James Swift

12 March 2024

Strategist’s Digest: Why people reject creativity 

Researchers discover the biases and dynamics that makes people want to reject original ideas

Greater variability in judgements of the value of novel ideas 

By Wayne Johnson and Devon Proudfoot. First published in Nature.

Give it to me in one sentence.

People tend to disagree more about the value of truly novel ideas, and they also interpret this disagreement as a bad thing, which is why creativity is often rejected.

Give me a little more detail.

The researchers conducted five experiments to learn whether novel ideals were more likely to inspire disagreement about their value, and the effect of this disagreement.

For example, in one experiment, the researchers asked a group of people to rate Shark Tank (the US version of Dragon’s Den) pitches as more or less novel. Then they asked another group of people to rate the value of the selected pitches, and they found the participants were more likely to disagree about the value of the novel pitches.

In another experiment, the researchers asked people how likely they were to invest in a new kind of speaker device after looking at how experts had rated the idea on a scale of one to five stars. In one condition of the experiment, participants saw ratings that were clustered around the same number. In the other condition, the ratings were more spread out (but still amounted to the same overall score). And the researchers discovered that people were less likely to invest in the latter condition.

One theory suggested by the researchers is that people tend to disagree more about the value of novel ideas because they have ‘relatively few common templates against which to evaluate them, making judgements more reliant on idiosyncratic knowledge and preferences’.

But in another one of their experiments, the researchers found that you could mitigate these disagreements by first explaining to people why original ideas had value.

Why is this interesting?

We’ve written before about how people respond to creative ideas (Contagious members can watch our talk on the subject here). For example, one study from 2011 found that even people who claimed to want creative ideas still associated them with words like ‘poison’, ‘vomit’ and ‘agony’.

This latest piece of research contributes some new ideas to the field, as well as an explanation about why people tend to reject novelty and how to overcome this bias.

Any weaknesses?

The researchers mention a few in their paper. For instance, they could not test whether exceptionally creative ideas were exempt from the effect. The only thing we’d add is that none of the experiments used advertising examples to test how people responded to novelty. Which isn’t exactly a flaw, but might be worth keeping in mind.

Where can I find the whole report?

Here, and it’s free.

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