"idea pitcher," while the other half had the job of evaluating those ideas. The challenge was to come upwith an idea for how an airline might generate more revenue from passengers. Among the idea pitchers,half were told to come up with a creative solution to that problem, which was defined as one that was bothnovel and useful. The other half were told to come up with an idea that was simply useful. Students had10 minutes to pitch the evaluators on their ideas, and then the evaluators rated them on several factorsincluding how creative the idea was and what sort of leadership potential each one had.Again, those who came up with creative ideas were viewed to have significantly less leadership potentialthan those who simply came up with a useful solution. To be sure that this wasn't just a personality issue --that somehow the creative people were coming across as less likable -- Mueller's team also askedquestions about how competent and warm the idea pitchers were. That revealed that both groups wereviewed as being equally warm and competent. So the problem was simply the presentation of a clever idea, not a perceived personality defect.According to Mueller, these findings are consistent with how people have traditionally defined businessleadership in the past. "The value that leaders have for groups is in creating common goals so the groupcan achieve something," Mueller notes. "And goals are better the clearer they are -- you don't wantuncertainty. So leaders need to diminish uncertainty and create standards of behavior for everyone in thegroup. And they create those standards by conforming to them."She contrasts that thinking with how people describe a creative person. Other academic literature hasfound that when people are asked what comes to mind when they think of a creative person, "in additionto 'visionary' and 'charismatic,' people also use words like 'quirky,' 'unfocused' [and] 'nonconformist.' Thefact is people don't feel just positively about creative individuals -- they feel ambivalent about them."Of course, Mueller says not every organization fails to promote creative types. Some firms, like IDEOand Apple, are specifically geared toward nurturing creativity and valuing innovation; the value of thosequalities is ingrained in their culture, Mueller states, not just something that is given lip service by the top brass. To show this, Mueller and her colleagues performed a third study. In this case, they took a group of 183 students at a large Northeastern university and broke them into two groups. The first group was primed to think about leadership and charisma together by being asked to list five attributes that define acharismatic leader. "When you have the word 'charismatic' activated in your mind, you may be thinkingmore along the lines of creativity," Mueller notes.After listing those attributes, the group was given a story about a person voicing an idea, again for how anairline could generate more revenue from passengers. Half the group were given the story with theindividual putting forth a useful, but not novel, idea for solving that problem while the other half weregiven the story with the person coming up with a creative and useful suggestion (in this case, it was tocharge for online gaming during the flight). They all were asked to rate, on leadership potential, the person who came up with the idea. In this case, the group exposed to the creative idea rated that person ashaving higher leadership potential than the group whose story contained someone putting forth just a practical idea.But what if people were not thinking specifically about charismatic leaders? The second group out of thatsame pool of 183 students was not primed to think about charisma and leadership together. They weresimply asked to list attributes of a leader; the word 'charismatic' was not mentioned. Then these studentswere broken into two groups and put through the same exercise of rating either a creative idea or just auseful one. In this case, the results were the opposite of the first group studied -- they ranked theleadership potential of the person who had a creative idea below that of the individual who simply cameup with a useful idea.
According to Mueller, this study points to the conflicting feelings that people often have around trulycreative thinkers. In the paper, she and her co-authors write that leaders who are the most original may beoverlooked "in favor of selecting leaders who would preserve the status quo by sticking with feasible, butrelatively unoriginal solutions." They suggest that the reality created by this bias could explain why theIBM survey of leaders found that many expressed doubt or a lack of confidence in their ability to takecharge in times of complexity. Those leaders were ostensibly promoted "based on this prototypical
All materials copyright of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Page 2 of 3