People consistently underestimated the number of creative ideas they could generate if they continued working on a task, particularly on subjectively difficult innovation challenges, found Northwestern’s Brian J. Lucas and Loran F. Nordgren.
People who were undaunted by difficult tasks were more able to persist in developing novel ideas, and their work produced both more ideas and higher quality of innovations than they predicted.
This research suggests the benefits of “grit”, described by University of Pennsylvania’s Angela Duckworth as perseverance and passion for goals, particularly long-term objectives.
In Lucas and Nordgren’s research, more than 20 volunteers had 10 minutes to generate as many original ideas as possible for things to eat or drink at a U.S. Thanksgiving dinner.
Then, external judges evaluated responses for originality and suggestions rated “above average” were eligible to win a $50 lottery.
Volunteers took a break from idea generating, and estimated the number of ideas they expected to generate with another 10 minutes’ effort before they continued the idea development task.
External raters judged ideas developed in the second work phase as significantly more original than those in the initial session.
These results were replicated with professional comedy performers from SketchFest, the largest sketch comedy festival in the U.S.
Performers received a comedic scene set-up such as “Four people are laughing hysterically onstage. Two them high five, and everyone stops laughing immediately and someone says….”
Their task was to create as many endings as they could during four minutes and to
predict the number of endings they would develop with during an additional four minutes work time.
These professional comedians also significantly underestimated the number of ideas they would develop with on their second attempt, suggesting persistent undervaluation even among experts.
When a task seems challenging, “people decrease their expectations about how well they will perform,” argued Lucas and Norgren, even though “creative thought is a trial-and-error process that generally produces a series of failed associations before a creative solution emerges.”
These findings indicate that negative expectations can reduce persistence, leading to performance below potential.
They confirm Thomas Edison’s assertion that “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to success is always to try just one more time.”
This effect was also demonstrated in comparisons of people’s numeric competency including:
- Objective numeracy, or ability to work with numbers: “If the chance of getting a disease is 10 percent, how many people would be expected to get the disease out of 1000?”
- Subjective numeracy, a self-evaluation of math abilities: “How good are you at working with percentages?”;
“How often do you find numerical information to be useful?”
- Symbolic-number mapping abilities, or predicting and understanding numeric relationships such as a carpenter estimating the amount of wood needed for a project.
More than 110 volunteers completed tasks including remembering numbers paired to different objects, then evaluating bets based on risk.
People lower in subjective numeracy and confidence had more negative emotional reactions to numbers and were less motivated and confident in numeric tasks, reported Ohio State’s Ellen Peters with Pär Bjälkebring of University of Gothenburg.
This negative reaction to quantitative tasks presents significant challenges for those who still need to complete tasks like preparing annual personal income tax forms and expense reimbursement reports.
These studies replicated findings that people are not the best judges of their own skills: In fact, one in five people who said they were not good at math actually scored in the top half of an objective math test.
Conversely, one-third of people who said they were good at math actually scored in the bottom half, validating the Dunning-Kruger effect when incompetent individuals overestimating performance despite feedback.
Persistence in creative as well as tactical tasks can lead to more plentiful and higher quality results than abandoning difficult efforts.
-*How do you maintain persistence during challenging tasks?
-*How do you verify that your self-perceptions align with actual performance and other’s perceptions?
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