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The Bias Against Creativity (And What to Do About It)

People say that they value creativity.

But do they really? Researchers have discovered that people also have a bias against creativity. How can both be true at the same time? There is often a difference between what people think about something consciously, and how they feel about it on a deeper and more automatic level. 8800589580_dd856a3248_o

Why does this bias matter?

Decisions are often influenced by “gut feelings” even when we don’t realize it.

A bias against creativity can lead people to reject valuable ideas.

What can we do about it?

There are two potential solutions.
  1. Reduce the bias against creativity.
  2. Increase the ability to identify valuable ideas.

Reduce the bias against creativity

People tend to prefer conventional ideas when they are feeling uncertain.

In other words, the bias against creativity seems to come from uncertainty. Reducing uncertainty can make people more receptive to genuinely creative ideas. Uncertainty is a powerful psychological force, with particularly important effects on motivation and learning. And it isn’t just a sense of curiosity or anticipation about any one particular thing—uncertainty is a state of mind. Within organizations, uncertainty (or certainty) is a part of the climate and culture for everyone. We already know that management can influence this climate for better or for worse. Creativity is yet another item on a long list of reasons to have the right work environment.

Increase the ability to identify valuable ideas

People tend to prefer conventional ideas because they think those ideas are less risky, or more likely to pay off.

In other words, the bias against creativity occurs when people are unable to accurately identify valuable ideas. What factors influence the ability to identify the ideas will be successful? We know that, for several reasons, most people aren’t very good at evaluating their own creative ideas. The typical solution to this problem is that evaluations and decisions are made by the person in charge, such as a manager. However, managers usually aren’t any better at evaluating creative ideas. Recent research found that the most accurate evaluations of creative ideas—the ones that most strongly predict their success—come from peers who do similar work. Want to know if a creative idea is valuable? Don’t ask yourself. Don’t ask a manager. Ask a colleague.
Image credits: frankieleon, mattwalker