Saturday, September 10, 2011

Creativity Bias

The next time your great idea at work elicits silence or eye rolls, you might just pity those co-workers. Fresh research indicates they don't even know what a creative idea looks like and that creativity, hailed as a positive change agent, actually makes people squirm.

How is it that people say they want creativity but in reality often reject it? Research to be published reports on two 2010 experiments at the University of Pennsylvania involving more than 200 people. The studies' findings include:

· Creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.

· People dismiss creative ideas in favor of ideas that are purely practical - tried and true.

· Objective evidence shoring up the validity of a creative proposal does not motivate people to accept it.

· Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it, which can interfere with their ability to recognize a creative idea. For example, subjects had a negative reaction to a running shoe, equipped with nanotechnology, which adjusted fabric thickness to cool the foot and reduce blisters.

To uncover bias against creativity, the researchers used a subtle technique to measure unconscious bias - the kind to which people may not want to admit, such as racism. Results revealed that while people explicitly claimed to desire creative ideas, they actually associated creative ideas with negative words such as "vomit," "poison" and "agony." This bias caused subjects to reject ideas for new products that were novel and high quality.

The findings imply a deep irony. Uncertainty drives the search for and generation of creative ideas, but uncertainty also makes us less able to recognize creativity; perhaps when we need it most. The existence, and nature, of a bias against creativity can help explain why people might reject creative ideas and stifle scientific advancements; even in the face of strong intentions to the contrary. The field of creativity may need to shift its current focus from identifying how to generate more creative ideas, to identify how to help innovative institutions recognize and accept creativity.