“People often avoid the uncomfortable uncertainty of novel solutions regardless of potential benefit.”
That quote comes from the Forbes magazine article Managing The Psychological Bias Against Creativity by Todd Essig, who notes the situation where “You come up with a great new idea at work, or at home.
“Or a political leader actually tries something ‘new and different’ when faced with a previously intractable problem. But then, rather than grateful acceptance, or even a fair hearing, the idea is squashed, ridiculed, or otherwise ignored.”
New research, he says, “empirically documents how our resistance to uncertainty makes the ‘old ways’ far stickier than they should be given the practical benefits of creative, new solutions.
“Once again, the biases built into our minds leave us simultaneously moving in opposite directions; we like creativity but avoid creative ideas because creative ideas are too, in a word, creative.”
He quotes from a journal article on the research from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, by Jennifer S. Mueller, Shimul Melwani, and Jack A. Goncalo (“The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas” – PDF file):
“Our results show that regardless of how open minded people are, when they feel motivated to reduce uncertainty either because they have an immediate goal of reducing uncertainty, or feel uncertain generally, this may bring negative associations with creativity to mind which result in lower evaluations of a creative idea. Our findings imply a deep irony.
“Prior research shows that uncertainty spurs the search for and generation of creative ideas… yet our findings reveal that uncertainty also makes us less able to recognize creativity, perhaps when we need it most.”
The research article also explains, that “when journals extol creative research, universities train scientists to promote creative solutions, R&D companies commend the development of new products, pharmaceutical companies praise creative medical breakthroughs, they may do so in ways that promote uncertainty by requiring gate-keepers to identify the single ‘best’ and most ‘accurate’ idea thereby creating an unacknowledged aversion to creativity.”
In her post Why Creative People Are Rarely Seen as Leaders, Susan Cain says Jennifer Mueller, assistant professor of management at Wharton and lead author of the study, “speculates that out-of-the-box thinkers tend not to do the things that traditional leaders do: set goals, maintain the status quo, exude certainty.”
Cain adds, “I suspect that another reason for the creativity gap in the leadership ranks is that many creative thinkers are introverts. Studies suggest that innovation often requires solitude – and that the majority of spectacularly creative people across a range of fields are introverts, or at least comfortable with spending large chunks of time alone.”
One issue she notes is that people “who like to spend time alone are decidedly at odds with today’s team-based organizational culture. Introverts are much less likely than extroverts to be groomed for leadership positions, according to management research, even though another Wharton study led by Professor Adam Grant found that introverted leaders outperform extroverted ones when managing proactive employees — precisely because they give them the freedom to dream up and implement new ideas.”
In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Cain says, Daniel Pink tells the story of an example of this kind of CEO: William McKnight (1887 – 1978), 3M’s president and chairman during the 1930s and 1940s, “a fellow who was as unassuming in his manner as he was visionary in his thinking. McKnight believed in a simple, and at the time, subversive, credo: ‘Hire good people, and leave them alone.’”
Cain thinks “Today’s leaders need to perform traditional tasks, like making speeches, rallying troops, and setting goals. But they also need to feel in their bones what innovation means.
“If the same person can’t do all these things at once – and let’s face it: how many people are both social and solitary, goal-oriented and wildly original? – we should be thinking more about leadership-sharing, where two people divide leadership tasks according to their natural strengths and talents.
“One example of this model is introverted ‘product visionary’ Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and the extroverted ‘people person’ COO Sheryl Sandberg.”
A related book: Mark Zuckerberg: Ten Lessons in Leadership by Michael Essany.
Sheryl Sandberg is interviewed in the book Knowing Your Value: Women, Money, and Getting What You’re Worth by Mika Brzezinski.
Susan Cain is author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking [an Amazon top Best Seller in Psychology of Creativity & Genius].
Also see my earlier posts:
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Last reviewed: 14 Dec 2012