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Study: People Are Biased Against Creative Thinking 377

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-are-all-individuals dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Despite how much people might say they like creative thinking, they don't, at least according to studies. 'We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,' says Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school who specializes in creativity. 'As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,' he says."
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Study: People Are Biased Against Creative Thinking

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 09, 2013 @09:11AM (#45638465)

    Creative people just can't shut up and do what they're told.

    • Re:The problem: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TWiTfan (2887093) on Monday December 09, 2013 @09:53AM (#45638735)

      People are frightened by what they can't control, can't predict, and don't understand. That's why people invented gods to help explain unpredictable weather and other disasters. It works that way with people too. People want other people to be predictable, controllable, and understandable.

      • Re:The problem: (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jones_supa (887896) on Monday December 09, 2013 @10:06AM (#45638841)

        Also, the hive mind.

        Here is a good philosophical exercise that everyone can do. Think about your values and opinions on various things. Ponder which ones of them are just you repeating what you have been told to think about the particular topic.

        • Re:The problem: (Score:5, Insightful)

          by kilfarsnar (561956) on Monday December 09, 2013 @11:14AM (#45639473)

          Also, the hive mind.

          Here is a good philosophical exercise that everyone can do. Think about your values and opinions on various things. Ponder which ones of them are just you repeating what you have been told to think about the particular topic.

          That'd be most of them. Most of people's ideas, attitudes and opinions are not their own. They have either been told what to think, or have selected a position from a menu presented to them by some teacher, parent, P.R. firm, news channel, religion, etc. Careful though, most people are likewise unreceptive to that idea. I include myself in this estimation, though I do try to examine my beliefs. It is unavoidable, in a way. It's not easy to transfer knowledge, information or something like values without some form of indoctrination.

          But people come to see the established order, or consensus as iron-clad. They are threatened by the idea that the truth can be fluid, and facts they have known their whole lives could turn out to be wrong. It is unsettling, so they avoid such realizations. We see this dynamic in studies that show how people will retain a belief even in the face of contradicting evidence. They will explain away or discount the new evidence so that they may continue with their belief. It is interesting and sometimes maddening to me. But as I said earlier, I know what I think and why I think it. So when most people disagree with me on some subject, I am not bothered as much.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Grey Geezer (2699315)

            Also...It sometimes help to remember that half of us have below average intelligence. It follows then that some of us are incapable of objective reasoning. Many of us who are capable of rational thought are just plain intellectually lazy. And many of us who are intellectually challenged put a lot of effort into trying to figure things out. It is a complicated issue.

            • by stranger_to_himself (1132241) on Monday December 09, 2013 @12:22PM (#45640261) Journal

              Also...It sometimes help to remember that half of us have below average intelligence. It follows then that some of us are incapable of objective reasoning. Many of us who are capable of rational thought are just plain intellectually lazy. And many of us who are intellectually challenged put a lot of effort into trying to figure things out. It is a complicated issue.

              That was just about the most intellectually lazy comment I have ever seen.

              I was going to post a point by point rebuttal....but I couldn't be bothered.

            • Re:The problem: (Score:5, Insightful)

              by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Monday December 09, 2013 @01:28PM (#45640945)

              Also...It sometimes help to remember that half of us have below average intelligence.

              I'm not sure what this statistical tautology has to do with anything.

              It follows then that some of us are incapable of objective reasoning.

              Are you claiming that anyone of "below average intelligence" is "incapable of objective reasoning"? That's a pretty strong claim. (And weird -- why exactly would the threshold of "objective reasoning" capability fall along some arbitrary statistical dividing line?) And if you're not claiming that, I don't know how it "follows" from the first statement.

              Anyhow... actually, there are a number of studies that have shown that more intelligent people are often the ones with the most rigidity in their beliefs -- particularly when confronted by evidence that conflicts with them. A person of lesser intellect may simply accept new findings from a reputable source or authority, but smart people are significantly better at "explaining away" information that conflicts with their views.

              Many of us who are capable of rational thought are just plain intellectually lazy.

              Laziness probably has much less to do with it than egotism does. A dumb person who encounters something that conflicts with his/her beliefs may simply ignore it or avoid it, and perhaps you might call that "lazy." Smart people are much more likely to find reasons to be dismissive, particularly if they view themselves as superior to others... e.g., among the chosen few "capable of rational thought."

