You are a disruptor, an innovator, an outside-the-box thinker. Now, if only someone would actually listen to some of your cool original ideas. These days, CEOs and ordinary people alike tend to talk a big game about how much they value nonconformity and creative thinking — and yet in practice, many people “tend to be threatened by creativity,” writes psychologist Jennifer Mueller in a new piece for Quartz.
Mueller would know. She’s the lead author of a 2012 paper published in Psychological Science, the title of which kind of says it all: “The bias against creativity: why people desire but reject creative ideas.” Drawing from that research, Mueller argues that, generally speaking, people tend to prefer sure bets and clear-cut answers over uncertain or potentially risky moves. “[W]e’re programmed to get rid of ambiguity,” as Jamie Holmes, author of the book Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, once told my colleague Jesse Singal, and Mueller believes that idea applies here as well. She writes that this is especially true when we feel under pressure to come up with the “right” answer:
A choice can only be “correct” if it matches a paradigm. Creative ideas necessarily break paradigms. In fact, my colleagues and I have found that people who are motivated to choose a correct solution demonstrate a clear negative (but unacknowledged) bias against creativity — even when they outwardly claim to love and cherish it.
As for what to do about it, Mueller essentially endorses the “be the change you wish to see in the world” approach. “The first step is to face up to our (quite understandable) desire for clear-cut answers that affirm ideas with which we’re familiar,” she writes. “If we admit to ourselves that we don’t embrace creativity nearly as often as we think, we can take steps toward building an awareness of when our desire for correct answers can harm our ability to make true and lasting progress.” Yet another reminder that sometimes, it’s best to just get out of your own (and others’) way.