Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Creativity Makes People Squirm

A study at the University of Pennsylvania finds that people are biased against creative ideas. [physorg.com] To quote directly from the article, the study's findings include

  • 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.

While people explicitly claimed to want creative ideas, the study showed they actually had a bias against them. For example, a business person who says things like "we really need to think outside the box here, people, we need to move the needle with something brilliant and visionary," while that same person recoils from Freeway Pots, fails to grasp the beauty of a freeway Christmas tree decorated year after year, and couldn't begin to understand why someone would ride a bike to work when they could drive a car instead. Yes, that's correct, I'm claiming that commuting by bicycle is a creative and novel act of the imagination. Not only that, but it also fuels the imagination, making you even more creative.

This study reminded me of a few things that will come in handy: just because an idea makes me uncomfortable, that doesn't make it incorrect, the tried and true is not necessarily the best idea, supporting data sometimes needs a BANG UP presentation to get the point across, and people usually have no idea whatsoever why they really don't like an idea, they just know that they don't, and make up rationalizations to protect their initial reaction. On the other hand: if you tell them your idea, if you show them your art, and you see them squirm, well you might just be on the right path no matter what the reaction. Stick with it, and see if you can't unmask their bias. Because really, what's more fun than that?


  1. I think you have to be creative in order to appreciate the creative.

  2. I don't see what would be particularly creative about bicycle commuting. Eccentric, maybe. Focused, maybe. Lots of other things maybe, but I don't see the creativity of following traffic rules and learning how to safely interact with vehicles that outweigh mine by over an order of magnitude and running at twice my speed. No, survivor might be a better description, such as the early mammals were at the close of the era of dinosaurs.

  3. OldFool true. I do think there's a spectrum of creative people though and a lot of us had the creative streak crushed and squoze out of us, which come to think of it may be some of why the study results make sense.

    Steve A I look at commuting as a problem-solving exercise, also with a wide range of answers:
    drive a car: conventional
    ride a bike: creative
    pogostick in a bunny suit: eccentric

    but I'll go with the survival aspect too, and you may have been subtly supporting "creative" with that: survival centers around avoiding the destructive and creating the circumstances such that you have the opportunity to ride another day.

  4. uh oh, I really like the "pogostick in a bunny suit". I think I'm slipping into the shadows.

  5. Oldfool I ALWAYS yield to pogostick bunnysuit commuters.

  6. It took me a few minutes to figure out how I feel about the notion that bicycle commuting is creative.

    I think maybe it is, at least in our society. Most people drive everywhere, without giving it a second thought. Choosing a bicycle instead requires at least some thought.

    And I do think cycling can facilitate creative thinking. I know when I'm on my bike, it can either be a time of deep thought, or a time of mind-clearing, or sometimes random things just pop into my head.

    I don't think everyone experiences cycling this way, but for those of us who do, it's a wonderful thing. Sadly I think a lot of people never get past the initial "this is hard and requires every bit of my concentration just to move along" phase.


Please feel free to comment here, almost anything goes, except for obvious spam or blatantly illegal or objectionable material. Spammers may be subject to public ridicule, scorn, or outright shaming, and the companies represented in spam shall earn disrepute and ire for each occurrence.