You might not want the finance staff to head back to work immediately after that big brainstorming session. And come to think of it, you may want to discourage the brainstorming altogether.
That's because a working paper by Francesca Gino of Harvard Business
School and Dan Ariely of Duke University's Fuqua School of
Business, titled, "The Dark Side of Creativity: Original Thinkers
Can Be More Dishonest," shows that after being primed to think
creatively, people are more likely to act unethically.
Equally as disheartening is the finding that people who are already more
creative than others are more likely to act dishonestly. The authors of the
study say creativity helps people find new and interesting ways to break rules,
and to come up with unique ways to justify their unethical actions after the
To be sure, creativity has many well-documented benefits for businesses. Other
studies have shown that investments in
creativity and innovation positively impact organizational performance, and
that 'creative' products generate a higher return than products that are
The authors say theirs is the first study to show an empirical relationship
between creativity and dishonesty.
Dishonesty in the Research Lab
The researchers conducted four different experiments, each using between 71 and
111 students as subjects. The researchers relied upon commonly-used tests of
creativity, such as questionnaires asking the students how well different
adjectives described them (insightful, resourceful, unconventional) and asking
them to solve hypothetical problems designed to produce a creative frame of
mind. (In one example, students were presented with a picture of a candle,
matches, and a box of tacks sitting on a table next to a cardboard wall. They
were then asked to figure out, using only these objects, how to attach the
candle to the wall in such a way that the candle burns properly and does not
drop wax on the table or the floor.)
Next, subjects were asked to look a series of squares, each divided diagonally
into triangles. The researchers then flashed a bunch of dots onto each square,
and asked students to tell them if more dots were in the left-hand triangle or
the right. For every time a student answered "left" they got half a
cent, and for every time they answered "right" they got five cents. In
half the trials it was obvious which side had more dots, and in half it was
ambiguous. The students who had highly creative personalities cheated
significantly more than students with less creative personalities; so did the
students who had been 'primed' to think creatively.
Creatives Make Ethical Short Cuts
While this situation may seem overly hypothetical, the researchers followed it
up by asking 99 people who worked at an ad agency how much creativity was
required for their job. They then asked how likely they'd be to do things such
as taking home office supplies, inflating their expense report, or telling
their boss they'd make progress on an assignment when in reality no progress
had been made. Employees who needed to be more creative in their jobs, and in
departments where more creativity was required, were significantly more likely
to behave dishonestly.
As for the dripping-candle problem? One solution is to empty the box of tacks
and tack it to the wall, then place the candle on top of it. Some 47% of
students who had been primed to think creatively figured this out, compared to
27% who had not been primed.
Do you find that the "creatives" in your office have morals that are
more, shall we say, flexible?