Creativity conjures words like agony, vomit and poison to most

Following on from the theme of our Weekly Bits of Interest, a recent article by Science Daily reveals these findings from a study at theUniversity of Pennsylvania:

  • New ideas trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable
  • People dismiss creative ideas in favour of ideas that are purely practical – tried and true
  • While people explicitly claim to desire creative ideas, they actually associated them with negative words such as ‘vomit’, ‘poison’ and ‘agony

Working in an area called Innovation Policy I appreciate the difficulty that people can have coming to grips with the concept of innovation and how it can be operationalised. When I read the Pennsylvania study I was in agony as if I had been poisoned, I did not know whether to laugh, cry or vomit. Why should such an important word as creativity produce such a negative response in people? Maybe the concept of creativity, like that of innovation, is difficult to understand and so it turns some people off.

In a similar vein, an op-ed on 16 September 2011 in the Sydney Morning Herald by Jessica Irvine, Economics Writer, discusses the need to replace all the talk about productivity, our flagging performance in it, and need for more of it – with creativity. She suggests that we at every instance replace the word ‘productivity’ with ‘creativity’ as “we create, we produce; it’s all the same”. Perhaps she would change her tune after reading the study from theUniversity of Pennsylvania!

Here in Innovation Policy, we have been trialling Yammer (the Enterprise Social Network) as a new tool for information sharing within our area. At the commencement of the trial, some users were quick to jump on the negatives without even trialling this innovative communication tool, explaining why it wouldn’t work or that we already had too many information sharing platforms. However those who have used it have generally been quite positive about how they have found it – it has been good for getting quick responses to simple questions, for circulating reports, for reducing email traffic and for letting others know what their team is working on. This highlights how it is necessary to plough through the negativity often associated with new ideas as ultimately they can lead to numerous and varied beneficial outcomes.

How do you market innovative, creative, and new ideas to generate interest and ensure best take up of those ideas?

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1 comment

  1. I read the overview of the creativity study and feel we really need to relax. Having now read many academic papers on creative thinking and innovation, I am deeply troubled by the assumptions I am asked to make when academics do ‘research’.
    “People dismiss creative ideas in favor of ideas that are purely practical — tried and true” — the first assumption you have to believe is that all people think alike. If you can accept that assumption, then you can accept this statement. I don’t.
    There is 40 years of research on cognitive diversity (the differences in thinking styles) that says that these differences are real and measurable. At a common sense level, we know that people do not think alike. This behaviour described in this quote most resembles the adaptive style of thinking (as defined by the Kirton adaption-innovation work). This may reflect about half of the population ...

    ... whose idea of ‘innovation’ may be described in terms of ideas that makes things ‘better’. The other half of the population would see something as ‘better’ as being little more than an improvement. The more innovative thinkers love different, unique and new.
    Saying all of this, we now should understand the experiment used to make these judgments.
    What do they believe is a creative idea?
    How did they set up the experiment?
    I have yet to read the full paper to understand these issues. However, based on my reading of many other papers, I am very skeptical about such results. A far more valuable research project would have been to assess people’s thinking style prior to the experiment to see which people dismiss the ‘creative idea’ and why.
    Did the adaptive thinkers dismiss the creative idea any more or less than the innovative thinkers? Perhaps the innovative thinkers dismissed the idea as they did not believe it was very creative.
    Have faith that good ideas will rise to the top. Some people will always respond positively to well conceived and developed ideas. Some will not.
    Ed Bernacki