Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The One Who Started It All: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

One of the first names that comes to mind while listing some of the greatest fictional detectives of all time is Sherlock Holmes. The brilliant, yet cold and often arrogant detective and his faithful partner, John Watson, made their first appearance in A Study in Scarlet in 1887. Since then, Sherlock Holmes has been the main character in many spin-offs, movies, and TV shows.

Sherlock Holmes - The motion picture

Sherlock - TV Series

The man who created the character, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was born on May 22, 1859 in Edinburgh. His father suffered from epilepsy and alcoholism, and had to be institutionalized, where he eventually died. His mother kept a boarding house. Doyle was well-educated, and practiced medicine before becoming a writer. He ran for parliament unsuccessfully in 1900 and 1906. He was knighted in 1902. One of the sources of his creativity was his family: his grandfather was a famous caricaturist, his uncle was an illustrator, and his father was an architect and a book illustrator. Doyle looked up to Edgar Allan Poe and Emile Gaboriau, and his works reflect some of the themes found in the works of these authors.

Markus Baer discusses the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, or sources of motivation for creativity in Rewarding Creativity: When does it really matter? According to him, any work accomplished by intrinsic motivation is the result of a person's genuine interest in that particular subject. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, results in accomplishing a task because of outside sources of motivation such as money or a promotion. Generally, intrinsic sources of motivation lead to more creative ideas. Doyle's motivation to write was originally intrinsic as he gave up his medical practice to focus on writing.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
He wrote the first story starring Sherlock Holmes in just three weeks. Doyle is said to have found the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes during his years as a medical practitioner. He encountered doctors with Sherlock-like abilities to report their patients' symptoms, and diagnose them before the patients had said anything to the doctors. By 1893, just six years after publishing the first story, he was tired of Sherlock Holmes and killed him off. However, due to a lack of income and public demand, he brought back the character and continued publishing until 1927. Despite the extrinsic motivation for creativity, Doyle's work did not suffer. His creativity allowed the Sherlock Holmes character to remain captivating and over the years, has gained a fan base of millions of people.


Baer, M., Oldham, G., & Cummings, A. (2003). Rewarding creativity: When does it really matter? The Leadership Quarterly, 14, 569-586.


  1. I did not know that Arthur Conan Doyle was involved in the medical practice. Now it makes sense why there is so much medical jargon in his stories. This post made me think more about his characters and how Watson may have even been a reflection of himself because he is a doctor. Doyle's stories are definitely very creative and revolutionized the detective genre. Unfortunately, I feel like his extrinsic motivation may have caused a lack of passion for his later work. If he only brought Holmes back for monetary reasons, it would be purely extrinsic. I agree that Holmes' character remains captivating to audiences, but after reading some of his stories, I do believe that Doyle's work appears more creative (to me) before he killed off the character. This causes me to think more about how extrinsic motivation can be essential in that it causes people to work, but in the end, intrinsic motivation seems to allow for more innovative and captivating work.

  2. It was interesting to see that Arthur Conan Doyle was knighted. After reading this post, it makes me want to read more of his work, because Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous works. I used the same article in my post, but reading how Doyle was more motivated by extrinsic rewards is a lot different than how my person is motivated. Doyle's contribution to the mystery/noir genre is far-reaching, but learning the truths behind Doyle's motivation is kind of frustrating, because Sherlock Holmes is a great presence in culture today (BBC series and motion pictures). Intrinsic motivation allows for more enthralling and fascinating work.


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