Beware of Those Shifty Creative Types!

Do we naturally fear creativity? My brother recently forwarded me an article that got me thinking on this subject.  My first reaction to the topic was “of course not!  People always talk about creativity and its importance!”  But the more I read the article the more it got me thinking.  Does our innate fear of change and uncertainty subconsciously override our need for creativity?

photo by bricolage.108 via PhotoRee

The article explains that there appears to be a paradox between humanity’s need to develop creative solutions to tricky problems and yet many of us are skeptical and dismissive of creative ideas that may be outside the parameters of the tried and true approaches to an issue.  It sites a 2010 University of Pennsylvania study that notes four basic conclusions to explain this contradiction:

  • Creative ideas are by definition novel, which can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.
  • People dismiss creative ideas in favor of those that are practical.
  • Objective evidence shoring up the validity of a creative proposal does not motivate people to accept it.
  • Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it, which can interfere with their ability to recognize a creative idea.

I found this very interesting and it got me thinking back through my experiences.  Creativity is something I have always considered one of my core characteristics in both my personal and professional self.  The more I thought about this the more I started reliving meetings where a novel solution was proposed either by myself or someone else and it was usually quickly “poo-poo’ed” or politely “shelved” in favor of something  more familiar.  I remember how discouraging this was at the beginning of my career.  You know how it is when you come fresh out of school and have all that knew knowledge and energy to tackle the world’s problems, only to have the “old guard” pat you on the back as if you and your “cute ideas” will soon “get it.”  Over time I guess I just got wore down and now even find myself, at times, defaulting to a more practical and tested solution when presented with an untested creative idea.

So are we “hard-wired” this way, as the article describes, or is it more learned behavior?  Based on my experience it seems more learned to me.  As kids we come up with all sorts of novel ways to attack problems, but as we get older we get more risk averse and become more comfortable with tried and true approaches.  It’s almost as if we lose the edge to be creative.  Although a paradox still seems to exist.  On one hand, as a society we say we value creativity, both personally and in the workplace, yet the first school programs to be cut are the ones that foster creativity, and the first poor sap in a business meeting with a new idea hits a brick wall of resistance.  So do we really mean it?  What do you think?  Maybe what this country needs is a creative revolution!

About the author: Heath

6 comments to “Beware of Those Shifty Creative Types!”

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  1. Andy Lai - September 7, 2011 at 2:19 PM Reply

    I think when you boil a lot of things down about “humanity” … it comes down to control. We can deep dive in to the whys about it, but when people feel a loss of control in a given situation… things happen.. or don’t. :-) Lack of mental strength and confidence tends to stifle creative ideas. My two small cents.

  2. Heath - September 8, 2011 at 4:57 PM Reply

    Andy, I would definitely agree that control plays a role in stifling creativity. It is probably one of the bigger factors feeding our fear of the unknown, causing us to default the path more traveled.

  3. Luke - September 9, 2011 at 11:55 AM Reply

    There is some value in doing things the tried and true way. Sometimes, when an efficient method is already available, there simply isn’t a need for a creative solution. Where creativity is truly needed is in situations where there currently is no tried and true method.

  4. Heath - September 9, 2011 at 1:28 PM Reply

    @Luke, I definitely agree that there is value in doing things the tried and true way as well. Approaching every problem as it needs a unique solution isn’t always efficient and can cause its own problems. I would disagree though that creative solutions are only needed when there is no tried and true method. In my own experiences I have found situations where there was a set way to do things that does work, but because someone decided to be creative they were able to improve efficiency, income, usability, etc. If we aren’t open to doing this once in awhile then you would never have innovation. With that being said there is definitely a need for balance when it comes to set processes and novel solutions and sometimes that is the tricky part to figure out. Thanks for bringing this up! Definitely don’t want to advocate always throwing out the tried and true methods.

  5. jrandom42 - October 5, 2011 at 5:26 PM Reply

    Shifty creative types, like Bernie Madoff?

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