Creativity Lip Service

People like creativity less than they say, especially when they feel uncertain:

While people strongly endorse [a] positive view of creativity, scholars have long been puzzled by the finding that organizations, scientific institutions, and decisions-makers routinely reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as an important goal. Similarly, research documents that teachers dislike students who exhibit curiosity and creative thinking even though teachers acknowledge creativity as an important educational goal. …

[In our studies,] on one hand, participants in the baseline and uncertainty tolerance conditions demonstrated positive implicit associations with creativity relative to practicality. Additionally, 95% of participants in the high uncertainty and uncertainty intolerance conditions rated their explicit attitudes towards creativity as positive. … On the other hand, the implicit measure identified that participants in each high uncertainty condition associated words like “vomit,” “poison,” and “agony,” more so with creativity than practicality. Because there is such a strong social norm to endorse creativity and people also feel authentic positive attitudes towards creativity, people may be reluctant to admit that they do not want creativity. (more)

For how many more far values does this sort of hypocrisy apply?

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  • nazgulnarsil

    “We asked for creativity, but Steve was just being a smartass.”

    This is exactly the kind of pitfall nerds run into when they point out creative ways to more directly get what we really want rather than what we say we want.

  • Lord

    I really don’t think this is hypocritical. We recognize that creativity and change is often necessary and for the best in the end, but requires adaptation, concentration, effort, and time, so much so it is desirable to defer or delay it if we can. We know that while we may improve some things and solve some problems with it, it will also harm some existing things and create some new problems. In the end, there may be no choice, but that time may not be yet, and while it may appear for the best, we know the problems often don’t appear until implemented.

  • Tim

    Looking at creativity from a risk-reward perspective, it seems natural individuals and collections of individuals under some economic, psychological, socialogical circumstances will sometimes be risk adverse

  • TR

    Development of human resources inside pretty much any organization.. Every CEOs stated number one goal, yet little productive training ever happens.

  • sabril

    Here’s another one:

    It’s very common for teachers to say something like this:

    “It’s perfectly okay if you submit a paper which disagrees with me. You are graded on how well you defend your position, not on the viewpoint you take.”

    Of course most students quickly learn that this is BS. To get a good grade, you find out the teacher’s viewpoint and feed it right back to him.


    And of course the classic example of a conflict between stated and actual values is when you ask a girl what qualities she likes in a man.

  • Bruce Charlton

    Creativity is positively correlated with the personality trait of Psychoticism (similar to schizotypy) and with lower empathizing, lower Agreeableness (including greater selfishness) and lower Conscientiousness. (See work of HJ Eysenck).

    So highly creative people tend to be ‘antisocial’.

    What people *want* is high creativity in nice, obedient and hardworking people – but that isn’t what is on offer.

    When they discover the cost of creativity, people don’t like it so much – and would prefer biddable mediocrity.

    Or the fake creativity – aka novelty – which can be simulated by wide knowledge in various combinations and inversions.

  • Hmm…the study used “practicality” as the counterbalance to “creativity”. Generally, I probably value practicality more than creativity in that I think that creativity’s main virtue is its ability to improve the efficacy of various methods or replace them altogether with more effective ones, something that really works in the service of practicality. But beyond that, it’s hard to see how an implicit test where synonyms for creativity are weighed against synonyms for practicality tells you anything about how subjects would deal with a concrete situation where creative inputs were on the table (and I do not count assessing the idea of shoes with nanotechnology as a concrete situation).

    To sum up, this study said very little and the researchers should have been far more creative in designing it.

  • John

    I once interviewed for a position to lead an “Innovation project” at a large company. The first red flag was that innovation was sequestered to its own project. Then after the interview, I discovered that what I’d been doing for the past 10 years was too avant garde for their innovation project.

  • This sounds like a rational response to the fact that 98.99 percent of all creative ideas are shit. We don’t value creative people simpliciter; we value creative people who are as continent in their creativity as Hemingway.

  • Faze

    Or the fake creativity – aka novelty – which can be simulated by wide knowledge in various combinations and inversions. — Bruce Charlton

    Well, this caught my eye. Most creative ideas are also novel ideas. At what point do they veer off into fake? Suddenly, I’m worried that all the creativity I’ve been praised for in my life is really only novelty, and that’s why my ideas get praised more often than they get adopted.

  • axa

    Amazing paper. Me and a friend run a small business and our image is based on “creativity”. Perhaps, creativity is good just for the business image on the website. However, when talking with clients about money IT IS BETTER to speak using those beautiful words such as: “practical, functional, constructive, and useful” instead of “novel solution”.

    Thanks Robin!

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