Paradoxical Bias against Innovative Ideas in the Workplace

Jennifer Mueller

Jennifer Mueller

Managers’ implicit attitudes and cognitive “mindset” during proposal presentations can bias organizational decision-makers against innovative solutions without their awareness, according to University of San Diego’s Jennifer Mueller with Shimul Melwani of University of North Carolina and Cornell University’s Jack Goncalo.

Shimul Melwani

Shimul Melwani

Mueller and team pointed out a paradox:  Most managers say they want innovative solutions to workplace issues from team members, yet often reject these creative ideas to reduce risk and uncertainty.

The team asked volunteers to rate a running shoe equipped with nanotechnology that improved fit and reduced potential to develop blisters.

Jack Goncalo

Jack Goncalo

They “primed” some participants toward increased uncertainty in this task by telling them that there were many potential answers to a problem.
In contrast, they cued another group with reduced uncertainty by instructing them that a problem required a single solution.

When volunteers who said they favored creative ideas experienced uncertainty, they preferred concepts of practicality on an implicit word association test, and associated “creativity” with negative concepts including “vomit,” “poison” and “agony.”

Uncertain participants also rated the shoe as significantly less creative than those in the more structured condition, suggesting that were less able to recognize a creative idea and held an unconscious “negative bias against creativity.”

Cheryl Wakslak

Cheryl Wakslak

In more recent work, Mueller collaborated with University of Southern California’s Cheryl Wakslak and Viswanathan Krishnan with University of California, San Diego to expand the idea assessment scenario with two ideas that were independently rated as “creative,” and two ideas judged “not creative.”

Vish Krishnan

Vish Krishnan

Mueller, Wakslak and Krishnan cued some participants to consider “why” in evaluating creative ideas, to evoke broad, abstract thinking, and “high-level construal.
They instructed other volunteers to think about “how” creative idea works, to stimulate narrow focus on practical details and logistics, and “low-level construal.”

Although participants in both groups rated two non-creative ideas similarly, those who adopted a “high-level construal” or a “why” mindset recognized creative ideas more often than those using the “how” mindset.

As an idea’s degree of creativity increases, uncertainty also increases about its feasibility, acceptability, and practicality.
This increased risk may reduce evaluators’ willingness to accept and advocate for an innovative idea, even when objective evidence is presented to validate a creative idea.

To mitigate the paradoxical rejection of creative ideas, organizational leaders can ask team members to consider “why” when creative evaluating proposals to enable “big picture” thinking and a broader construal level.

-*How do you encourage innovative solutions to work challenges?

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One thought on “Paradoxical Bias against Innovative Ideas in the Workplace

  1. Pingback: Multiple Paths Toward Goals Can Motivate, then Derail Success | Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary

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