SPEAKER: My comments are going to be fairly brief because I want to give plenty of time to Melissa to talk about new results. But I just want to talk about some gaps that exist in the creativity literature that, through our collaborations, I think, we're starting to really address.
One of the first questions we might ask about creativity is, why do we care in the first place? And one of the most deeply held assumptions in the creativity literature is that creativity is inherently positive. And so whenever people talk about creativity, it's the engine of scientific progress. It's a source of competitive advantage for firms. It's a source of profit.
And so, given that it's inherently positive, most of the field has moved on to looking at the conditions that produce creative output. And Olga and I are finishing up a chapter in which we're pointing out that this has really triggered a myopic focus on creativity as an output to the exclusion of two things that we believe are actually really important areas that we might explore in future research.
The first is, what are the consequences of creativity? And so we're doing some research to look at, what are the consequences of being creative? And so there is some evidence that, when you express creative solutions, you're actually viewed as having less leadership potential because people view you as quirky and unpredictable. So there can be some downside implications of being creative.
There are also some positives. We also have some evidence that being creative or having the experience of creativity can actually feel liberating and lift the burden of keeping secrets. And so there are some positive psychological benefits as well.
The second gap is one that I want to focus on a bit more, which is, although we have a lot of research and evidence to identify the conditions that produce a creative output, there's a big gap in our understanding of how people evaluate creative ideas. And so, given that you have a number of options among different ideas that you might pursue to fruition, how do people decide which ideas are creative and which ones are better left alone?
And most of the research that has looked into creative evaluation, again, there's very little research that's done on this. But most of the work that has been done has revolved around or drawn on the theory of prototypes. To suggest that there is a prototype of the creative person, and it includes certain characteristics like being charismatic, witty, unconventional, so forth. And that if you fit the type that people expect out of a creative person, then your ideas are going to be viewed as more creative whether they're actually good or not.
And so I'll give you an example of this in the context of-- narcissism is one context in which we've tested this idea. So what are the consequences of appearing like a creative person for the process of idea evaluation?
The narcissistic personality is described as someone who is self-aggrandizing and self-absorbed, somebody who overly feels an exaggerated sense of entitlement. I don't have to explain to a group of academics what narcissism is. Just turn to your neighbor and there it is. So I'll move on.
In the context of creativity, it's kind of interesting that narcissism, at least anecdotally, has been suggested to play a role. And so one of the questions is, does narcissism actually promote creativity objectively, or is something else going on? And this quote by Picasso, I think, illustrates this perfectly, where he compares himself to God because of his ability to produce creative ideas.
So one of the first questions we looked at is, well, does narcissism actually increase creative output in an objective way, like other kinds of traits that psychologists have looked at? And so what we did was we gave participants two traditional measures of creativity, tests that people normally use to tap into creative ability. One in which people were asked to draw an alien from another planet that doesn't resemble Earth at all and draw a creature that is native to that planet. And the idea being that uncreative people tend to produce little green men that look like humans, whereas more creative people tend to produce very unconventional drawings.
The second one is the standard divergent thinking task. Come up with as many alternate solutions as you possibly can in a fixed amount of time. And then we asked people what their perceptions of their own ideas were. So rate your own ideas.
Were they creative? Were they unconventional? Were they really good? So on and so forth.
And we compared the narcissists to the non-narcissists in their perceptions. And what we found is that, on both measures, narcissists thought that their ideas were more creative than anyone else's ideas. But when you look at the correlation, narcissism had no relationship with actual creative output.
And so narcissists aren't actually more creative than other people, but they think they are. And so this gives us some clue as to how narcissism might be impacting the creative process. It could be through idea evaluation.
And the basic idea here is that narcissists aren't necessarily more creative. But they're so convinced of the creativity of their own ideas, or so confident in what they're talking about, that their confidence actually lends their ideas more credibility. And so our prediction was that more narcissistic people will successfully convince other people that their ideas are creative, even if they're not. And it's going to be mediated by the perceptions of this target individual, this pitcher, as being very charismatic and someone who fits the creative type.
So we went into the lab and tested this by creating sort of an artificial Hollywood pitch kind of session with undergraduates at Stanford. And we randomly assigned people to either adopt the role of pitcher or evaluator. And the pitchers were told to come up with a new movie idea and then develop a pitch in a certain amount of time. And then they were going to go into another room to pitch their new movie idea to an evaluator, who was supposed to remain silent and simply rate the idea on a number of dimensions. And so the evaluator waited in a separate room.
And what we found was that, the more narcissistic the pitcher was, based on a standard measure of narcissism that's typically used, the more narcissistic the pitcher was, the more likely the evaluator was to judge their idea as creative. And we did some follow-up coding and found no evidence that their ideas were actually creative, which is in line with the results of the earlier studies.
And in fact, most of these ideas were really terrible. It was like, my idea is The Godfather, except the main character is a woman or some really crappy idea. Most of them were like that.
But the key thing here-- and this should start to sound familiar to people-- is that narcissists aren't necessarily more creative, their ideas aren't better, but the way they present themselves to others triggers perceptions of creativity that can cause people to not only want to judge their ideas as creative, but also fund them, also more likely to say I would actually pay money to implement them, and so forth.
And so one of the implications of these results is that our judgments of how creative an idea is, their judgments are intertwined with our impressions of that, of the person who is pitching it. And the problem is that, if you look at the existing literature, we know very little about how people judge an individual to be creative or judge ideas to be creative. And so we view this as a really exciting gap in existing research that I think is not only important, but could lead to a number of followups. So I want to introduce Melissa, who is going to now clarify everything about idea evaluation.
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Jack Goncalo, faculty fellow for the Institute for Social Sciences (ISS) collaborative project on Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, discusses research on creativity at the project's capstone event March 11, 2016. The project aimed to understand how novel ideas are created, developed, valued, and diffused, leading to ground-breaking changes in cultural, social, and economic interaction.
Founded in 2004, the Institute for the Social Sciences encourages collaborative research across the university on cutting-edge topics within the social sciences.