Creative Change: Why We Resist It…How We Can Embrace It – by Jennifer Mueller

creativity culture behavior change

“The sad irony is that we are more likely to reject an idea because it is creative than to embrace it.”

There are countless books about creativity and how to improve creativity in your personal and professional life. Some are good, some are full of fluff, and most are very repetitive. This book is different. Jennifer Mueller looks at the problem not from a lack of creative ideas standpoint, but why so many people are resistant to creative ideas – and especially creative change.

Before I share some quotes and themes, it’s important to understand the terminology she uses.

The How/Best Mindset

Evaluators and decision-makers who use this mindset are focused on knowing the most feasible and appropriate option now. They are very intolerant of uncertainty and seek to reduce risk at all costs. Here are some of the common things you’ll notice from how/best mindset:

  • Evaluating the solution is more important than solving the problem
  • Relies heavily on data to combat uncertainty
  • Focuses on weaknesses and unknowns
  • Uses “what if” method of rejection – can continuously come up with “what if” scenarios as reasons to reject an idea, even in spite of objective data
  • Can overvalue practical ideas and undervalue future potential
  • Best suited when there is one correct answer or formula for problem-solving

The Why/Potential Mindset

Evaluators who use this mindset focus on learning the future value of something. They are much more tolerant of uncertainty and realize that you can’t accurately predict how successful a creative idea will be. The following are some examples of the why/potential mindset:

  • Focuses more on problem-solving than problem finding
  • Embraces the idea that creative ideas evolve over time
  • Understands that creative ideas can’t be evaluated by existing paradigms
  • Think like an inventor
  • Can overvalue future potential at the expense of the practical

Quotes, Topics, Themes

Creative ideas are risky because they are full of unknowns. Many of us are fearful of risk and change, even though we say we love innovation and creativity. It’s a tricky dance. It’s almost impossible to have a full analysis and data on a novel, creative idea that hasn’t been done before. There are too many unknowns, and that can be terrifying to people in a how/best mindset. So they settle for familiar, lesser ideas because they are easier to judge.

Experts really struggle when evaluating creative ideas because they rely on familiar reference points. Creative ideas are often a poor fit with existing paradigms (that’s the nature of creative ideas/innovation) and are therefore rejected by experts. Obvious examples are Kodak being unable to see the value of digital technology (even though they invented it!), the music industry, the rise of social media, and telehealth. Experts and decision-makers have more to lose and less to gain be endorsing a creative idea. They tend to favor the familiar because it’s more comfortable and safer.

You may think that you love and value creativity but actually be biased against it. This is because the bias is hidden/implicit. Research using an implicit attitude test (IAT) has proven this. Don’t believe me? Read this.

“Why are paradigm-shifting ideas throughout history consistently, and predictably, ridiculed and rejected? It’s because, as a culture and as individuals, we’re deeply biased against creativity. This creativity bias makes sense if we look at the way our brains are wired. By nature, human beings are highly risk averse. And when there is a motivation to reduce uncertainty, creativity biases are activated on both individual and institutional levels. Across the board, people (not to mention institutions and decision makers) deny creative ideas, even when they explicitly cite creativity as being among their goals or values.”

“The irony is that the person rejecting the idea does not reject it because he is smart. Rather, he rejects the idea because he does not understand how to evaluate it…” Contempt is a powerful marker of bias. Studies have revealed that showing contempt (like in the case of a critic/reviewer) makes us feel better about ourselves and look smarter to others. It’s a defense mechanism.

“If you frame your role as an inventor who is leading the creative process, and not as a leader who seemingly already knows the answers, you will have a better shot at embracing the creative ideas you want and improving them in the process.” You can change your mindset and become more receptive to creative ideas.

“Creative ideas redefine something, and we know that generating a creative idea requires you to think outside the box.” The problem is that the decision makers and manager don’t use this mindset to evaluate creative ideas. They don’t “see” the same connections.

“Group polarization happens when people jockey for status and end up taking a more and more extreme position.” Group polarization leads to terrible decisions and very low creativity.

Thes following are three questions that leaders can ask to disrupt conformity and polarization when groups get stuck. These questions also get people thinking and promote creativity.

  1. What problem are we trying to solve?
  2. Why does this solution have value?
  3. How can we make this solution work?

The big-picture, take-home message on creative change

We want the world to be a predictable place where everything fits nicely into its box and there is no uncertainty. But people don’t work that way. Creative change is complicated and messy. It’s a process that you wrestle with and it helps to have people involved who understand this process. The more you understand your mindset and the mindset of people you work with, the better you’ll be at communicating your ideas and implementing creative change.

Final Thoughts

Sorry for the long review, but I just couldn’t bring myself to cut some of this stuff out. I strongly recommend this book whatever your role or job title. There is a lot of practical wisdom in these pages for managers, bosses, and even us creative types.


Author: Sean

Mental health and physical therapy advocate, professional daydreamer, enjoying the journey.

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