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R & D Creativity & Innovation Handbook by Edward Glassman Ph.D.
Edward Glassman : Dark Creativity

Dark Creativity

By Edward Glassman, PhD

Do you think highly creative people are less likely to be honest than less creative people?

Francesca Gino (Harvard Business School, Harvard University) and Dan Ariely (Fuqua School of Business, Duke University) have written a Working Paper titled: "The Dark Side of Creativity: Original Thinkers Can be More Dishonest." (See original paper here.)

In it, they show that the honesty of highly creative students is lower than less creative students. They summarize their findings in their abstract as follows (reprinted here with permission):

"Creativity is a common aspiration for individuals, organizations, and societies. Here, however, we test whether creativity increases dishonesty. We propose that a creative personality and creativity primes promote individuals' motivation to think outside the box and that this increased motivation leads to unethical behavior.

"In four studies, we show:

  • that participants with creative personalities who scored high on a test measuring divergent thinking tended to cheat more (Study 1);
  • that dispositional creativity is a better predictor of unethical behavior than intelligence (Study 2);
  • and that participants who were primed to think creatively were more likely to behave dishonestly because of their creativity motivation (Study 3)
  • and greater ability to justify their dishonest behavior (Study 4).

"Finally, a field study constructively replicates these effects and demonstrates that individuals who work in more creative positions are also more morally flexible (Study 5).

"The results provide evidence for an association between creativity and dishonesty, thus highlighting a dark side of creativity."

Do you consider yourself a highly creative person (everyone is creative to some extent)? If you answered yes, do you also consider yourself more dishonest than people you consider to be less creative that you? Difficult to swallow?

Has 'denial' moved in to protect your creative mind? Are you using your creative mind to justify what you do, just as these authors say you have a tendency to do.

What can a highly creative person do about this? Stay alert to this possibility and take extra care to be honest.

I intend to continue going right on being as creative as I can be and stay as honest and ethical as I can.

So can you, I guess. Just don't give in to the dark side. •

© 2011 by Edward Glassman. All rights reserved.

Edward Glassman, PhDEdward Glassman, PhD was the President of the Creativity College®, a division of Leadership Consulting Services, Inc., and Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he headed the Program For Team Effectiveness And Creativity. More »