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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]