      • Re:The problem: (Score:5, Interesting)

        by blackbeak (1227080) on Monday December 09, 2013 @10:48AM (#45639197)
        Monotheism arose contemporaneously with modern civilization as a control framework for large societies. Monotheism encourages homogenous culture, thus discouraging creativity. Prior to that, polytheism, which implicitly implies multiplicity and diversity in all things, was the culture's guide. In a polytheistic culture every man can have his own muse without ridicule, fear or ostracism.
        • Re:The problem: (Score:4, Interesting)

          by kilfarsnar (561956) on Monday December 09, 2013 @11:34AM (#45639711)

          This gets to an interesting dynamic; that people can disagree, or have differing viewpoints and not have one be "wrong". This comes up quite a bit on the topic of religion or the existence of God. Religion is certainly a situation in which people have been told what to think. All of these Christians or Jews or Muslims or Hindus or whatever did not come to their beliefs independently. I very much agree with your point that it is a control structure; they all are. They are more about regimenting behavior and beliefs than anything truly spiritual.

          As to the existence of God, we don't know either way. A god or gods may exist or he/they may not. I personally believe that there exists an entity who created the universe. But I have absolutely no issue with Atheists. My belief is personal, held for personal reasons. I cannot prove the existence of this higher consciousness that I believe in, so why would I expect anyone else to share my belief? It's not about right and wrong, it's about what works for a person in their life. I have become more comfortable with the concepts of "maybe" and "I don't know".

      • by genner (694963)

        People are frightened by what they can't control, can't predict, and don't understand. That's why people invented gods to help explain unpredictable weather and other disasters. It works that way with people too. People want other people to be predictable, controllable, and understandable.

        In which religion can you control or even fully understand your god?
        Naturalism lends itself better to the idea that the universe is understandable and controllable are you sure we didn't invent it?

    • Re:The problem: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lightknight (213164) on Monday December 09, 2013 @10:31AM (#45639023) Homepage

      Granted, but the other problem exists...without creativity, you become a soul-less automaton. Your whole world is a static dying place...dead because no new life is growing in it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Granted, but the other problem exists...without creativity, you become a soul-less automaton. Your whole world is a static dying place...dead because no new life is growing in it.

        So, basically you become like people who watch Fox News?

        **ducks**

  • Makes Sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by west (39918) on Monday December 09, 2013 @09:13AM (#45638477)

    Just like most mutations are unsuccessful, most creative ideas are not "welfare increasing", after all, the status quo came about for a reason and your idea has to be pretty clever to beat it in all, or even most, metrics.

    Of course, on the off chance a creative idea *is* successful, we're all for it, but that's pretty hard to determine in advance. And more importantly, after the fact, all the discomfort from change (and one shouldn't underestimate how much change hurts psychologically) has already been paid for, so we can simply enjoy the benefits.

    • by HogGeek (456673)

      It has always been my observation that people aren't afraid of change, rather people fear being changed...

      • People are afraid of change because they learned that they will first of all be charged, long before they might possibly be changed.

    • Re:Makes Sense (Score:5, Interesting)

      by m00sh (2538182) on Monday December 09, 2013 @10:10AM (#45638873)

      Just like most mutations are unsuccessful, most creative ideas are not "welfare increasing", after all, the status quo came about for a reason and your idea has to be pretty clever to beat it in all, or even most, metrics.

      Of course, on the off chance a creative idea *is* successful, we're all for it, but that's pretty hard to determine in advance. And more importantly, after the fact, all the discomfort from change (and one shouldn't underestimate how much change hurts psychologically) has already been paid for, so we can simply enjoy the benefits.

      The status quo doesn't have to come about because it is the best solution to a problem. There are many times when status quo can appear because it was first to the market, or because it was pushed by the giant gorilla of the market etc. Just look at web standards and internet and there are so many status quo ideas that are established not because they are the best but for a variety of different reasons.

      Gene mutations are random whereas creative ideas are directed. Perhaps gene mutations would be comparable to random thoughts in people's heads. Creative ideas are more refined than that.

      I agree that its hard to determine which creative idea is going to be successful and maybe even successful for completely different reasons. I admit than when Twitter first came out, I thought it was a dumb idea. But, there lies the problem. Out society of innovation is based on creative ideas and there are no ways of determining which ideas are great and which are not. As the article suggests, the only way to make your idea take effect is through extreme perseverance and mountains of rejection. I remember reading that JK Rowling had her Harry Potter manuscript rejected over a dozen times.

      If there is an inherent psychological bias against new ideas, then maybe the psychologists should create a procedure in which we can develop new ideas without having the creative idea having to face rejections.

    • by BonThomme (239873)

      all mutations are successful. what you mean is they have no apparent utility in the current environmental context.

