Creativity Discouraged In The Workplace, Study Shows

December 15, 2010

workplaceCreativity is a character trait that many people consider to be valuable, whether it is in school, social circles or recreational activities. The workplace, however, is not an environment where creativity is encouraged, according to a new series of studies conducted by researchers at three top universities. On the contrary, creativity may be an attribute that is actively stifled in professional settings, leaving those who think out of the box behind when the time comes for promotions.

Recent studies led by professors at Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Indian School of Business have found that demonstrating creativity in the workplace may obstruct--not facilitate--one's rise to the top of the corporate ladder, the Cornell Chronicle reported. Although many chief executive officers have called creativity an essential leadership trait, the results show that workers believe leaders should uphold the status quo.

"Our three studies show that when people voice creative ideas, they are viewed by others as having less leadership potential," said Jack Goncalo, assistant professor of organizational behavior in Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Creative individuals are seen as risky and unpredictable, while leaders "are expected to reduce uncertainty and uphold the norms of the group," he said.

One study of 346 employees working in jobs that required creative problem solving revealed that few of them were given promotions, according to Fortune. Goncalo interpreted this data as a trend of "creative people...getting filtered out on their way to the top."

Even more, researchers identified a striking contradiction in the responses of those who were surveyed, according to the Cornell Chronicle. On the one hand, leaders are promoted to the top of the corporate hierarchy for preserving the status quo; on the other, those same leaders are often expected to reinvent norms for the company, flexing creative muscles that may have atrophied during the process, researchers said.

In another study, 55 employees rated the responses of about 300 of their coworkers to a problem-solving task for creativity and evidence of leadership potential, Fast Company reported. The researchers found that creativity and leadership potential were negatively correlated; that is, the more creative the response, the less effective leader the person seemed.

Jennifer S. Mueller of the University of Pennsylvania and Dishan Kamdar of the Indian School of Business conducted the research with Goncalo, the Cornell Chronicle noted. The research will be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2011.

Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff


"Study: Leadership slots awarded for maintaining status quo, not novel ideas," news.cornell.edu, December 14, 2010, Mary Catt

"Want to get promoted? Stifle your creativity," management.fortune.cnn.com, December 14, 2010, Anne Fisher

"Why Creative People Are Kept Out of the Driver's Seat," fastcompany.com, December 9, 2010, Heidi Grant Halvorson

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