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The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas

The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas

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Most people view creativity as an asset. So why do we reject creative ideas so often in real life?

Researchers sought to understand this phenomenon and found that the uncertainty of creativity often led to the rejection of such ideas — even when creativity itself is a stated goal.

To find out, Cornell University professor Jack Goncalo, University of Pennsylvania professor Jennifer Mueller and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s Shimul Melwani put participants through a series of mental association tests that revealed their reactions to certain words and situations, such as winning a lottery.

They found that study participants associated creative ideas with negative words — such as “vomit,” “poison” and “agony” — even when they said outright that they favored creativity.

Simply, there was a subtle bias against creativity that favored practicality. And it was motivated by a need to achieve certainty, even in the face of novel new products, such as a nanotechnology-infused running shoe (said to better cool the foot and reduce blisters) used during the study.

The researchers write:

Uncertainty also makes us less able to recognize creativity, perhaps when we need it most. Revealing 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.
Most people view creativity as an asset. So why do we reject creative ideas so often in real life?

Researchers sought to understand this phenomenon and found that the uncertainty of creativity often led to the rejection of such ideas — even when creativity itself is a stated goal.

To find out, Cornell University professor Jack Goncalo, University of Pennsylvania professor Jennifer Mueller and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s Shimul Melwani put participants through a series of mental association tests that revealed their reactions to certain words and situations, such as winning a lottery.

They found that study participants associated creative ideas with negative words — such as “vomit,” “poison” and “agony” — even when they said outright that they favored creativity.

Simply, there was a subtle bias against creativity that favored practicality. And it was motivated by a need to achieve certainty, even in the face of novel new products, such as a nanotechnology-infused running shoe (said to better cool the foot and reduce blisters) used during the study.

The researchers write:

Uncertainty also makes us less able to recognize creativity, perhaps when we need it most. Revealing 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.

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Published by: Alexander Ainslie (AAinslie) on Sep 13, 2011
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Cornell University ILR School
The Bias Against Creativity: Why People DesireBut Reject Creative Ideas
 Jennifer S. Mueller
University of Pennsylvania
Shimul Melwani
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
 Jack A. Goncalo
Cornell University
 , jag97@cornell.edu
This Article is brought to you for free and open access by the ILR Collection at DigitalCommons@ILR. It has been accepted for inclusion in Articles &Chapters by an authorized administrator of DigitalCommons@ILR. For more information, please contact jdd10@cornell.edu.
Mueller, Jennifer S.; Melwani, Shimul; and Goncalo, Jack A., "The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject CreativeIdeas" (2011).
 Articles & Chapters.
Paper 450.http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/articles/450
 
Bias Against Creativity1Running head: BIAS AGAINST CREATIVITYThe bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideasJennifer S. MuellerUniversity of PennsylvaniaShimul MelwaniUniversity of North Carolina, Chapel HillJack A. GoncaloCornell UniversityKeywords: Creativity, bias**In press at Psychological Science.Acknowledgements: This idea behind this paper was inspired by Barry Staw’s chapter, “Why NoOne Really Wants Creativity.” We would also like to thank the following people for theirinsights and help in developing this paper: Jeff Lowenstein, Matthew Cronin and JenniferWhitson.
 
Bias Against Creativity2AbstractPeople often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal. To explainthis paradox, we propose that people can hold a bias against creativity that is not necessarilyovert, and which is activated when people experience a motivation to reduce uncertainty. In twostudies, we measure and manipulate uncertainty using different methods including: discreteuncertainty feelings, and an uncertainty reduction prime. The results of both studiesdemonstrated a negative bias toward creativity (relative to practicality) when participantsexperienced uncertainty. Furthermore, the bias against creativity interfered with participants’ability to recognize a creative idea. These results reveal a concealed barrier that creative actorsmay face as they attempt to gain acceptance for their novel ideas.

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