot constrain your creativity appropriately.

Suggesting a fire-breathing dragon come and save the day is fantastically creative yet has zero use in solving a technical question about programming. Constraining creativity sounds like the opposite of its use. Don’t you want to inspire far-out, outside-of-the-box thinking? Of course, but within the constraints of industry knowledge.

Nuances become part of the creative decision-making process, something only years of experience can account for. Recycling materials on site can pass for useable material that was not thought of during the estimating process. This change saves money on new materials and cuts the cost of trucking because everything remains on site.


  1. Creativity Skills

Creativity skills are a part of being creative?! What?! Surprise, surprise but some people are more creative than others. Engineers tend to be by-the-book type of people because they deal with specific calculations that do not have interpretations. Two plus two always equals four.

However, a marketing person can convince an audience that sometimes two plus two equals five, or three. Interpretation is accepted in this instance. This gray area opens the doors for any possibilities. Your intention for the product or service may not be its final use.

As the years progress, project managers develop a way of doing things. Each person has a strategy that is effective for him or her. This damper on creativity can be reignited with having diversity in thought amongst the team. Like-minded individuals will not be as creative as a team that embraces conflict of ideas.


  1. Task Motivation

Rewards impact creativity. Take XPRIZE for example. Peter Diamandis and his team developed an incentive-based program “to change the world for the better.” By giving the winning teams millions of dollars for their innovations, XPRIZE has driven creativity to solve problems to exponential levels in a short period of time.

The same can be said about you and your team. If the project is mundane and everyone is there to collect a check, creativity suffers. When everyone involved is highly motivated by a cause that hits close to home, all of a sudden people have tons of ideas on which direction to go and how to overcome obstacles.

Recognition can be more of a motivator on creativity than any dollar amount. The ego is as powerful of a motivator as any financial gain. The risk must be worth the reward otherwise you will play it safe. There is no reason to risk if status quo is the goal. Incentives intensify creativity.



Creativity and project management walk hand in hand. Solving problems is an hourly occurrence for most project managers. Creativity drives solutions. Whether you forcibly think about how to resolve an issue or let it sink in and sit back until something comes to you, you are using your creative forces.

Your domain skills should constrain your thoughts to the work at hand. Again, fire-breathing dragons are not an option. Your creativity skills should shine in moments where the problem seems unsolvable. There is always a solution. Your task motivations need to match the incentives. If the problem does not test you, your creativity will slack. You and your team need the proper incentives for solving the problem.

What are your thoughts on creativity in project management? Does it have a place? Should it be emphasized or taught?

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

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