[FoRK] Inside the Box: People don’t actually like creativity.

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Mon Dec 9 10:01:27 PST 2013

Very good points that ring true.  We are in the Enlightenment Prime age 
that we're introspective enough to finally cogently recognize these things.

We Say We Like Creativity, but We Really Don’t
Inside the Box
People don’t actually like creativity.

By Jessica Olien
Illustration by Rob Donnelly

In the United States we are raised to appreciate the accomplishments of 
inventors and thinkers—creative people whose ideas have transformed our 
world. We celebrate the famously imaginative, the greatest artists and 
innovators from Van Gogh to Steve Jobs. Viewing the world creatively is 
supposed to be an asset, even a virtue. Online job boards burst with ads 
recruiting “idea people” and “out of the box” thinkers. We are taught 
that our own creativity will be celebrated as well, and that if we have 
good ideas, we will succeed.

It’s all a lie. This is the thing about creativity that is rarely 
acknowledged: Most people don’t actually like it. Studies confirm what 
many creative people have suspected all along: People are biased against 
creative thinking, despite all of their insistence otherwise.

“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.

Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. 
“As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an 
awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring 
things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea.

Even people who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to 
creative ideas, as demonstrated in a 2011 study from the University of 
Pennsylvania. Uncertainty is an inherent part of new ideas, and it’s 
also something that most people would do almost anything to avoid. 
People’s partiality toward certainty biases them against creative ideas 
and can interfere with their ability to even recognize creative ideas.

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.”

In the documentary The September Issue, Anna Wintour systematically 
rejects the ideas of her creative director Grace Coddington, seemingly 
with no reason aside from asserting her power.

Social rejection is not actually bad for the creative process—and can 
even facilitate it.

This is a common and often infuriating experience for a creative person. 
Even in supposedly creative environments, in the creative departments of 
advertising agencies and editorial meetings at magazines, I've watched 
people with the most interesting—the most “out of the box”—ideas be 
ignored or ridiculed in favor of those who repeat an established solution.

“Everybody hates it when something’s really great,” says essayist and 
art critic Dave Hickey. He is famous for his scathing critiques against 
the art world, particularly against art education, which he believes 
institutionalizes mediocrity through its systematic rejection of good 
ideas. Art is going through what Hickey calls a “stupid phase.”

In fact, everyone I spoke with agreed on one thing—unexceptional ideas 
are far more likely to be accepted than wonderful ones.

Staw was asked to contribute to a 1995 book about creativity in the 
corporate world. Fed up with the hypocrisy he saw, he called his chapter 
“Why No One Really Wants Creativity.” The piece was an indictment of the 
way our culture deals with new ideas and creative people”

     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.

Unfortunately, the place where our first creative ideas go to die is the 
place that should be most open to them—school. Studies show that 
teachers overwhelmingly discriminate against creative students, favoring 
their satisfier classmates who more readily follow directions and do 
what they’re told.

Even if children are lucky enough to have a teacher receptive to their 
ideas, standardized testing and other programs like No Child Left Behind 
and Race to the Top (a program whose very designation is opposed to 
nonlinear creative thinking) make sure children’s minds are not on the 
“wrong” path, even though adults’ accomplishments are linked far more 
strongly to their creativity than their IQ. It’s ironic that even as 
children are taught the accomplishments of the world’s most innovative 
minds, their own creativity is being squelched.

All of this negativity isn’t easy to digest, and social rejection can be 
painful in some of the same ways physical pain hurts. But there is a 
glimmer of hope in all of this rejection. A Cornell study makes the case 
that social rejection is not actually bad for the creative process—and 
can even facilitate it. The study shows that if you have the sneaking 
suspicion you might not belong, the act of being rejected confirms your 
interpretation. The effect can liberate creative people from the need to 
fit in and allow them to pursue their interests.

Perhaps for some people, the pain of rejection is like the pain of 
training for a marathon—training the mind for endurance. Research shows 
you’ll need it. Truly creative ideas take a very long time to be 
accepted. The better the idea, the longer it might take. Even the work 
of Nobel Prize winners was commonly rejected by their peers for an 
extended period of time.

Most people agree that what distinguishes those who become famously 
creative is their resilience. While creativity at times is very 
rewarding, it is not about happiness. Staw says a successful creative 
person is someone “who can survive conformity pressures and be 
impervious to social pressure.”

To live creatively is a choice. You must make a commitment to your own 
mind and the possibility that you will not be accepted. You have to let 
go of satisfying people, often even yourself.

Jessica Olien is a writer and illustrator living in Brooklyn, N.Y. You 
can follow her on Twitter at @jessicaolien.

Stephen Williams, 650-450-8649 http://sdw.st/in

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