How Creativity Connects With Immorality
How Creativity Connects with Immorality
Are creative types more likely to cross moral boundaries?
In the mid 1990’s, Apple Computers was a dying company. Microsoft’s Windows operating system was overwhelmingly favored by consumers, and Apple’s attempts to win back market share by improving the Macintosh operating system were unsuccessful. After several years of debilitating financial losses, the company chose to purchase a fledgling software company called NeXT. Along with purchasing the rights to NeXT’s software, this move allowed Apple to regain the services of one of the company’s founders, the late Steve Jobs. Under the guidance of Jobs, Apple returned to profitability and is now the largest technology company in the world, with the creativity of Steve Jobs receiving much of the credit.
However, despite the widespread positive image of Jobs as a creative genius, he also has a dark reputation for encouraging censorship,“ losing sight of honesty and integrity”, belittling employees, and engaging in other morally questionable actions. These harshly contrasting images of Jobs raise the question of why a CEO held in such near-universal positive regard could also be the same one accused of engaging in such contemptible behavior. The answer, it turns out, may have something to do with the aspect of Jobs which is so admired by so many.
In a recent paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers at Harvard and Duke Universities demonstrate that creativity can lead people to behave unethically. In five studies, the authors show that creative individuals are more likely to be dishonest, and that individuals induced to think creatively were more likely to be dishonest. Importantly, they showed that this effect is not explained by any tendency for creative people to be more intelligent, but rather that creativity leads people to more easily come up with justifications for their unscrupulous actions.
In one study, the authors administered a survey to employees at an advertising agency. The survey asked the employees how likely they were to engage in various kinds of unethical behaviors, such as taking office supplies home or inflating business expense reports. The employees were also asked to report how much creativity was required for their job. Further, the authors asked the executives of the company to provide creativity ratings for each department within the company.
Those who said that their jobs required more creativity also tended to self-report a greater likelihood of unethical behavior. And if the executives said that a particular department required more creativity, the individuals in that department tended to report greater likelihoods of unethical behavior.
The authors hypothesized that it is creativity which causes unethical behavior by allowing people the means to justify their misdeeds, but it is hard to say for certain whether this is correct given the correlational nature of the study. It could just as easily be true, after all, that unethical behavior leads people to be more creative, or that there is something else which causes both creativity and dishonesty, such as intelligence. To explore this, the authors set up an experiment in which participants were induced into a creative mindset and then given the opportunity to cheat.
more at link.
Interesting article but I don't like the Steve Jobs example since it's not a given that he was both massively creative and also massively immoral. Still I guess science journalists need to find some device to explain these concepts.
Also, I'm not sure that the kind of creativity they are talking about in some of their examples (e.g. financial traders) is really inventive creativity of the sort needed to compose an opera or build a spaceship, it's more a sort of "low cunning" (one of Thomas777's phrases I think).
"Assume your adversary is capable of one trillion guesses per second." - Edward Snowden
"Truly important and significant hypotheses will be found to have 'assumptions' that are wildly inaccurate descriptive representations of reality, and, in general, the more significant the theory, the more unrealistic the assumptions" - Milton Friedman
"My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened." - Michel de Montaigne
My thoughts on climate change: "The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils. In seeking to do so, it encounters obstacles which are deeply rooted in human nature. One is that by the very order of things such evils are not demonstrable until they have occurred: at each stage in their onset there is room for doubt and for dispute whether they be real or imaginary. By the same token, they attract little attention in comparison with current troubles, which are both indisputable and pressing: whence the besetting temptation of all politics to concern itself with the immediate present at the expense of the future. At all events, the discussion of future grave but, with effort now, avoidable evils is the most unpopular and at the same time the most necessary occupation for the politician. Those who knowingly shirk it deserve, and not infrequently receive, the curses of those who come after."