Truth is people don’t actually like creativity

There was an interesting article in Slate a few weeks ago about the bias against creativity, about the fact that most people say they like creativity but that the truth is we really don’t. And since I work in a creative agency often presenting creative ideas to clients the theory based on a 2011 study used in this article makes a whole lot of sense to me.

“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,” says Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school who specializes in creativity. Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. “As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea.  Even people who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to creative ideas, as demonstrated in a 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania. Uncertainty is an inherent part of new ideas, and it’s also something that most people would do almost anything to avoid. People’s partiality toward certainty biases them against creative ideas and can interfere with their ability to even recognize creative ideas .

Clients will come to us for creative tasks since that’s what we’re most known for. You can literally witness though how the creative ideas that were presented and liked by the clients will be softened once they start to move through the chain of command. That is if you allow that to happen, we’re quite protective on the essence of an idea to make sure that while we’re very open to tweak it we will make sure that that essential core idea is never lost.

Most people agree that what distinguishes those who become famously creative is their resilience. While creativity at times is very rewarding, it is not about happiness. Staw says a successful creative person is someone “who can survive conformity pressures and be impervious to social pressure.”

And of course I realize like anyone else that some creative ideas are just not good or are creative but not an answer to the question or briefing at hand. This is purely about ideas that are recognized as good and creative and how they are being judged during the decision process. This is about how people often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal (as the research so eloquently puts it).

In terms of decision style, most people also fall short of the creative ideal. they are satisficers rather than searcher for the optimal or most desirable solution. They follow a number of energy-saving heuristics that generally lead to a set of systematic biases or inaccuracies in processing information. And, unless they are held accountable for their decision-making strategies, they tend to find the easy way out – either by not engaging in very careful thinking or by modeling their choices on the preferences of those who will be evaluating them.

Especially that last sentence is a problem I think. Not only in judging creativity by the way. When people make decision upon what they think someone else will probably think of it instead of what they think themselves sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. There’s a clear link with management style there as well. How much do you empower your own people? It seems that to enable creativity you need to do that.

Instead of issuing directives and policy statements and hoping that they will be obeyed, innovative firms must encourage disobedience. In fact, those in power should go so far as to encourage active opposition. Innovative organizations are those that harbor multiple perspectives and objectives, not simply a variety of views.

Last but not least, it’s also why creativity takes courage – dixit Henri Matisse. Definitely an interesting read, be sure to check the full article.

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