Farnam Street helps you make better decisions, innovate, and avoid stupidity.

With over 400,000 monthly readers and more than 93,000 subscribers to our popular weekly digest, we've become an online intellectual hub.

Creativity: A Crime Of Passion

… Too often, we are given mixed messages from society about what behaviors are expected and valued. Creativity is supposed to be a good thing, something we aspire to achieve. However, those who are the most creative are often faced with the worst treatment and the most rejection for their ideas. To put it simply, people in positions of authority and management generally like and value those who follow rules. It is much easier to maintain order when everyone is following the rules. Breaking rules = bad. Right? But in order to be truly creative, you must break rules. That is what creativity entails. So do we want order, or do we want creativity? Can we have both?

Society’s mixed signals about the value of creativity, begins early on in school. There have been countless studies, too many to cite here, on teacher opinions of creative behavior in classrooms. In one example, a study by Westby and Dawson looked at characteristics of creative and non-creative students, then asked teachers to rate their favorite and least favorite students based on those traits.

First, teachers were asked if they valued creativity and enjoyed working with creative students, and they overwhelmingly answered “yes”. Next, they were asked to look at their own students and rate them on a variety of traits, ranging from highly creative traits, such as being determined, independent, individualistic, impulsive, and likely to take risks, to traits that are associated with low levels of creativity, such as peaceable, reliable, tolerant, steady, and practical. After they rated their students on these traits, they were asked to rate them from their least favorite to most favorite students.

Interestingly, there was a significant negative correlation between the degree of creativity of the student and his favorable rating by the teachers. This means that the most creative students were the least favorite of the teachers, across the entire sample surveyed. Additionally, the students that were rated as favorites of the teachers possessed traits that would seem counter-productive to creative behavior, such as conformity and unquestioning acceptance of authority. On the other hand, these are behaviors that fit well in a classroom setting. Even back in 1975, Feldhusen and Treffinger reported that 96% of teachers felt that creativity should be promoted in the classroom. However, when asked which students they actually liked to teach, they chose the students that were more compliant. Why the inconsistency?

Teachers say they want creativity, but that is not the behavior that is rewarded.

Unfortunately, once you leave school, society does not get much more supportive of really creative behavior.

…The most highly valued employees are the ones who blindly accept the ideology of the company, don’t challenge authority, and do the work that is required of them, no questions asked. But how is this unconditional conformity supposed to leave any room for creativity and innovation? Don’t we as a society want creativity? How are we supposed to engage in creative behaviors when we are constantly being reprimanded, down-graded, fired, or just plain disliked, for thinking outside of the corporate box?

Continue Reading

(H/T Simoleon Sense)