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Expertisecentrum HRM&OB

Faculteit Economie en Bedrijfskunde
Expertisecentrum Human Resource Management & Organisational Behaviour
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Study warns creative people are prone to be dishonest

Datum:15 november 2016
Auteur:Ye Liu
Study warns creative people are prone to be dishonest
Study warns creative people are prone to be dishonest

'Creativity is essential for success in today's rapidly changing and highly competitive environments' is the mantra of modern management. Organizations seek to promote employee creativity by instilling creative identities among their employees. While this is a promising means of engouraging creativity, there is also a dark side of creativity. Management shoudl be aware of how to mitigate the unanticipated side-effects of pushing creativity.

Emplooyees who identify themselves as a creatives person see creativity as a central part of who they are. By the virtue of being labeled as "creative, "creative individuals are given latitude to deviate from society's norms-and, at times they are lauded for it. For example, creative entrepreneur Steve Jobs had a habit for parking his Mercedesin the handicapped and driving his car whithout a licence plate. As his biographer Isaacson noted, Jobs didn't really feel that normal rules applied him. So the question is when and why is believing that you are a creative person likely to increase ethically questionable behaviors? How can we reduce or manage unethical behaviors associated with being creative?

A recent study conducted by Vincent and Kouchaki (2016) has shed new light on these pertinent questions. In four experiments and one field study they showed that individuals with a creative identity:

a) reported higher psychological entitlement (i.e., the belief that one deserves more and is entitled to more than others);

b) demonstrated more unethical behaviors;

c) were more likely to lie for money, when they believed that their creativity was rare rather than common;

d) were rated as engaging in more unethical behaviors by their supervisors, when they perceived creativity as rare in their work group rather than common

These findings suggest that creative people hold an implicit assumption of 'creativity as being rare', which can trigger a sense of entitlement. This may come from how creativity is perceived in society. Creativity is commonly valued and inherently evaluated based on its rarity or uniqueness. A creative product must be unusually original, rare, novel, and statistically infrequent.

Based on the scarcity principle, traits or resources may be perceived as being more valuable. By contributing novel. rare ideas or solutions, creative employees may feel they deserve preferential treatment. This heightened feeling of entitlement potentially provides an excuse to be dishonest or unethical with impunity. For instance, an entitled individual may view theft as merely claiming what they justly deserve. Thus, when individuals with a creative identity perceive creativity to be rare, they are likely to feel entitled to engage in unethical behaviors in order to tip the scale in their favor. Even though creativity is, by default, considered as rare, if individuals perceive that creativity is common in the immediate social group, the sense of entitlement and the dishonest acts are reduced.

This research offers important practical implications for organizations. As organizations and firms are relying more on creativity to remain competitive, it is clearly important for managers to understand that, under certain conditions, having a creative identity may cause unanticipated side-effects. Managers who aim to strengthen employees' creatives identities could introduce the concept of everyday creativity to emphasize that creativity is part of everyone's lives and that everyone can be creative. Creativity is thus not a special, rare attribute that is reserved for creative elites, but an ability that everyone has and can be cultivated. Moreover, managers can also design managerial interventions (e.g., rewards for creative performance) to balance creative employees' sense of entitlement. It is also possible for organizations to promote collective identity as creative such as Apple or Google (but be aware of potentially the same danger of the creative bastion's acts in the outside world). A creative employee in such an organization does not necessarily feel rare and unique, removes the expectations to be treated differently and the accompanying feelings of entitlement.

This article is based on the work of Vincent, L., & Kouchaki, M. (2016). Creative, Rare, Entitled, and Dishonest: How Commonality of Creativity in One's Group Decreases an Individual's Entitlement and Dishonesty. Academy of Management Journal, 59, 1451-1473.

Tags: Creativity

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