Why bosses say they want radical new ideas but pick stale old ones

Psychologists have found a strong unconscious bias AGAINST creativity that pops up when people are evaluating new ideas. This means no matter how much your boss tells you he/she wants fresh thinking, their gut instinct makes them treat new ideas like a bad smell. Sound familiar?

Unconscious biases are preferences and prejudices that we don’t know we have. For example, you might be unconsciously wary of someone with Arab Muslim heritage – even though you’re not racist – simply because of all the terrible news coverage of terrorism since 9/11.

You can test for unconscious bias (links at the bottom if you’re interested), and so the authors of this study did exactly that. They tested if people unconsciously preferred practical ideas over more radical ones. Here’s what they found:

“Just as people have deeply-rooted biases against people of a certain age, race or gender that are not necessarily overt, so too can people hold deeply-rooted negative views of creativity that are not openly acknowledged.”

This hidden bias against creativity got worse when the test subjects were put into situations of uncertainty.

We all talk about the importance of creativity. But unless you’re the kind of person who loves uncertainty, you may unconsciously prefer ideas that are safe, unoriginal and practical. I reckon this is why bringing new ideas to life feels like such an uphill struggle.

The authors conclude “our results suggest that if people have difficulty gaining acceptance for creative ideas especially when more practical and unoriginal options are readily available, the field of creativity may need to shift its current focus from identifying how to generate more creative ideas to identifying how to help innovative institutions recognize and accept creativity.”

Here’s one technique that might help people around you be more accepting of your creativity – move your doubters from “How” to “Why”

Credit: “The Bias Against Creativity” by Mueller, Melwani & Goncalo

Test your own unconscious biases here.


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