Is There a Bias Against Creativity?

Why is it that so many of us in the communications world espouse creativity as a desired goal, yet reject creative ideas so frequently? Leading a large, talented and engaged creative community at Ketchum, I am often vexed by this paradox. We seem to be developing lots of brave and exciting ideas, yet too often implementing diluted versions of what started out bold and break through.

Why is this?  One explanation is that most people are actually biased against creativity — not in any overt way, but subconsciously.  It turns out that the novelty of creative ideas creates a tension for most of us. There’s the societal imperative to seek creative ideas — of course, creative ideas lead to progress — but we are wired to avoid the risks and uncertainty that most novel thinking carries.  And let’s face it; we are living in uncertain times.

According to a recent Cornell study, “The Bias Against Creativity:  Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas,” when presented with both a “practical idea” and a “creative idea,” people generally reject the creative one if it makes them feel uncertain (and if it’s truly novel, of course it’s trajectory is uncertain). Worse, this negative bias actually interferes with peoples’ ability to recognize creative ideas. When the creative heat is on, fear diminishes our ability to judge novel ideas with an open mind.  Simply put, uncertainty makes us less able to recognize creative ideas when we need them most. It is, I believe, these forces that produce a “concealed barrier” that creatively-intentioned agencies and clients face as we attempt to gain acceptance for ideas that aren’t familiar.

To probe this and many other issues related to creativity, Ketchum is sponsoring a new Holmes Report Creativity Platform. Together, we are analyzing and benchmarking creativity in PR with the goal of strengthening our industry’s creative work and reputation. As exclusive sponsor, Ketchum co-owns the results of a major industry study on creativity and will be writing commentary about it for a regular column, “The Break Through View.”  Check out the debut issue with articles written by Marc Levy and Christophe Hermet and stay tuned for a CMO webinar and an ongoing creativity email to all Holmes readers.

We are all addressing a serious obstacle– even when clients and agencies explicitly state they want creative ideas, a bias against them makes recognizing and accepting them a colossal challenge. The researchers at Cornell concluded that as long as highly practical, tried and true ideas are available, we will continue to struggle to gain acceptance for our more break through concepts.

So here’s my question: Is creativity lagging in PR because we are not generating enough creative ideas, or is it that we haven’t focused on reducing uncertainty long enough to gain recognition and acceptance for them?

Please weigh in!

For more thought leadership from Ketchum on creativity, please visit