One of the nation’s leading psychologists asks why today’s corporate leaders desire but reject creative solutions --and finds some surprising conclusions. All corporate CEOs, top executives, and other business leaders say they want creativity and need real innovation in order to thrive in a competitive world. But according to startling research from former Wharton management professor Jennifer Mueller, the truth is that many business leaders chronically reject creative solutions and often embrace the familiar, even as they profess commitment to innovation. Mueller’s research also reveals that it’s not just CEOs, but educators, scientists, and many, many others who often struggle to accept new and creative ideas even when desired. Mueller parses the tough questions that these findings raise. Could people love but also hate creative ideas? Could the mindset we use to evaluate ideas turn this love or hate on or off—in an instant? Do experts struggle even more than novices with this bias? And even more startling, could the “best practices” that organizations employ to manage innovation activate this bias, and inadvertently, kill innovation? Mueller diagnoses this hidden innovation barrier, and provides solutions, including: O A four- step process (and a fifth lifeline) to self-disrupt your current mindset and recognize creative opportunity; O an idea-pitching framework aimed at helping you overcome other peoples’ sticky preference for the status quo; O key organizational levers to disrupt the cultural beliefs holding your company back; O tips to more accurately recognize creative leaders who can lead organizations in productive new directions, and O strategies to generate ideas without harming your ability to make them count with the decision-makers. Based on the latest psychological studies in the field, along with numerous illustrative examples, Creative Change is the kind of provocative creative leadership book that will be discussed for years to come.
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About the Author
Jennifer Mueller earned her PhD in Social and Developmental Psychology at Brandeis University, and has been on the faculty of many top business schools including the Wharton School, Yale School of Management and NYU's Stern School of Business. One of her papers, upon which this book is based, “The Bias Against Creativity,” went viral and was downloaded over 65,000 times—receiving more than 100 media mentions and being described as a “famous study” in TheAtlantic. Jennifer’s work has been featured in many major media outlets including WSJ, NPR, CNN, HBR, The Atlantic, Fortune, Forbes, and Fast Company. Jennifer, a native Californian, is currently an Associate Professor at the University of San Diego.
Read an Excerpt
1 The Hidden Innovation Barrier Within the first few months after starting my new position as an assistant professor at Wharton, I met with a group of vice presidents who worked for a large global company. For the sake of confidentiality, I’ll refer to that business as Company Z. The VPs had determined that their company was struggling with how to be more creative, and they asked me to present my perspective on why this might be the case. I was extremely excited about this meeting, in no small part because I knew the literature cold — backwards and forwards. So like any good academic, I presented a summary of the research about how hard it is to generate creative (novel and useful) ideas and then actually implement them. I will never forget the look on the executives’ faces after I finished my talk. I expected nodding heads, grunts of approval, or at least some expressions of curiosity. What I saw instead in their eyes was confusion and disappointment. Finally, one executive looked at me with skepticism and said, “Yeah, but that isn’t it.” Another executive was more patient with me. He explained in detail the problem Company Z was having with creativity, and it honestly had little to do with the material I had presented to the group. “I wouldn’t say that we struggle with generating creative ideas, or that implementation is the problem,” the executive explained. “We can buy our creativity. We buy companies with breakthrough products, but these products rarely get to the implementation phase — and not because we don’t know how to efficiently bring a product to market. Our problem is that once we buy these companies and integrate them under our umbrella, over time, they aren’t creative anymore. Their pipeline dwindles and so we sell them off. But suddenly, only a short time later, those same companies that were vanilla are now developing creative products again.” He concluded: “If you want to help us figure out how to be more creative, figure out how to solve this puzzle because, as far as we are concerned, that is the billion-, no, trillion-dollar question.” After this comment, I was rendered speechless (which, I can tell you, is a rare situation for me). The executives didn’t agree with my traditional academic account of why creativity was so uncommon — it just didn’t mesh with what they were experiencing. But if generating creative ideas wasn’t the bottleneck, and implementation concerns weren’t relevant to their situation, what then was the problem? This company didn’t appear to be resistant to change — they were investing billions of dollars in creative products. So why were they struggling? I soon learned that Company Z was not unique. Other companies — large, small, and in between — were struggling to be creative as well. Executives called and asked me to provide their organizations with training on creative-idea generation. These corporate types would tell me that creativity was a strategic priority for the company, but that their employees just weren’t coming up with creative solutions. Time after time, I conducted these trainings only to discover that most of the participants had already received training on idea generation. I would hear story after story of how employees had developed terrific ideas — which management promptly ignored. One participant even showed me a large stack of white papers she had written to document her many ideas — now in the file drawer. When I asked her why the company rejected her ideas when corporate leaders told me they were desperate for more creativity, she told me something I found quite surprising. She said, “Executives here don’t actually want creative ideas.” That didn’t make sense to me. Why would top-level executives at the very companies that were hiring me to help them be more creative spend a ton of resources to cultivate internal creativity, only to reject their employees’ creative ideas? At best, it seemed like a blatant waste of money and other resources. At worst, it seemed like the essence of hypocrisy. Maybe all this talk about creativity was just lip service? I thought back to my meeting with Company Z — there’s no way those busy executives would waste their time listening to consultants and spending billions of dollars on new companies if they were just pretending to want creativity. Would they? One thing was certain — executives wanted real solutions, and academics like me had spent decades identifying solutions. A quick search on the ABI Informs database (a database of business articles) shows that roughly 30,000 articles on creative idea generation — and 150,000 articles on implementation — have been published since the 1990s. Why, if we have all these solutions for how to generate and implement creative ideas, were companies still having a difficult time being creative? If our best solutions weren’t solving the problem, then maybe we needed to redefine the problem we were trying to solve. Was there an invisible third barrier to innovation beyond idea generation and implementation? If so, it must be so big that it could harm innovation, even in companies that were great at generating ideas and incredibly efficient at implementing them. Not only that, but it would have to be invisible to the decision makers whose job it was to innovate new solutions and convert opportunities into wins. So what was this invisible barrier? As I pondered this question, I again considered the case of Company Z. Executives there told me that generating and implementing ideas was not the bottleneck they faced — they were certain of that. Instead, they believed that the companies they acquired became less creative over time. If this was indeed the case, then one possibility was that Company Z bought companies and then squelched their ability to generate creative ideas, perhaps due to loads of bureaucracy and paperwork. The problem with this logic was that Company Z was buying small companies that made medical devices, products that typically develop very slowly. From the time these companies were acquired to the time they were sold off, their products probably didn’t change much at all. I was on my own. I didn’t have any answers, but I had a problem I was passionate about solving. I wanted to isolate this hidden barrier to innovation. And I had a hunch: maybe the executives at Company Z perceived the companies they had acquired differently over time not because the products had changed, but because the way executives evaluated the products had changed. Were all of us operating using a false assumption? That is, we assume that any expert in a specific industry can accurately assess creative opportunity. We know that experts do a terrific job of evaluating products or processes that are familiar to them. But what if creative ideas are so different from familiar and proven ideas that experts have a difficult time assessing them? What if our fundamental assumptions about how we recognize and embrace creative opportunity are all wrong?
Table of Contents
Preface: The Seeds of Our Uncreative Destruction ix
1 The Hidden Innovation Barrier 1
2 Our Love-Hate Relationship with Creativity 23
3 The Science Behind the Paradox 49
4 Self-Disrupt: Overcome Your Own Bias against Creativity 73
5 Overcome Others' Bias against Creativity 101
6 Cultivating Creative Change in Your Organization 137
7 Overcome the Bias against Creative Leadership 167
8 Stop Generating Ideas and Start Making Impact 193