Are You Creatively Prejudiced? Why We Want Creativity But Often Reject It

Would you recognize a creative idea if you saw it? How would you know it’s creative? Is it a feeling? Is it a clever idea that made you go “hmm”? Is it the recognition of something deep in your subconscious that for whatever reason strikes a chord with you now? Or are you such an expert that, based on your years of reviewing creative, you now have the ability to spot a good idea from a mile away and opine justifiably?

If you’re reading this blog, you almost certainly have some desire to understand creativity. And while many of us in the creative field would like to claim expert status, the truth is in the numbers.

People come with certain biases. Passions. Backgrounds. Likes and dislikes. And more often than not, we come with inherent tendencies that are out of our control. It’s the recognition of that, I think, that will set us free—but I’ll get to that later.

I once read an article about our inherent desire to be “a little bit racist” (Avenue Q reference––check it out). The study involved two groups of very young kids—somewhere between the ages of three and five (well before they could understand the depths of racial conflict).

The study had half the children wear red shirts and the other half in blue. The children interacted with each other seemingly without a care in the world. It was clear that reds didn’t hang with only reds and blues didn’t hang with just blues. At the end of the study, however, the children were asked a series of questions. When questions came up like, “Do you think red shirts, your team, are better than blue shirts?” kids often responded in favor of their own team.

My point is this: Things that are different are unsettling at best and flat-out terrifying at worst. We seem to crave creativity more than anything else, but creative ideas are often not accepted. Do we have the ability to appreciate a real creative idea? I’d argue not. And as I said, the proof is in the numbers. An article will be released soon in the journal Psychological Science detailing two studies that came to the following titillating conclusions:

  • Creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.
  • People dismiss creative ideas in favor of ideas that are purely practical––tried and true.
  • Objective evidence shoring up the validity of a creative proposal does not motivate people to accept it.
  • Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it, which can interfere with their ability to recognize a creative idea.

The next time a colleague, friend, or business professional approaches you with an idea he or she finds creative, before you reject it, take a second and think about if you’re rejecting it because it’s crazy or because it’s just crazy enough to be original.

Author: Eric Swenson


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