Many workers have creative potential that goes to waste because they give up on generating creative ideas too soon, researchers explain in Harvard Business Review.
Brian Lucas, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, and Lora Nordgren, a Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management associate professor, conclude that one key reason people find it difficult to be creative is because they undervalue the benefits of persistence.
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In one experiment, Lucas and Nordgren invited 24 students to brainstorm ideas for Thanksgiving dinner. After 10 minutes, they asked each participant how many ideas they predicted they could generate in another 10 minutes. Next, they actually gave it a shot.
Lucas and Nordgren found the students consistently underestimated how many more ideas they could come up with: Predicting an average of 10 but actually producing around 15. "Several similar follow-up studies we conducted produced the same result," they write. For instance, comedians wrote more jokes than they thought they could, and groups of adults generated more advertising slogans than they predicted.
Worth the wait
What's more, when Lucas and Nordgren had outside groups grade the creativity of individual ideas—the ones that people came up with after they made their prediction were judged as more creative.
Lucas and Nordgren say people frequently don't tap into their full creativity because coming up with new ideas is challenging. "People often have the experience of feeling 'stuck,' being unsure of how to find a solution, or hitting a wall with one idea and having to start over again," they explain.
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The problem—they note—is that creativity takes time. And feeling stuck makes people give up too soon, even if they have untapped creative potential just a few minutes away.
Lucas and Nordgren suggest two things to keep in mind when tackling creative challenges:
- Ignore your initial instinct to stop. Research shows that even just taking a few additional minutes to brainstorm can have a big payoff; and
- Remember that being creative is supposed to be hard. Feeling stuck isn't a sign that you are doing something wrong, or not creative—it's part of the process.
"Reaching your creative potential often takes time, and persistence is critical for seeing a challenge through to the end," they conclude (Lucas/Nordgren, Harvard Business Review, 12/1).
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