Nav: Home

Paper: As an act of self-disclosure, workplace creativity can be risky business

September 04, 2019

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- It's increasingly common for managers to direct employees to "be creative" during office brainstorming sessions. But should employees acquiesce to that managerial edict? According to a new paper from a U. of I. expert in work behaviors and organizations, being creative in the workplace is potentially precarious because creativity itself is deeply personal, which can make the creative act feel self-disclosing.

Research from Jack Goncalo, a professor of business administration at the Gies College of Business, investigates the psychological and interpersonal consequences of creativity, showing that when prompted to be creative, people share ideas that reflect their unique point of view and personal preferences - which can be risky business in the office.

"One of the things organizations often tell their employees is be creative, but that's not a benign instruction," Goncalo said. "When you're being creative, you're sharing something about yourself and allowing others to make judgments about you. I think people - both managers and employees - should be mindful of the risks involved. There ought to be some caution flags raised around the idea that employees can be freely creative, unless you go through a lot of hoops to make sure there aren't consequences."

Whether it's formulating the latest scientific breakthrough, developing new technology or creating a collaborative work of art, creativity not only entails conjuring novel ideas but also mustering the courage to openly express those ideas to colleagues, and thereby expose them to criticism.

"When people are being creative, they're not just solving problems. They're actually revealing something deeply personal," Goncalo said. "The ideas that we share when we're brainstorming and generating ideas - they're not just abstract, cold solutions to a problem. They're derived from our own unique idiosyncratic perspective. You're reaching down into yourself to share something that reflects your point of view, and that makes sharing those ideas risky, personal and consequential."

Over the course of five experiments, Goncalo and co-author Joshua H. Katz, a graduate student at Illinois, sought to test the hypothesis that generating creative ideas would prompt the perception of self-disclosure.

When subjects were told to be creative, they inevitably "thought about their own preferences, their own likes and dislikes, and less about what other people thought," Goncalo said.

"That reveals why creativity is risky, and it reveals something about the process that people go through, and we measure this in the paper," he said. "We had experiments where we instructed people to generate creative ideas for potato chip flavors and candle scents, and you can't help but read their ideas and feel like you know the person afterward."

Most of the research on creativity is on its antecedents and how to generate more of it. But this paper shows that there are consequences to being creative, Goncalo said.

"When you say you don't like my idea, you're actually rejecting someone's perspective or point of view, which is dangerously close to rejecting that person - which is risky, to say the least, when you're in a workplace," he said.

Another finding of the research is that being creative together is a way of getting to know someone else.

"When I hear your creative ideas, I get the sense that I can predict something about your personality," Goncalo said.

One of the respondents for the creative candle scent experiment came up with some fairly unique ideas - "Zombie Outbreak," "Spoiled Milk in a Hot Car" and a euphemism for canine flatulence.

"Based on those ideas, you may feel like you know this person, but you also might not necessarily like them," he said. "When people are being creative, they are sharing the kind of information that may rub people the wrong way."

Being creative also is something that can help people bond or know each other better, Goncalo said.

"The most positive spin on this is that when people are creative together, a byproduct is that they get to know each other a little better," he said. "Then again, you might not like what you hear. That's where the risk comes from, but you can certainly match people on their mutual preferences, which could easily lead to bonding."

The research not only has implications for creative types and marketing managers, but also for any group setting where out-of-the-box thinking and brainstorming is demanded.

"This speaks to making people feel anonymous when they're brainstorming," Goncalo said. "It's the same reason that people share more when they know that their response will be anonymous, because there's less risk. So one way to be more creative is by lowering the risk, but also realizing that it's an opportunity to get to know each other better. It could certainly be an icebreaker."
-end-
The paper will be published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Editor's notes: To contact Jack Goncalo, email goncalo@illinois.edu.

The paper "Your soul spills out: The creative act feels self-disclosing" is available online.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau

Related Creativity Articles:

Paper: As an act of self-disclosure, workplace creativity can be risky business
It's increasingly common for managers to instruct employees to 'be creative' during brainstorming sessions.
Want to boost creativity? Try playing Minecraft
Video games that foster creative freedom can increase creativity under certain conditions, according to new research from Iowa State University.
Creativity is not just for the young, study finds
If you believe that great scientists are most creative when they're young, you are missing part of the story.
To stoke creativity, crank out ideas and then step away
There is an effective formula for unlocking employees' creative potential, according to new research from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin and the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
How listening to music 'significantly impairs' creativity
The popular view that music enhances creativity has been challenged by researchers who say it has the opposite effect.
New research suggests the imaginary worlds of children reflect positive creativity
Children who create imaginary parallel worlds known as paracosms, alone or with friends, are more found more commonly than previously believed, according to a study led by a University of Oregon psychologist.
Can tiny doses of magic mushrooms unlock creativity?
The use of minute doses of magic mushrooms and truffles containing psychedelic substances could induce a state of unconstrained thought that may produce more new, creative ideas.
Thinking outside the box: Adults with ADHD not constrained in creativity
People often believe those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder face challenges that could hinder future employment, but a University of Michigan study found that adults with ADHD feel empowered doing creative tasks that could help them on the job.
Use of electrical brain stimulation to foster creativity has sweeping implications
In an article published in Creativity Research Journal, Georgetown researchers address neuro-ethical concerns associated with the increasing use of transcranial electrical stimulation (tES).
The brain's creativity controls
Scientists studying brain scans of people who were asked to come up with inventive uses for everyday objects found a specific pattern of connectivity that correlated with the most creative responses.
More Creativity News and Creativity Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#540 Specialize? Or Generalize?
Ever been called a "jack of all trades, master of none"? The world loves to elevate specialists, people who drill deep into a single topic. Those people are great. But there's a place for generalists too, argues David Epstein. Jacks of all trades are often more successful than specialists. And he's got science to back it up. We talk with Epstein about his latest book, "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.