Don’t like criticism? You might feel the same way about creativity.


Illustration Ravnen 1890, Public Domain

Alex Osborn, known for founding the Creative Problem-Solving Institute, set up a structure for group creative brainstorming. One rule to free people from creative inhibitions forbid criticism and judgment during initial brainstorming. [1]

There is no need to guess why. People tend to champion their own ideas at the expense of better ideas. It only takes a small minority set on “defending their turf” to have a detrimental effect.

Ask educators the way to encourage creativity and they will tell you students need an environment full of stimuli. They will also say the classroom should have an open, accepting atmosphere, free from criticism to build up self-esteem. Ask people noted for work in creative fields, and they will agree with the need for a stimulating environment, but not with the lack of criticism.

While interviewing college art and educations majors about factors leading to creativity for my own research, both groups placed willingness to take risks high on their lists. The art majors said being around creative people was the most important factor. The education majors gave high self-esteem first place, but this did not match the results of students in creative fields. Self-esteem wasn’t even mentioned by the art majors. They preferred honest critiques of their work. Evidently, building self-esteem does not build creative thinking.

Teachers often have difficulty with highly creative students for same reason corporate workers find creative colleagues difficult. They tend to level criticism at others more frequently [2]. But evidently creative people are not as hurt by criticism, either. According to research both innovative students and employees take the anxiety resulting from a negative evaluation of their work and convert it into a drive to be even more unique. [3]

Research conducted in both the United States and France, examined the result of brainstorming groups when one was told not to criticize while the other was encouraged to debate ideas. Those allowed to debate generally came up with superior ideas. The key was to encourage debate and even criticism, without allowing anyone to monopolize the session.

“Brainstorming techniques have specifically admonished people ‘not to criticize’ their own and others’ ideas, a tenet that has gone unexamined. In contrast, there is research showing that dissent, debate and competing views have positive value, stimulating divergent and creative thought.” [4]

[1] Osborn, Alex. F. (1953) Applied imagination: Principles and procedures of creative thinking
[2] Torrance, E. Paul. ‎(1963) The Creative Personality And The Ideal Pupil. Teachers College Record, 65, 220-226
[3] Johns Hopkins University news release, August 21, 2012, Don’t Get Mad, Get Creative: Social Rejection Can Fuel Imagination, JHU Carey Researcher Finds
[4] Nemeth, Charlan J. Personnaz, Bernard. Personnaz, Marie. Goncalo, Jack A. (2004) The liberating role of conflict in group creativity: A study in two countries. European Journal of Social Psychology,Volume 34, Issue 4, pages 365–374,
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2 Responses to Don’t like criticism? You might feel the same way about creativity.

  1. joanne2813 says:

    interesting article. I agree that debate and criticism can lead to creativity – poking in corners outside the box. I do think a key is “positive” criticism vs. just being negative without solutions.

  2. knlistman says:

    Reblogged this on Write about what? and commented:

    An unfortunate companion to creativity…

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