    • ...after all, the status quo came about for a reason and your idea has to be pretty clever to beat it in all, or even most, metrics.

      Yeah, but no one can agree on what that reason is.

  • by pubwvj (1045960) on Monday December 09, 2013 @09:14AM (#45638481)

    Makes sense that there is some animosity to creativity.

    Being conservative, doing the same thing that worked for your ancestors, is generally a good way to survive. Thus evolution would select for people who tend to be conservative and stick with the tried and true.

    On the other hand, the guy who makes a pointy stick and sticks said stick in the side of an animal in attempt to kill and eat it providing more food for his family is being creative but if he picks the wrong animal he ends up rather dead. If he wins then he stands a chance of becoming the new tried and true, the new way. But until he proves it the majority of his peers are wise to be a bit hesitant to follow his lead. If he shows a good history of creative successes then adaptable individuals will follow him because that is a good survival strategy.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      On the other hand, the guy who makes a pointy stick and sticks said stick in the side of an animal in attempt to kill and eat it providing more food for his family is being creative but if he picks the wrong animal he ends up rather dead.

      Small, incremental improvements.

      Making the pointy stick is fine, but don't go rushing to animal killing as a complete replacement for berry gathering.

      After all -- what happens if there are no animals, when you need food?

      • After all -- what happens if there are no animals, when you need food?

        Humans are animals.

        Tasty, tasty animals.

      • by polar red (215081)

        Small, incremental improvements.

        there's a good chance to miss global maximum, and be stuck at a local maximum.
        (see 'local maximum problem'/hill climbing)

    • by jythie (914043)
      More specifically, groups with a good mix of conservatives and progressives which can change the ratio quickly survive.
    • by Chrisq (894406)

      Makes sense that there is some animosity to creativity.

      Being conservative, doing the same thing that worked for your ancestors, is generally a good way to survive. Thus evolution would select for people who tend to be conservative and stick with the tried and true.

      On the other hand, the guy who makes a pointy stick and sticks said stick in the side of an animal in attempt to kill and eat it providing more food for his family is being creative but if he picks the wrong animal he ends up rather dead. If he wins then he stands a chance of becoming the new tried and true, the new way. But until he proves it the majority of his peers are wise to be a bit hesitant to follow his lead. If he shows a good history of creative successes then adaptable individuals will follow him because that is a good survival strategy.

      I think you have highlighted the main issue "creative solution = risk", as well as " "creative solution = potential benefit". Where costs and/or risks are high people need to evaluate this rigorously. For example, a novel idea in dealing with nuclear waste might be brilliant, but nobody would want to use it without a rigorous trial (risk and cost is high), but an idea that crisps and tomato ketchup would make a great sandwich filling can just be tried (risk and cost low).

      I can see a potential issue that p

    • TL;DT? (Too Lazy, Didn't Think)
      Conservative loses its meaning in this regard.
  • with so many bad ideas; some trying to do bad things.
  • Whatcha think you doing, smarty pants?

  • Isn't this basically the same as saying people don't like change, which anyone with life experience would already know?

    I wish they wouldn't change the way they say it, it makes me scared and confused.
    • by Chrisq (894406)

      Isn't this basically the same as saying people don't like change, which anyone with life experience would already know?
      I wish they wouldn't change the way they say it, it makes me scared and confused.

      Its not change that worries people, its change that takes them from their comfort zone. People wouldn't have much of an issue with cheaper flights, faster travel - but suggest that some trips can be replaced by videoconferencing..

  • George Bernard Shaw (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zm (257549) on Monday December 09, 2013 @09:28AM (#45638577) Homepage
    The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
    • More appropriately:

      Few people think more than two or three times a year. I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week. - George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

      Is it any wonder people are biased against someone who continually rocks their world, yet scores so infrequently?

    • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Monday December 09, 2013 @09:49AM (#45638705)

      The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.

      And the real genius does BOTH.

  • Well, duh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Monday December 09, 2013 @09:29AM (#45638589) Journal

    Culture and civilization are all great, but doesn't really change the fact that deep down we're social ANIMALS, and probably the greatest evolutionary advantage that we have had was that we could cooperate.

    There's a clear Darwinistic pressure to confirm, so long as there's a little percentage of (expendable) individuals willing to experiment creatively - since for the bulk of history and prehistory, 'creativity' was a great way to get you and others killed.

