If you have a creative bone in your body, then you can be reasonably certain you have no spine and your soul is made of mortar. I am stumped. All along I had been smiling graciously and occasionally with a degree of complacency whenever I was commended for that flash of insight, that turn of phrase, or an imagination that is not a chattel to any rule books. It turns out that I am a worm, an ingrate and will do anything for money. Even sell my soul. Yes, the same mortar one, because mortar has some price; an abstract conscience doesn’t. In short, if I wish to salvage myself from such purgatory then instead of referring to Dante I ought to be scrubbing myself with some morally-sanctioned unguents. And, naturally, it’s time to wipe that smile off my face when I am called creative.
To show just how serious I am, I do hereby forgive Dr. Francesca Gino, an associate professor at Harvard who led the team of researchers that have made me give up all the pleasures associated with creativity for the past 20 minutes. I say forgive because I think the good professor and her team are rather creative themselves. According to Time.com:
“Creative people think ‘outside the box,’ a gift of psychological flexibility that, it turns out, may also apply to their ethics, according to the latest research from the American Psychological Association. Creative types, in other words, may be more likely to cheat. The same enterprising mind that allows creative people to consider new possibilities, generate original ideas and resolve conflicts innovatively may be what also helps them justify their own dishonest behaviour, said the authors of the new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.”
Forget the fact that the study was conducted using 99 participants (I suppose they did not round the number up to 100 because they could imagine that extra one). Let me try and analyse this a bit.
- “Creative types” is huge, and it can mean anyone, including people in business and research.
- Thinking outside the box needs courage and can be dicey – the idea may not work in the real world and collapse like a pack of cards. Does the pack of cards necessarily denote a tendency to gamble and therefore cheat?
- What exactly does “their ethics” mean? Ethics are values based on a complex system where society decides that certain things are considered good, which is in opposition to bad. Individuals usually internalise these and fine-tune them, depending on where they are and the fluctuations between good and bad. Does it impede creativity? No. Should a creative person rebel against an ideology, chances are that the odds are against her/him. Have we not heard about those sent off in exile for thinking out of the box? Was this not due to ethics rather than a lack of them?
- Dishonest behaviour is within the realm of creative lives as of any other. How often have such creative people been able to justify their lies? Writers who plagiarise are caught and have rarely come up with any imaginative plausible excuses. Artistic feuds are out in the open with swords unsheathed. Although I would not like to put business innovators in the same category, I’d still say that their malpractices are rarely a secret. The system is geared to protect them. So who is imaginative here?
If you look at the personal lives of creative people, they are in the public domain. They might cheat as much as any other person, and the excuses are not any better. Is Roman Polanski less ethical than Dominique Strauss-Kahn? Did Shakespeare have less integrity than Queen Elizabeth I?
How did the researchers come to such innovative conclusions?
"In another experiment, participants were shown drawings with dots on each side of a diagonal line and were asked whether there were more dots on the left or right side. Participants were told they'd be paid 5 cents for each time they said there were more dots on the right side, and 0.5 cents for the left. Though in the majority of the trials it was virtually impossible to tell whether there were more dots on one side or the other, the creative participants were significantly more likely to pick the answer that paid more."
You don’t need to be particularly brilliant to understand this. It works as auto-suggestion. Had the participants been told that there would be a red light flashing, or they could leave early, or they could choose between the Kardashian Sisters and Daniel Craig based on where they found the dots, they’d go for the option they emotively or instinctively desire. Where do ethics come in here? It is puerile to suggest that it was pecuniary considerations that resulted in going for the right pickings, or that creative people will do anything for money.
It is the marketing whiz kids who worry about that. Think about the artists, writers, dancers, singers who were not recognised in their lifetime and lived in poverty. I am not suggesting that the garret or cheap pubs is where you will find them now. They do strike deals, but not necessarily at the cost of ethics.
And just who is defining ethics here and how? Is it based on a general social-endorsed standard? If someone finds a lock of Michael Jackson’s hair in the bathroom drain of the hotel where he stayed and decides to auction it, then is it ethical? If it is, then we accept that this is a piece of history and it is fine for someone to capitalise on it. If it is not, then whose creativity is working here?
The research is flawed because it puts people in boxes. Creativity is often about standing apart. Rationalisation is not used to justify one’s position but to dispute another. This means that creative people stick their necks out.
Such studies are about as exciting as a pole dance. Once the legs have slid down, they have to touch the ground even if they have no feet to stand on.
Now, please do not say this is…erm…priceless only to prove how ethical you are. And remember, next time anyone offers a penny for your thoughts, just run and hold on to your integrity.
(c) Farzana Versey