Creativity, fear, and dishonesty

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One of my favourite blogs – Psyblog – recently posted on why people secretly fear creative ideas.

It seems we say we value creativity but don’t really want it. Teachers apparently don’t like creative kids – they are probably too disruptive and not good at following rules.

In organisations leaders say they want creative ideas – and then stick to the tried and tested.

I’ve seen creative people promoted only to find that they then have other priorities so they get frustrated and end up losing their credibility when they succumb to their dark side and their ideas are seen as totally unrealistic.

Experiments by Mueller and colleagues using implicit attitude tests showed that when people are uncertain they think negatively about creative ideas and found it harder to recognise them. This shows that people may dislike creative ideas because they increase uncertainty and that’s not a state we enjoy.

But of course being creative requires just that – doing something that hasn’t been done before or doing something in a different way.

Research elsewhere into the links between creativity and the Big 5 personality factors confirmed that openness and extraversion were significantly related to creativity, but agreeableness had no effect. However they found that people with higher levels of arrogance and pretentiousness also reported more creative accomplishments and being engaged in more creative activities.

So other researchers then explored the connections between creativity and dishonesty.

In a series of experiments reported in Psychology Today they found that people reporting higher creativity were more likely to take advantage of ambiguous situations to cheat. This was nothing to do with intelligence; there were no links between intelligence and creativity nor between intelligence and dishonesty. In fact creativity was a better predictor of dishonesty than intelligence.

People with a more creative mindset were more motivated to think “outside the box” and this is what led to increased levels of dishonesty. In experiments within real organisations they found that people working in what were considered more creative departments or in jobs in which they were expected to be creative, were more likely to act unethically when asked to make decisions on a range of scenarios.

The research actually showed that creativity causes dishonesty. The researchers think that “creativity helps people to develop original ways to bypass moral rules …. to reinterpret information in self-serving ways as they attempt to justify their immoral actions”.

It makes you wonder about creative entrepreneurs who may be less inclined than the rest of us to follow rules which they regard as meaningless red tape eg paying VAT! Or think of Richard Branson’s early days selling vinyl records out of telephone boxes.

The researchers also caution that although the findings are statistically significant they are only trends and there are many creative people who are not dishonest. 

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One thought on “Creativity, fear, and dishonesty

    Leesa Deshaw said:
    December 23, 2011 at 11:29 am

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