  • For many people/sheeple, they derive comfort from the idea that they are (a) Right, and (b) in the majority (with "right" being determined at the time with incomplete information by who is either in the majority or who shouts loudest).
    Things like the medieval opinion that the world is flat, that women or specific ethnic/indigenous groups are unimportant/inferior, or the Standard Model of particle physics, and even with religion, show that there is great comfort in being in the majority.
    Choosing to go agains

    • by GrumpySteen (1250194) on Monday December 09, 2013 @10:01AM (#45638793)

      For many people/sheeple

      And there's where I stopped reading your comment. If you can't refrain from using childish insults, you don't deserve to be heard.

      • by Lazere (2809091)
        Don't worry, I read the whole thing and now I want my time back. The entire comment is full of crap he either made up on the spot or "read somewhere". The end result is an almost-coherent mess that somehow got modded "interesting".
    • And by the time they're acknowledged, they've often been beaten into submission. Or perhaps people just get less creative with age. Not sure which is more depressing.
    • Replying instead of moderating..

      Things like the medieval opinion that the world is flat

      They never did think that, it's a modern invention [wikipedia.org], introduced as late as 1828 after Washington Irving's publication of A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. The ancient Greeks could show that the Earth was round already. In fact, if in the medieval ages they thought that the Earth was flat, why would Columbus (and his contemporaries) even bother sailing west in order to reach India?

      You have some points but please do not perpetuate this myth.

  • The kicker... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fruey (563914) on Monday December 09, 2013 @09:35AM (#45638631) Homepage Journal

    In terms of decision style, most people fall short of the creative ideal unless they are held accountable for their decision-making strategies, they tend to find the easy way out—either by not engaging in very careful thinking or by modeling the choices on the preferences of those who will be evaluating them.

    This is the kicker. Not only do people reject creativity, but they hamper their own responses by conforming to what they think the boss will like. So if you don't agree with your colleague or their interpretation of what the boss will like, you're screwed. What tends to then happen is a breakdown in communication, as you will want to present to the boss directly instead of via the misguided (in your opinion) minion.

    If people stopped trying to predict other people's reactions, they'd be more likely to be themselves. Sadly in the corporate world this means that bosses only get a limited set of responses from anyone not directly below them in the hierarchy. Shame.

    • It's not just what the boss will like, it's what the boss will accept. Get too creative and you step out of bounds of what your boss is willing to accept as work - you may be asked for a do-over. Probably less likely to happen in software development, but even someone going creatively off the requirements is going to be asked to "fix it" even if what they came up with is probably better in the long run.
  • Good article. Having dealt with it for years, I think it's a little more complex than a general native tendency, however. A large packet of society defers decisions (outsources) to a higher authority. Those authorities demand structure to order the size of the authority delegated to them, and tend to view "outliers" collectively as a threat to that order. The hostility to creativity is particularly intense when the question is "moral authority". In science, the "out of the box" thinker has scientific method and an option or hope to "prove" or "demonstrate" their alternative, creative, view. In religion, a creative morality is considered a threat but it's very difficult to demonstrate credibility with anything other than generations of experience (I did X, which the Priestatollah said not to, and no hair on my palms etc).

    Where science is vulnerable is when a morality is attached. I'm not advocating for scientists to be immoral. But certain branches of science (e.g. Environmental) are susceptible to moral authority, which makes them more susceptible to Priestatollahs opposing creative thinking.

  • by Vitriol+Angst (458300) on Monday December 09, 2013 @09:45AM (#45638687)

    ... I can attest to this bias against me, likely the cause of mega jealousy!

    Non-Creative; "What do you make of this report?"

    Me; "Well I can make a hat, an airplane or a little swan..."

  • Until after the royalty check clears for the Patent Attorney.

    You may never make good money as a creative, but darn it, you made someone happy and able to put their kids through college, so there's that to lift your spirits!

  • by gfxguy (98788) on Monday December 09, 2013 @10:02AM (#45638797)
    That's because most people non-conforming are just doing something really dumb to be, you know, non-conforming. I admit I fall into that category of people who don't appreciate people acting like idiots so they can be "non-conforming," and I'm not going to "celebrate their diversity." On the other hand, people truly thinking outside the box, and trying new things creatively, are always tops on my list - even when it doesn't necessarily lead to something beneficial... but then they are like 0.00001% of those "non-conformists."
  • Two parametres (Score:5, Insightful)

    by joe_frisch (1366229) on Monday December 09, 2013 @10:30AM (#45639013)

    An idea can be judged on "creativity" and "practicality". A creative practical idea is a wonderful thing, but its also quite rare. Fairly often people use "creativity" to excuse not considering practical issues. Flying cars, stratospheric power generation kites, vacuum tube trains, etc. are all "creative" but are not currently practical. Some people, including me, get irritated when someone claiming to be creative effectively says: "here is my design for a flying car - just a few engineering details to work out", when in fact it is the engineering "details" that have prevented practical flying cars for the last 50 years.

