We need creativity to survive. So why are we so suspicious of it?

  • 2016-10-13
  • World Economic Forum

Vomit. Poison. Agony. These are among the words participants used to describe their feelings in two 2010 University of Pennsylvania experiments. Researchers measured more than 200 peoples’ reactions to creative proposals for dealing with stubborn problems. They overwhelmingly found that rather than embracing these potential solutions, participants reported strong negative reactions.

Researchers concluded that the drive of participants to reduce the very uncertainty upon which creative ideas appear to thrive resulted in feelings of potential failure and social rejection — hence the reactions.

Sadly, not only are creative ideas dismissed, but the people who come up with them are less likely to be promoted, recognized as leaders, or deemed to be reliable teammates.

The paradox of this bias against creativity lies in the fact that creativity — along with its close cousin innovation — is frequently celebrated in business as a most desired organizational trait. Reports of management excellence from McKinsey to KPMG state that creativity among the workforce is a basic requirement for long-term business success. Why then does the organizational immune system kick into high gear whenever exposed to the very thing it needs to survive?