The Biases That Make Bosses Hate Creativity

It’s not the bosses’ fault that they can’t see good ideas; it’s an unseen bias.

The Biases That Make Bosses Hate Creativity
[Image: Flickr user Kevin Galens]

Every year, Fast Company searches far and wide for the Most Creative People in business. But here’s something strange: while Americans prize creativity, research says we’re disposed to reject it.


Why do people mistrust creative folks? As Jessica Olien writes at Slate, there are layers of psychological blocks.

Most people are Satisfiers

“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,” University of California business professor Barry Staw tells Slate. In other words, we may love the creative product and the people that made them–iPhone and Steve Jobs–but we can’t really handle the ickiness of the creative process.

To use Staw’s vocabulary, this is because most people are satisfiers: they would much rather preserve the status quo than ruffle feathers, which means that good ideas may perish without an advocate.

“As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” Staw continues. This gets us thinking: maybe that’s why in his new David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell argues that one of the fundamental temperaments of entrepreneurs is disagreeableness: disruption, after all, doesn’t sound very polite.

At a deeper level, creativity signals uncertainty

The thing about being a product of evolution is that we’ve developed this habit of self-preservation. And in the course of self-preservation, one of the shortcuts we’ve developed is that if something is uncertain, then it’s less safe. And if it’s less safe, we don’t want to do it–depending on your relationship with risk.

New ideas present a problem to self-preservationists in that they’re categorically uncertain. As Olien argues, if they didn’t have any uncertainty, the wouldn’t be new.


This creates an unseen blinder: as the University of Pennsylvania has documented, while people prize new ideas, they reject them if they feel a motivation to reduce uncertainty. Like, for instance, if they sense danger–in the form of job insecurity or rumbly ventilation shafts.

Hat tip: Slate

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.