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David Burkus on why great ideas get rejected

Cognitive Bias

LDRLB editor David Burkus recently spoke at a TEDx event, asking why great ideas get rejected. He also wrote on the same subject at 99U.com. From the article:

For a work to be truly creative, it has to depart from the status quo at some point. That departure makes many people uncomfortable. Despite our oft-stated desire for more creativity, we also hold a stronger desire for certainty and structure. When that certainty is challenged, a bias against creativity develops.

He goes on to cite research from Jennifer Mueller of the University of Pennsylvania, titled The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas. From the research:

Scholars have long been puzzled by the finding that organizations, scientific institutions, and decisions-makers routinely reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as an important goal (Ford & Gioia, 2000; Staw, 1995; West, 2002). Similarly, research documents that teachers dislike students who exhibit curiosity and creative thinking even though teachers acknowledge creativity as an important educational goal (Dawson, D’Andrea, Affinito, & Westby, 1999; Runco, 1989; Westby & Dawson, 1995).

As an example, the research paper mentions Robert Goddard, credited with creating and building the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket. On the publication of his groundbreaking work, A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes, he was widely derided in the press. His response: “Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it; once realised, it becomes commonplace.”

Why would people hold biases against creativity? New ideas bring uncertainty, a state which which people feel a strong motivation to diminish and avoid. They also worry about whether the idea might fail, and about the potential social rejection when expressing the idea to others.

This is all despite people feeling that creativity is something they should be in approval of. The normative pressure to endorse creative ideas, and social desirability bias against discouraging creativity produces a state similar to that identified in research on racial bias: “a conflict between an explicit preference towards creativity and unacknowledged negative associations with creativity”.

These biases inevitably result in a preference for the status quo or familiar ideas. As David Burkus says in his TED talk, when you consider a new idea that someone has presented to you, ask yourself: “How am I viewing this? Am I valuing the old at the expense of the new? Am I clinging to a status quo or bias in my thinking? Am I really looking at this objectively?”

Read the full research here.

As a footnote to this post, I found this tweet amusing:


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