According to research, most business leaders, scientists and decision makers say that innovation is critical to progress and success. Numerous studies have uncovered a widespread belief that ‘creativity is the engine of scientific discovery’ and ‘the fundamental driving force of positive change’. Chances are that you share these beliefs.
Also according to research, most of those same leaders harbour a subconscious prejudice that prevents them from innovating. Chances are that you harbour the same crippling prejudice.
So what is this prejudice? What motivates it? And how can you recognise it?
In two studies published by Cornell University, researchers found that ‘people often reject creative ideas even when they espouse creativity as a desired goal’. Yep, the same organisations and scientific institutions that claimed to support creativity routinely rejected creative ideas.
This anti-creativity bias is motivated by a desire to reduce uncertainty. The fact is that creativity and uncertainty go hand in hand. There is no innovation without risk.
Whilst this prejudice is deep-rooted and concealed, it has real consequences in the real world. It interferes with our ability to recognise and appreciate a creative idea – basically because to do so would lead us into uncertain territory.
A core characteristic of creativity and innovation is novelty. If it’s not new, it’s not an innovation. However, the more novel an idea, the more uncertainty about whether it’s feasible, reliable and likely to succeed.
When presented with a novel idea, we’re afraid to take it to our superiors. When endorsing a novel idea, research shows that we can suffer from a fear of failure. We fear social rejection when we communicate this new idea to others. We have doubts about whether this idea will be brought to fruition. Uncertainty is an adverse state that we’re programmed to avoid.
So, how can you recognise this prejudice in yourself or your colleagues?
People prejudiced against creativity have a limited ability to see beyond the tried and tested.
They love saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t break it’.
They think conservatively and act cautiously.
They are convinced that they are right and you are wrong.
They are critical or suspicious of anyone who is different.
They are sticklers for rules, policy and protocol.
They want proof (and they know that as far as a new idea goes, proof is impossible).
Know someone like that in your organisation? Remove them from the innovation development and approval process. If it’s you, remove yourself from the innovation process.
Your organisation needs innovation. Anti-creative prejudice needs to be kept at a safe distance.