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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

question of the weekend: Why are people terrified of creative ideas?

A fascinating and distressing article at science news site Physorg.com yesterday reported on a study that “People are biased against creative ideas”:

The next time your great idea at work elicits silence or eye rolls, you might just pity those co-workers. Fresh research indicates they don’t even know what a creative idea looks like and that creativity, hailed as a positive change agent, actually makes people squirm.

“How is it that people say they want creativity but in reality often reject it?” said Jack Goncalo, ILR School assistant professor of organizational behavior and co-author of research to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science. The paper reports on two 2010 experiments at the University of Pennsylvania involving more than 200 people.

The studies’ 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.

The study didn’t even look at really radical notions that challenge deeply ingrained biases. I mean, I could understand why some people might be upset by a creative idea that, say, would promote racial harmony or economic equality: such an idea would run counter to some very powerful existing ideas that some people hold about the proper way for the world to be arranged. But this?

For example, subjects had a negative reaction to a running shoe equipped with nanotechnology that adjusted fabric thickness to cool the foot and reduce blisters.

This made people uncomfortable? Who could resist a better sneaker?

I interpret this to mean that it’s not defiance or rebellion to a perceived status quo that upsets people, but the very novelty of creative thinking itself. But why?

Why are people terrified of creative ideas? And how do we get over that terror? Obviously, we do, because we do innovate socially, scientifically, and philosophical… It just takes time for people to get used to new ideas. But how does that happen?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD/QOTW, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTW sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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