The emphasis on creativity as a way to provide an economic boost has been followed by a plethora of publications on how to be more creative. But taking those ideas to heart may not be the best move. More than one study has shown that expressing creative ideas hurts a person’s chances of being considered leadership material.
Wharton Business College and Cornell University found that people judged creative by their colleagues were also seen as having less leadership potential than their peers with ordinary ideas. Another study attempted to determine exactly why this occurred. This second study required college students to watch other students pitch solutions to a problem. Some of the proposals were both original and useful, fitting the definition of creative ideas. A second set of students try to sell ordinary, well-known ideas. It really was the creativity of the ideas, not the personal warmth, or competence of the presenter that correlated with lower perceptions of leadership ability. Why is this?
The novelty of trying a new concept stretches the mind. How exactly will the innovation work? What will the outcome be? Trying new ideas to solve problems leaves us in a haze of unpredictability. Therefore, innovation is often eschewed because people do not want change. They are comfortable with the “tried and true” even when these fail to work as well as they used to.
Michael Kirton’s long term study compared two different styles of creative problem solving. At one end of the continuum was the Adaptive style manager. This person tried to improve within the current model of the existing organization. They made changes incrementally and were seen as dependable and efficient. Their ideas were more easily accepted by the employees. But most important, if they made a misjudgment, or if one of their solutions turned out to be a mistake, people tended to forgive them. At the other end of the continuum were the Innovators. This group of managers reached for breakthrough changes for the organization. They did not try to conform to the status quo, but were seen as unique, original, visionary and ingenious. They were also criticized, and often fell out of favor if they were mistaken and their novel ideas did not work.
There seems to be a double standard when it comes to “mistake forgiveness.” If a manager proposes new ideas, there is resistance both to the ideas and the individual proposing it. If the ideas fail, the manager receives all the blame. However, if they try traditional solutions without success, there seems to be little recrimination. After all, who would have guessed that the same old thing would not work anymore?