Making Creativity Come True

What does it take to turn a creative idea into reality? It seems like a simple question, but truly creative ideas are tricky critters: they don’t fit well with existing ways of doing things, they create conflicts between people, and they can even cause companies to go under. And the worst part is, truly creative ideas usually fail. After all, it’s their novelty and uniqueness that make them creative in the first place, so it’s no surprise that they don’t always work. Companies (and people) famously abhor change for exactly these reasons. Sure, that idea sounds great – why don’t YOU try it out and let me know how it goes?

So what makes a particular creative idea likely to be implemented, and when are you likely to be able to see your idea turn into reality? A new study by Markus Baer of Washington University in St. Louis asks exactly that. The motivation for his research, which appears in October’s Academy of Management Journal, is the observation that people and companies generate far more ideas than they actually implement, and that it isn’t the most creative or best ideas that usually filter to the top. After all, we all remember Windows ME and the KFC Doubledown (okay, maybe that one was pretty good).

Here’s the punchline: Baer finds that ideas are most likely to be implemented when the people pushing from them are motivated (i.e., they believe in the idea) and when they have strong networks of peers and supervisors. No surprise there. What’s interesting is how the variables all come together. When an idea is particularly creative, the person pushing it has to really believe in it in order to see it realized. On the other hand, if they have strong support from their peers and supervisors, personal motivation doesn’t matter too much: even far-out and risky ideas are likely to be implemented, even when the person who came up with it doesn’t see a ton of value in pushing it forward.

The upshot is that the value of the idea might not be as important as how everyone in the company perceives it. The best ideas might not see the light of day simply because they never found the right advocates, and mediocre ideas might make it all the way to the top just because they don’t rile too many feathers along the way. So next time you’re wondering how the Back-Up Bedside Gun Rack (“Reach your shotgun from the comfort of your bed!”) made it to market, just remember: they probably had other ideas too.

And ’cause it would be too good not to share, here’s the Huffington Post’s compendium of the Stupidest Products Ever. Enjoy.

4 thoughts on “Making Creativity Come True

    • Hi Linda Joyce! Great question: in my opinion, creativity thinking can be taught, if not creativity itself. Creativity is about coming up with novel and useful ideas; clever ways of doing or expressing something in a way that hasn’t been done before. While some people certainly have a natural knack for being creative, there are definitely tools that can help people generate creative ideas. The little things that are second nature to many writers such as yourself (tweaking your workspace, playing association games, brainstorming, etc) would probably be revolutionary to some, and I know my own ability to work in creative groups has grown tremendously with time, instruction, and confidence. In my mind it’s a lot like sports: some people are born naturals, and some people have to work hard, but in the end anyone can play. What do you think?

      • Doug,

        I like your analogy, though I never played sports. But I believe that even born talent must be nurtured, used and stretched, otherwise it languishes.
        I also believe that Triump comes through perserverance, which give me hope that my creativity will continue to help me produce a better novel.

        Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


        Linda Joyce

  1. Doug,

    I’ve read through your archives of post. Very interesting information. Thank you for sharing. Also, congrats to you and your bride!

    I’m nominating you for the One Lovely Blogger Award.
    More info at my place:

    The Rules: One Lovely Blogger Award:
    ■Thank the blogger who nominated you.
    ■Tell 7 things about yourself.
    ■Post the One Lovely Blogger Award picture in your post.
    ■Nominate 15 other blogs for this award and notify them of their nomination.

    I look forward to more thought provoking topics.


    Linda Joyce

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