Ideas can make you sick.
Okay, not sick exactly, but a word many of us would associate with new and different — high quality ideas — is “vomit.”
It’s not pretty this new idea business.
A Cornell University study was published recently that I feel compelled to share. The study reveals our deep and nearly unconscious reaction to new ideas. The link here is not to the actual study but a summary article written by Mary Catt for Chronicle Online, a Cornell blog (thank you Mary). In People are biased against creative ideas, Catt reveals the studies key results. Essentially the study says:
* creative ideas make us feel very uncomfortable (think vomit)
* people rule out creative ideas and choose purely practical ones
* objective data about the validity of an idea doesn’t help gain acceptance
* people are largely unaware of this bias
I’m not at all surprised, I’ve been saying this a long time, and, experiencing it my entire life. The surprise for me is it’s even worse than I thought. Nearly every time I lead a brainstorm session (so to speak) I am frustrated that many of the most interesting ideas are not even taken to the more advanced stage of concept writing. They are literally left on the wall.
I’m aware of this tendency. As a facilitator I often make people choose at least one idea they find interesting but not practical. This research will have me modify my advice. Pick one that makes you feel like throwing up!
The key point about objective data not helping underscores another thing, which is idea selection or convergence is nearly always emotional and intuitive no matter how many concrete criteria you try to wrap around the selection process. People’s favorite ideas always seem to do better against criteria don’t they! And those uncomfortable ones aren’t going to get the benefit of the doubt. Think the Russian judge in figure skating — this is what we tend to do to really new and different ideas. We really don’t want to get out of that box do we?
Bottom line: we close down on new ideas way to soon. We need to defer judgement on them long after the idea generation process to have them survive. We need time to get used to new and different.
Kudo’s to Jack Goncalo, ILR School, who’ll be publishing the study in an upcoming issue of the journal of Psychological Science. Two other academics were involved, Jennifer Mueller of the University of Pennsylvania and Shimul Melwani of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I’m grateful to this cohort for providing the evidence I need to urge people to include more uncomfortable ideas.
Should idea generation sessions come equipped with airline vomit bags?
PS: If you want to start into more advanced practice, you might consider my book — Jack’s Notebook, a business novel about creative problem solving.