We love creativity. Everyone has a favorite creative thinker. Mine include David Foster Wallace, Hemmingway, Keats, Beethoven, Wagner and Van Gogh. Others might be inspired by Lady Gaga or Euripides. Right now, the favorite to discuss is the recently departed CEO of Apple Steve Jobs.
Despite all of this posturing and overflowing love for creative individuals and their works, we really don't like it. Deep down, we reject creative ideas and stick to what we know. When such an idea finally works, we look back upon it with wide eyes and admiration. A study from Cornell titled The bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideas takes a look at how people act when faced with creativity:
Do people desire creative ideas? Most scholars would propose that the answer to this question is an obvious ‘yes,’ asserting that creativity is the engine of scientific discovery (Hennessey & Amabile, 2010), the fundamental driving force of positive change (George, 2007), and associated with intelligence, wisdom, and moral goodness (Niu & Sternberg, 2006; Sternberg, 1985). However, while people strongly endorse this 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 (Ford & Gioia, 2000; Staw, 1995; West, 2002). Similarly, research documents that teachers dislike students who exhibit curiosity and creative thinking even though teachers acknowledge creativity as an important educational goal (Dawson, D'Andrea, Affinito, & Westby, 1999; Runco, 1989; Westby & Dawson, 1995). We offer a new perspective to explain this puzzle. Just as people have deeply-rooted biases against people of a certain age, race or gender that are not necessarily overt (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995), so too can people hold deeply-rooted negative views of creativity that are not openly acknowledged. Revealing the existence and nature of a bias against creativity can help explain why people might reject creative ideas and stifle scientific advancement, even in the face of strong intentions to the contrary.
Practical ideas are generally valued (Sanchez-Burks, 2005). However, the more novel an idea, the more uncertainty can exist about whether an idea is practical, useful, error free, and reliably reproduced (Amabile, 1996). When endorsing a novel idea, people can experience failure (Simonton, 1984), perceptions of risk (Rubenson & Runco, 1995), social rejection when expressing the idea to others (Moscovici, 1976; Nemeth, 1986), and uncertainty about when their idea will reach completion (Metcalfe, 1986). Uncertainty is an aversive state (Fiske &a Taylor, 1991; Heider, 1958) which people feel a strong motivation to diminish and avoid (Whitson & Galinsky, 2008). Hence, people can also have negative associations with novelty; an attribute at the heart of what makes ideas creative in the first place.
Although the positive associations with creativity are typically the focus of attention both among scholars and practitioners, the negative associations may also be activated when people evaluate a creative idea. For example, research on associative thinking suggests that strong uncertainty feelings may make the negative attributes of creativity, particularly those related to uncertainty, more salient (Bower, 1981).
Continued from the abstract:
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.
How is this in play with development and the blogs who write critically (including this one)? It could account for the slowness of change in organizations as well as the dislike of DIYers from some aid blogs. The tough thing will be evaluating when the disdain for a creative idea is right or wrong. Unlike writing a book or composing a new song, there is a lot more at stake in the humanitarian field.
I will conclude with some creative genius while on the topic...Beethoven ~ Third Symphony - III (Scherzo, Allegro vivace)