We live in a world that celebrates innovation and glorifies creatives as the new rock stars, so you would be forgiven to assume that there is no way to make it in your career unless you are blessed with extremely high doses of creativity. After all, that’s how Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are making the world a better place, right?
Not quite. In fact, creativity plays a much smaller role in determining people’s career success than we’d like to admit. That’s precisely why we rate it so much: Like sense of humor or humility, it is rather rare, especially in business. Just think about the behaviors that are rewarded in your workplace — and those that are sanctioned, even when they are theoretically welcomed. For all the talks of “tolerating failure,” “failing fast,” “agile experimentation,” and the now cliched “thinking outside the box,” most leaders prefer employees who play it safe and deliver the expected results in predictable manner without ruffling any feathers or questioning the status quo, not least because they perceive innovation as a risk.
In a now seminal article, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile noted 20 years ago that while businesses pay endless lip service to creativity, many of the mainstream management practices that can be found in the business world actually hinder or inhibit innovation: failing to assign people to meaningful or intrinsically motivating roles, lack of investment in developing expertise, and an inability to deal with people who produce unconventional or unusual ideas, even though such ideas often represent the raw ingredients of creativity.
So, could you be too creative for your own sake? With recent research suggesting that even positive traits, such as EQ, empathy, and ambition, have a downside when exacerbated, one would expect too much creativity to get in the way of career success, particularly if expressed or manifested in an environment that is incompatible with it. After all, this may be why not just Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — but every successful entrepreneur — decided to opt out of traditional corporate employment or — in the more extreme cases ofSteve Jobs or Oprah— pretty clear misfits as employees.
Here’s a simple checklist to determine whether you may be moresuccessful if you were less creative, based on several findings from science.
Although you may think this is everyone, it is actually highly creative people who fall in this category, with most employees actually preferring predictable, familiar, and routine-based work experiences. Indeed, novelty seeking and openness to new experiences are indicative of higher creativity, and they will obviously clash with the vast majority of office environments, which embrace order and repetition as a means to predict, control, and manage.
For all the potential benefits of mindfulness, the creative mind tends to behave in rather different ways, namely jumping from one thought to the next. If you find yourself in an imaginary thought expedition during most work meetings, or others have trouble following your train of thoughts (because you go from one thought to the next before you can even verbalize it), then you would probably benefit from being more conventional.
Innovation is the practical application of creativity. It always happens as a result of teams working together effectively to turn latent ideas into actual product and services. This is why too many creatives working together will never produce something innovative. One challenge if you love producing but not implementing ideas is to team up with people who can complement you around execution to follow-through, and deliver results. Unless you are already quite senior and influential, and have a team behind you to help you turn your ideas into actual innovations, you should not assume that your ideas are an inherent asset to the organization. In fact, a lack of creative ideas is not the main reason why so many companies struggle with creativity. Rather, it is the inability to act to turn those ideas into effective innovations — and creative people don’t do much to address this challenge.
Just like any other socially desirable trait, creativity co-exists with far less valued behavioral tendencies. One such tendency is the inability to conform or follow rules. Yes, we do still applaud non-conformists who change the world and become the inspiration for many, but by definition any organization, system, or society requires most people to fit in a norm and follow the rules. This is what makes successful rebel talents so rare: they are the exception to the rule, for they have managed to defy the odds to make it. The much more mundane and less inspiring reality, however, is that most people who confront authority or have a grumpy attitude when they are told what to do struggle to succeed in their careers. And, for sure, even the most successful non-conformists had to go through stages in their lives where they played by the current rules, and even agreed to doing things they didn’t want to do.
Although not all creatives are overconfident or arrogant, there has long been evidence for a positive association between creativity and narcissistic tendencies. If you love your ideas so much that you are likely to see other people’s ideas as trivial or stupid, and you feel that you are not given the credit you deserve for having such brilliant thoughts, or that your colleagues and boss are making a bad mistake for ignoring your suggestions, the bad news is that this may be you. Of course, overconfidence may often be adaptive, in that it helps you persuade others that you are better than you actually are. As I argued in my latest book, this is why so many incompetent menbecome leaders: because being unaware of their limitations can, ironically, make those very limitations invisible to others. That said, overconfidence will also drive people to underestimate risk and make avoidable mistakes; it makes them more immune to feedback and less coachable, and when others realize that you are not as good as you think, you will be deemed arrogant and obnoxious.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzicis an international authority in psychological profiling, talent management, leadership development, and people analytics. He is the chief talent scientist at Manpower Group, cofounder of Deeper Signals and Metaprofiling, and professor of business psychology at both University College London and Columbia University. He has previously held academic positions at New York University and the London School of Economics and lectured at Harvard Business School, Stanford Business School, London Business School, Johns Hopkins, IMD, and INSEAD. He was also the CEO at Hogan Assessment Systems. Tomas has published nine books and over 130 scientific papers (h index 58), making him one of the most prolific social scientists of his generation.
Originally published on Business Insider.
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