Why We Desire But Reject Creative Ideas

According to a new paper by researchers from Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of North Carolina, creative ideas make people uncomfortable. The paper, which is based on two studies from UPenn involving more than 200 people, is set to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science (ungated version here).

From the abstract:

People often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal. To explain this paradox, we propose that people can hold a bias against creativity that is not necessarily overt, and which is activated when people experience a motivation to reduce uncertainty. In two studies, we measure and manipulate uncertainty using different methods including: discrete uncertainty feelings, and an uncertainty reduction prime. The results of both studies demonstrated a negative bias toward creativity (relative to practicality) when participants experienced uncertainty. Furthermore, the bias against creativity interfered with participants’ ability to recognize a creative idea. These results reveal a concealed barrier that creative actors may face as they attempt to gain acceptance for their novel ideas.

The irony is that as a society, we’re constantly talking about how much we value creativity. And yet, the study implies that our minds are biased against it because of the very nature of its novelty. The authors point out that we often view novelty and practicality as inversely related. We generally value practical ideas because they’re familiar and proven, while the more novel an idea, the more uncertainty there exists about whether it’s practical, error-free, or even useful. There is also the social cost that comes with endorsing unproven novel ideas.

Going forward, perhaps it’s not that we need to get better at producing creative ideas, but at learning how to accept them. The authors note:

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.

[HT: Eric M. Jones]


I remember a study that creativity / new ways are not that helpful for high status members of a group but rather the resource of low status menbers.
So who wonders about the bias against creativty? It has been reasonalbe for the leaders to refrain from changes as long as not really really nessecary for millions of year. Why should they change? Just because it is reasonable :-)?

ThIn aIr

Let us take your opening sentence. Why would do you think that a study would suggest creativity/new ways are not helpful for high status members? Could it be that it threatens their already tight grip on a CREATIVE order they have either themselves created or, in the case of having inherited, maintained? It has been reasonable for leaders to refrain from whose ideas of changes? Changes that they could have offered, or changes offered from others? I am sure you would perhaps answer both. But if it came down to one of your ancient leaders having to have to choose between the two; had to choose a lesser of the two evils of change, I am sure he/she would opt to go with changes they could offer much sooner than going with change others did, which can argue more for the retaining of power of a leader than anything else. So yes, who really wonders about the THREAT of creativity? The bias against creativity, in your observation that it is not helpful for high status members of a group/leaders, seems to be set forth as an area of concern for those of this group as it more bocomes a question of a threat of their base of power.



The idea that novelty isn't embraced as quickly or efficiently as practicality is certainly true. We see this daily with individuals who speak about technology and the future and how "that is where everything is going". The funny thing is technology, though changing and updating rapidly, isn't embraced by users at this high rate on a large scale. People who are engaged with updates to Google tools may be willing to adopt new changes, however companies often wait for something to be proven before adopting it. This is why, especially in the government, legacy systems are prevalent throughout all departments (DoD adapts the fastest, however when I say legacy, I mean we have systems running on 1970's, 80's and 90's hardware/software platforms). Of course politics plays a major role in this, but the politics on these upgrades revolve around the "practicality" issue where the new things aren't proven, so how do we know it will be better? There are many examples in all areas of business - I discuss this kind of issue on my blog at times (http://akeeling-nienteetutto.blogspot.com/). Feel free to comment or read if you wish.



I think people is afraid to change, and the creative ideas make a huge change in people's lifes. For many years me and my family were afraid to changed our businesses (from classic to the Web, now cancionespararegalar.com is a succesfull site) but we didn't give up untill I dream came true. If you are sure of your dream, go for it.

W. Hess

This is an incredibly important finding because it marks the tension between institutional desires for consistency and control and the role of the individual trying to find productive solutions. I have always theorized that the ability to be creative requires the ability to tolerate the anxiety created by an ill-defined or chaotic situation, but the ill-defined and chaotic are an anathema to our favorite institutions, schools.