  • How do they measure bias in this case? Don't you have to have a definable "neutral" point to measure bias from? How would you do that?

  • "People are very open-minded about new things - as long as they're exactly like the old ones." - Charles Kettering

  • by Tora (65882) on Monday December 09, 2013 @10:40AM (#45639125)

    The article is close, but just barely misses the mark.

    People don't mind creativity on its surface, but what they dislike is the change that inevitably comes from it. People resist change, for all the reasons outlined in the article. People like things to stay the same, not change. And creativity drives change.

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Monday December 09, 2013 @10:45AM (#45639163)

    TFA is basically a "creative" type whining about her kind not being appreciated for their brilliance. For example:

    A close friend of mine works for a tech startup. She is an intensely creative and intelligent person who falls on the risk-taker side of the spectrum. Though her company initially hired her for her problem-solving skills, she is regularly unable to fix actual problems because nobody will listen to her ideas. "I even say, 'I'll do the work. Just give me the go ahead and I'll do it myself,' " she says. "But they won't, and so the system stays less efficient."

    If _nobody_ is listening to her ideas, let's run down the possibilities of why not:

    1. 1. Her ideas are crap and she's too sophomoric to know (Dunning-Kroger effect)
    2. 2. She comes across as an abrasive know-it-all, or her communication skills are severely deficient in some other way
    3. 3. A combination of 1 and 2
    4. 4. She is actually an unsung genius, all her colleagues are mendacious dullards, and life isn't faiiiiiir

    If option 4 is correct, then she should start her own company. I suspect 3 is more likely.

    Generally, I consider it more valuable to have someone who is a good listener, a quick learner, and works well with others. If you have an idea about changing the way the company does things, the burden is on you to demonstrate the value of that change. If you can't, then the "creative" idea isn't worth much.

    • by PPH (736903)

      1. Her ideas are crap and she's too sophomoric to know (Dunning-Kroger effect)

      But she has offered to implement her ideas herself. So let her. If she is wrong, her lack of capability will be revealed. However, if she is right, management looks like morons.

      # 2. She comes across as an abrasive know-it-all, or her communication skills are severely deficient in some other way

      That's another way of saying "does not conform". Or "not a team player". Values that are worth less than many give them credit for. Except of course for people who depend on the anonymity of the team to mask their mediocrity.

      then she should start her own company.

      Not a skill set that everyone has. And perhaps she is realistic about it, wanting to work in her area of exper

      • by SirGarlon (845873)

        But she has offered to implement her ideas herself. So let her.

        Only if you can tell her ideas are unlikely to have unforeseen bad effects, and can be implemented at reasonable cost.

        • by PPH (736903)

          But she has offered to implement her ideas herself. So let her.

          Only if you can tell her ideas are unlikely to have unforeseen bad effects, and can be implemented at reasonable cost.

          Who has the burden of demonstrating that? And what is your threshold of 'unlikely' or 'reasonable'? It all comes down to taking calculated risks for an opportunity to improve. And if the people responsible for evaluating the cost/benefit ration have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, perhaps it is them that need to move on.

          I've never seen a successful business that tolerated middle management just sitting on a process rather than improving it. One must always seek opportunities to clean up, s

      • by sydneyfong (410107) on Monday December 09, 2013 @01:10PM (#45640759) Homepage Journal

        But she has offered to implement her ideas herself. So let her. If she is wrong, her lack of capability will be revealed. However, if she is right, management looks like morons.

        This argument is just lame. When a company pays you a salary, you work for them. So "offering to implement her ideas" is almost like "offering to work during office hours". Worse, it's "offering to do something really risky instead of your assigned task during office hours".

        If she is wrong, of course her lack of capability will be revealed -- but will she be able to fix the mess if it goes wrong? What about the cost of the mistake?

  • "Creativity" is not the opposite of "conformity". Creative thinking does not equate to risk-taking. People are not nearly as resistant to change as the article assumes (just look at all the radical changes that have been openly embraced in the last few decades).
  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Monday December 09, 2013 @11:37AM (#45639747)

    Every innovative idea I've ever had at my company has been fought all the way, until it became standard operating procedure (which I now have to fight when I want to change something).

  • And also explains why people think that I'm weird.

    Most creative works has been done by people not conforming to what the general population thinks. Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander the Great, Steve Jobs, Einstein, Chaplin... All were very good in their specific way. Of course - creativity also has to be combined with hard work to succeed.

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